Icelandic Horse Overview

Icelandic Elegance: Comprehensive Guide to the Northern Beauty

The Icelandic horse is a unique and distinct breed known for its small size, strength, and friendly temperament.

Here are some key characteristics and information about Icelandic horses:

Origin: The Icelandic horse has been bred in Iceland for over a thousand years. It is one of the oldest and purest horse breeds in the world. Icelandic law prohibits the importation of horses into the country, and once a horse leaves Iceland, it cannot return, ensuring the purity of the breed.

Size: Icelandic horses are relatively small, standing between 13 to 14 hands (52 to 56 inches) tall. Despite their size, they are robust.

Build: They have a compact and muscular build, with a thick double coat to protect them from the harsh Icelandic weather. The mane and tail are also thick and often have a luxurious, long, and flowing appearance.

Gaits: One of the most unique features of Icelandic horses is their special gaits. In addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop, they have two additional gaits: the tolt and the flying pace. The tolt is a four-beat lateral ambling gait known for its smoothness, while the flying pace is a fast two-beat lateral gait.


Icelandic horses are known for their friendly and sociable nature. They are intelligent, easy to train, and have a gentle disposition, making them suitable for riders of all levels.

Versatility: Icelandic horses are versatile and excel in various equestrian disciplines. They are commonly used for riding, driving, and as competition horses. Many enthusiasts also appreciate them for their ability to navigate challenging terrains, such as the rough Icelandic landscape.

Colors: Icelandic horses come in a variety of colors, including bay, chestnut, black, gray, and more. Unique coat patterns and markings are also common within the breed.

Hardiness: Due to the harsh conditions in Iceland, Icelandic horses are hardy and have a strong constitution. They are well-adapted to the cold climate and are known for their endurance.

Conservation: Efforts are made to preserve the purity of the Icelandic horse breed. Strict regulations and quarantine measures are in place to prevent the introduction of foreign diseases and crossbreeding.

Icelandic Horse Health and Feeding

Health Care:

Regular Veterinary Checkups: Schedule routine checkups with a veterinarian to monitor your horse’s overall health, and dental condition, and to address any potential issues promptly.

Vaccinations and Deworming: Follow a vaccination schedule as recommended by your veterinarian to protect against common diseases. Deworming should also be done regularly.

Hoof Care: Regular hoof care is crucial. Trim hooves every 6-8 weeks, and check for any signs of hoof issues or lameness.

Dental Care: Dental health is important for proper digestion. Have your horse’s teeth checked and floated by a veterinarian or equine dentist at least once a year.

Parasite Control: Implement a parasite control program based on your veterinarian’s recommendations to prevent internal parasites.

Exercise: Provide regular exercise to maintain the horse’s physical fitness and mental well-being. Icelandic horses, in particular, benefit from varied activities that showcase their unique gaits.

Icelandic Horse Health and Feeding


Forage: Icelandic horses thrive on good-quality forage such as grass hay or pasture. Ensure they have access to forage throughout the day to mimic their natural grazing behavior.

Concentrates: Depending on the horse’s age, activity level, and health status, you may need to supplement their diet with concentrates such as grains or pellets. Ensure any concentrates are appropriate for the horse’s specific needs.

Minerals and Vitamins: Provide a balanced mineral and vitamin supplement, especially if the horse’s diet is lacking in certain nutrients. Consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist for guidance.

Water: Ensure access to clean and fresh water at all times. Hydration is crucial for digestion and overall health.

Avoid Overfeeding: Icelandic horses are known for being easy keepers, meaning they can maintain weight on relatively little feed. Be cautious not to overfeed, as obesity can lead to various health issues.

Special Considerations for Older Horses: Adjust the diet as horses age. Senior horses may require softer forage or soaked feed to accommodate dental issues.

Monitor Body Condition: Regularly assess your horse’s body condition to ensure they are maintaining a healthy weight. Adjust the feeding program accordingly.

Seasonal Adjustments: In colder weather, horses may require more forage to maintain body temperature. Adjust feed quantities based on seasonal changes.

Icelandic Horse Care and Grooming

Daily Care:

Feeding: Provide a balanced diet with access to clean, fresh water. Monitor the horse’s weight and adjust feed quantities accordingly.

Checking for Injuries or Abnormalities: Regularly inspect your horse for any signs of injuries, cuts, swelling, or abnormalities. Address any issues promptly.

