The Icelandic Horse Is A 1000-Year-Old Purebred

19.02 2015

You can find Icelandic Horses outside of Iceland, but those horses are not allowed to return to their native country. Iceland has very strict rules regarding its exclusive breed of horse, which makes the Icelandic one of the most purest bred horses in the world — and it’s been that way for over 1000 years. The Icelandic Horse, along with only a handful of the world’s rare breeds, are the closest tie we have to the first domesticated horses.

The Vikings began to settle permanently in Iceland from 874 – 930 AD. They arrived in small boats, and because of that the adventurous Norsemen bought along only their most prized possessions, and only the strongest of their livestock. Only the best of any species could be relocated in such small, overloaded vessels. Obviously, the horses had to be small, yet hardy and strong, because of Iceland’s harsh conditions. And because the early Icelandic Vikings depended upon their horses for all transportation and as pack animals, they enacted laws to ensure their horses would survive and remain strong in the new world of fire and ice.

Early on, during the settling and development of Iceland, the import of all livestock was forbidden. The ponies brought over from Scandinavia, being among the most prized animals of the Vikings, immediately became subject to selective breeding. For more than nine centuries, no other horses have been allowed into Iceland, and today the country has only one, exclusive breed of horse. Ergo, the Icelandic Horse is one of the purest in the world.

Being an exclusive breed, the Icelandic Horse has many unique qualities. Iceland does not have the diseases that afflict horses in other countries, thus the Icelandic is one of the healthiest horses in the world. Nor does it have natural predators, which allows herds of Icelandics to run free in fields and pastures in nearly every corner of the country.

The land in which it lives has made the Icelandic Horse strong and sturdy. To survive in such a harsh climate, with little on which to forage, and with such tumultuous terrain — volcanos, jagged cliffs, ice, snow, wind — the Icelandic has to be sturdy, sure-footed, and quick-thinking. Even today, most of the horses (even domestic) live outdoors instead of corralled inside a barn. Essentially, natural selection helped strengthen the breed, though nearly two-thirds of all Icelandic Horses died during the massive volcanic eruption of Lakagígar in 1873 — a volcanic cataclysm that lasted eight months, and which covered the land and choked the rivers with ash. With the establishment of Icelandic breeding societies and strict rules regarding selective breeding in the early 20th century, the Icelandic Horse population made a full recovery, and in 1923 the country established its first breed registry.

The International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations (FEIF) developed a judging system for the Icelandic breed, considered  standard even in countries where non-native Icelandic Horses are bred. The Icelandic is popular in Europe and North America.

The breed is still used in Iceland for traditional farm work and, in some places, for transportation. The Icelandic Horse is also perfect for riding, showing, and racing.

Iceland is a country of surrealistic adventure, and there is no better way to experience the land of fire and ice than from the saddle of a unique horse with an ancient heritage. All our riding tours at Riding Iceland put you at the reins of an Icelandic Horse. All our tours have to; the Icelandic is the only breed around for thousands of miles!

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