Before reading more about Icelandics, beware! They´re like Belgian chocolates - you can´t stop with only one. Countless people have bought "just one" Icelandic and then, a couple of years later, find themselves with ten (and increasing...). The trouble is, they´re just so good to be around.
Horses are not indigenous to Iceland and the first
horses were carried to Iceland by the Vikings on their longships. As space was limited,
they took only their best breeding stock to the harsh Northern island. The Dole horse of
Norway and the Celtic pony of Britain were the ancestors of today's Icelandic horse. In
982AD the Icelandic parliament made a law that no other horses could be brought into
Iceland. This was to prevent disease, and the law is still in place today so any horse
which leaves Iceland can never return. This means that the horse we see today is a direct
descendant of the Viking horses. No other breed has had this isolation, and no other breed
is so pure-bred.
Not surprisingly, Icelandics are very tough and hardy. Over the years natural selection in the form of famine, volcanic eruptions, harsh winters and difficult terrain, has weeded out any lesser specimens, and even today the Icelanders eat their culls, resulting in a strong, healthy breeding pool. The horses are late maturing and cannot carry a rider until at least four years of age, but they live a very long time and are commonly still in work at 25 or 30. The oldest horse known was an Icelandic and died at the age of 56.
Icelandics were bred to carry the Vikings, and although
they are not very tall (between about 12.2 and 14.2hh) they are exceptionally strong with
very dense bone. They are always called "horses" in spite of their height -
there is no Icelandic word for "pony". They can carry an adult rider in speed
and comfort over the roughest countryside. As you would expect, in winter they have very
thick coats and they love cold weather. However, in the summer they grow a fine summer
coat and rarely find the heat a problem. Horses imported from Iceland can have a problem
sweet itch as they are not exposed to Culicoides midges in
Iceland, but it´s no more common in homebred Icelandics than in any other equine.
One of the attractions of the breed is the wide variety of colours. Icelandics can be any colour - dun, skewbald, black, red, palomino or grey are easily found, and there are also rare colours such as silver dapple (almost black with a silver mane and tail) and silver bay (bay with white mane and tail). Here at Tresais Farm, we like the rare colours, and do our best to preserve them (though of course not at the expense of conformation, character or gaits). Click here for a gallery of Icelandic horse colours.
To ride, nothing´s quite like an Icelandic horse. In
addition to the usual gaits, walk, trot and canter, all Icelandics should tölt. Tölt is
a four-beat lateral gait which can be done at any speed - from walk to canter. It's
amazingly smooth and comfortable for the rider. Some Icelandics also have a fifth gait,
flying pace, an exciting two-beat lateral gait used for racing. An Icelandic in flying
pace can go at 30 mph. These
natural to the breed,
and even young foals can be seen tölting around the fields after their mothers. Riding an
Icelandic in tölt has been compared to flying.
Icelandics are powerful, willing, forward-going horses, but they are also usually innately sensible, rarely bucking, rearing or shying. They go forward - not up, down and sideways like all too many other breeds! If the horse trusts his rider he will go through hell and back. Icelandics are footsure over rocks and mountains, and have been called the Bridges of Iceland for their swimming ability. They can be used successfully in almost any equine discipline - long distance, driving, hacking, riding club events, gymkhana, western riding, horse football or dressage. They are renowned for their wonderful dispositions. Almost without fail, the horses are incredibly easy to handle. It is virtually unknown for an Icelandic to bite or kick people - any that do end up as dinner in Iceland!
Icelandic horses are really special - they are very easy to ride, but take a lifetime to learn to ride well. They are the original horses of the Vikings, and although we've had Arabs, TBs, Haflingers, Gypsy cobs and assorted British Natives in the past, these days we would never choose any other horse or pony breed. We are not "open to the public" as such, but we welcome people who are interested in Icelandics to come and meet the horses, providing you phone or email first.