Exercise: Ensure that Icelandic horses receive regular exercise to maintain their physical and mental health. They benefit from varied activities that allow them to showcase their unique gaits.

Clean Water and Shelter: Ensure that your horse has access to clean water at all times. Provide shelter from extreme weather conditions.


Brushing: Icelandic horses have a thick double coat that sheds in the spring and grows in the fall. Regular brushing, especially during the shedding season, helps remove loose hair, dirt and promotes a healthy coat.

Mane and Tail Care: The mane and tail of Icelandic horses are often thick and luxurious. Regularly comb out tangles and remove debris. Some owners choose to braid the mane for both functional and aesthetic reasons.

Hoof Care: Clean the hooves daily to remove dirt and debris. Schedule regular hoof trims with a farrier every 6-8 weeks to maintain proper hoof health.

Bathing: While Icelandic horses are hardy and don’t require frequent baths, occasional washing may be necessary, especially after intense exercise or if the horse gets particularly dirty. Use a mild horse shampoo and ensure thorough rinsing.

Ear and Eye Care: Check the ears and eyes for any signs of dirt, debris, or infection. Clean the ears gently, and if there are concerns about the eyes, consult with a veterinarian.

Teeth Care: Ensure regular dental checkups and floating to maintain good dental health.

Tack Maintenance: Keep tack clean and in good condition. Regularly check for signs of wear and tear, and replace or repair as needed.

Blanketing: In colder weather, provide appropriate blankets to keep the horse warm, especially if they are clipped or have a thin coat.

Icelandic Horse Care and Grooming

Seasonal Considerations:

Winter Care: Provide extra forage and ensure access to unfrozen water. Protect from harsh weather conditions, and use blankets as needed.

Summer Care: Protect against flies and other insects. Provide shade, and ensure access to cool, clean water.

Veterinary Care:

Vaccinations and Deworming: Follow a schedule recommended by your veterinarian.

Emergency Preparedness: Be familiar with basic first aid for horses, and have an emergency kit on hand.

Regular Health Checkups: Schedule routine veterinary visits to monitor your horse’s overall health.


What makes Icelandic horses unique?

Icelandic horses are known for their small size, strength, friendly temperament, and distinctive gaits, including the tolt and flying pace. They have a long history in Iceland, and the breed is known for its purity.

What are the special gaits of Icelandic horses?

In addition to the walk, trot, and canter/gallop, Icelandic horses have two unique gaits: the tolt and the flying pace. The tolt is a smooth, four-beat lateral gait, while the flying pace is a fast, two-beat lateral gait.

How are Icelandic horses used?

Icelandic horses are versatile and can be used for various equestrian activities, including riding, driving, and competition. They are also popular in therapeutic riding programs due to their friendly nature.

Can Icelandic horses be kept outside in harsh weather?

Yes, Icelandic horses are hardy and well-adapted to cold climates. They have a thick double coat that provides insulation, and they can withstand harsh weather conditions. However, access to shelter and proper care is still important.

Are there specific regulations for breeding Icelandic horses?

Yes, in Iceland, there are strict regulations to preserve the purity of the Icelandic horse breed. Importation of horses is prohibited, and once a horse leaves Iceland, it cannot return to maintain the breed’s genetic integrity.

How often do Icelandic horses need to be shooed?

The frequency of shoeing Icelandic horses depends on various factors, including their activity level, the terrain they are on, and the condition of their hooves. Generally, a farrier may trim and shoe them every 6-8 weeks.

What is the temperament of Icelandic horses?

Icelandic horses are known for their friendly and sociable nature. They are intelligent, easy to train, and have a gentle disposition, making them suitable for riders of all levels, including beginners.

Can Icelandic horses be ridden by adults and children?

Yes, Icelandic horses are suitable for riders of all ages. Their sturdy build and calm temperament make them suitable for both adults and children. They are often used in riding schools and family-oriented equestrian activities.

How do you pronounce the name “Icelandic horse” in Icelandic?

In Icelandic, the term “Icelandic horse” is pronounced as “Íslenski hesturinn.”

Are there specific competitions for Icelandic horses?

Yes, there are competitions specifically designed for Icelandic horses, including events where they showcase their unique gaits. These competitions often include disciplines such as tolt, pace, and traditional Icelandic riding demonstrations.

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