Q. What’s so special about the Icelandic Horse?
A. This is a hard question to answer. Icelandics are about 800 pounds of energetic body power, lots of of common sense, and boundless kindness and acceptance, they are a "thinking horse", one look into these eyes says more than many words. They are proud, gentle, willing, colorful, hairy and smooth gaited!
Q. How big are Icelandic Horses?
A. The Icelandic Horse is between 13 hh and 14.2 hh. This puts the Icelandic horse within the pony standard by size, but they do have more power weight carrying ability than some other Pony Breeds. When riding them they feel bigger than they look.
Q. I’m a husky 220 lb, do you really think one of those little Icelandic horses can carry me?
A. It is commonly said that the Icelandic Horse can carry up to 300 lb without problems. I am only comfortable saying this, when we talk about an individual horse that is physically built for weight carrying ability with strong bones, well muscled and compact, and if such horse is not expected to carry all that weight for many hours in challenging terrain. In Germany such horses are called "weight carrier type". We have to be aware of the fact that not size, but conformation determines weight carrying ability. A strong back, loins and hind, paired with good muscling, strong joints and feet will make a much stronger horse that some of the lofty 16 hh thoroughbred type horses with weak backs and no substance. Some Icelandics are small and fineboned with weaker backs or loins, but the average Icelandic will be fine with weights of up to 250 lb if the Rider is balanced and the Saddle fits well. Just consider this - it is the only breed in Iceland, and the Icelandic people are generally tall and many men exceed six feet. The Icelandic Horse is very powerful for its size, has a very long stride and a proud bearing that makes it look much larger than it actually is. Small horses like the Icelandic have a better ratio of calories to output and great stamina/willingness that will actually get you somewhere - they often are natural swimmers and have a lot of sense for the trail, they rarely spook and can also be your best buddy when you are not in the saddle.
Q. Why are they called the horse of the Vikings?
A. When peaceful Vikings settled Iceland more than a thousand years ago, they brought their horse with them in open long ships, braving the sometimes very cruel seas. The horse has remained completely purebred ever since because of a decree in the 9th century to ban further importation of live animals to Iceland. Even today this ban is still upheld to protect Iceland's volatile ecological balance and to keep the island disease free. No animal can be imported to Iceland and any horse that leaves its native country cannot return.
Q. How about colors of the Icelandic horse?
A. Icelandics come in over forty-two different color patterns including pintos, duns, buckskins, palominos, silver dapples and the very rare roans. Only the appaloosa pattern has not been proven to exist in this breed. The variety of striking colors is a great asset for the breed and makes it possible for horse owners to find their dream horse with that special look.
Q. How about all those gaits, and is the Icelandic Horse really as smooth as everyone says?
A. Almost all Icelandic Horses have the potential of learning to perform four basic gaits (Walk, Trot, Canter, Tölt (or Rack), and some also perform the Flying Pace. Some horses are more talented than others and perform 5 competition gaits, and others are simply Natural Tolters that do their signature gait in its smoothest and most effortless form - you will find all kinds of gait distributions in this Breed, and every Icelandic Horse feels a little bit different. The Tolt is very smooth to ride and spectacular to watch, yet I would say their greatest asset is their temperament versatility and the extra surefootedness and stamina. If you are used to riding Western Style you will have to learn a different style of riding.
Q: When I see these horses on breed presentations all they seem to do is stick their head in the air and speed around like out of control.
A: The Icelanders love speed - a fast Tolt or a fast flying pace is extremely exhilarating, just like gliding along at high speed. Not all horses can tolt smoothly at high speed, but if they do it is quite a special feeling to experience that. The horse is should have a proud bearing with a high carried front end and an elevated neck and head. So, when people want to show what these horses are about, they naturally show them fast and proud. Often the heads are too high because the horses are above the bit and not well collected - this is especially a thing of old fashioned training methods (or bad riding).
Q: What about the claim of this breed being so versatile?
A: There are many different types within the breed, just like the modern Quarterhorse has now many types for different disciplines. For example, many riders are quite happy with a relaxing slow tolt and a bit of canter, and you can find laid back natural Tolters to do that with. If you like the thrill of speed and the challenge of riding well enough to get your horse to perform all gaits to the highest level - you can find a very willing, high bred competition type horse for that, too. Fourgaited or fivegated? Both available. Jumping, dressage, endurance, cross country, western, mounted games - with the right type, you got it. And not only that, but often we have horses that are willing and fierce in competition, and come home to be a calm and trustworthy trail partner for the kids. Is all this versatile or what?
Q. It sounds like the Icelandic is too good to be true, correct?
A. Yes, it sure sounds too good to be true. And surely, like any other breed, even the Icelandic breed has good and bad traits and won't suit everybody taste. Some of the problems that might be called breed specific are Spavin and Summer Eczema (basically identical with Sweet Itch, and mostly occurring with imported stock). Heat might become a problem, and in southern States the horses might need to be clipped regularly. Many Icelandic Horses have a sense of humor and they are bred to think for themselves - not a push button horse at all! And although many Icelandic Horses are well suitable for Beginners, it is safe to say that for many people it needs some adjustment to the horse's willingness and animation, and the different gaits can be confusing. Even though the gaits are natural, it needs some skill to ride them properly, and I would recommend to take some "starter lessons" when getting into the breed. When it comes to selecting the right horse, Newcomers should look for a horse that prefers the Tolt to all other gaits, since this is the most sought after trait of this breed and the hardest one to ride properly if you are new to the Breed. But, I have to put out a warning - once you have learned what it takes to ride and enjoy the Icelandic horse, there will be no stopping - they will capture your heart and never let you go! It is what many enthusiasts call "getting the Icelandic horse bug".
Q. Is there a registry for the Icelandic Horse in North America?
A. Yes, the United Icelandic Horse Council (UIHC) runs the central registry for the USA and the Canadian Icelandic Horse Association (CIHF) for Canada, and both are affiliated to the FEIF (the international association that unifies all the internationally existing registries). Any horse that can trace their origin back to Iceland will be and should be registered with the breed organization. DNA tests will ensure the parentage and micro chipping is getting more and more common.
Q. How many Icelandic Horses are there in North America?
A. Probably about a 2,000 - 3,000 right now, but more are being bred and imported all the time.A few of the largest breeders are located in the Pacific Northwest, some with over 100 horses, and the whole Western Coast has a large percentage of North America's Icelandic Horse Population.
Q: Why are they so expensive?
A: This is the value they have in their native country. When importing horses for resale or breeding, the price just gets carried over plus added very high transport costs. Training costs time and time is money - gaited horses like that need much more time than the average north American three-gaited breed. Pleasure type Icelandic Horses with good gaits are as expensive as some of their competitive cousins - demand and supply is the reason here. As a general rule - breeding, raising and training horses correctly is simply not cheap. Domestic bred horses are a bit cheaper, but if the horse is very affordable, you might want to check out if it cannot be registered, or if it is only a three gaited horse that doesn't Tolt, maybe there are other hidden faults. There simply are no well trained, sound, good quality Icelandic horses with their registration in order for a very cheap price.
Q. Where can I see these rare and wonderful horses?
A. This is still a rare breed in NA and you might not have a Breeder close by. There are presentations on many of the bigger events now; fairs, shows, parades. The Breed Organizations can help you to start your search; in Canada the CIHF and in the US the USIHC. If you are in the area maybe you would want to come for a visit? We'll happily introduce you to our horses and the breed! Just give as a call or e-mail us.