Up Close and Personal with Icelandic Horses

Icelandic horses under the Northern Lights

Icelandic horses under the Northern Lights

I’ve always been a sucker for horses. We had a Quarter Horse and an Arabian when I was growing up, but I was just to young to help ride and care for the horses. With my parent’s busy work schedules, they couldn’t ride and exercise them as much as they liked so they sold them when I was about six. We never did get horses again as I got older, but I’ve never let that dream go. And after two trips to Iceland where the Icelandic horses are about the cutest I’ve ever seen, it’s more alive than ever.

Icelandic horses Icelandic horsesJust what makes Icelandic horses so cute and special? The Vikings brought these small Nordic horses with them when they arrived in Iceland more than one thousand years ago, probably somewhere between 860 and 935 AD. Selective breeding and isolation makes the breed as pure as the day the Vikings brought them. And to maintain the special breed, Icelandic laws prevent horses from being imported to Iceland. Also, once an Icelandic horse leaves Iceland, it can never return.

Icelandic horsesThe Iceland horse is so small, pony sized even at an average of just 13 – 14 hands tall, but registries still classify them as horses. They come in a variety of colors from white to black, palomino to silver, and everything in between. They are also incredibly friendly and gentle. Just driving around Iceland, we spotted hundreds – even in winter. They are generally keen to trot over for a pat and to say hello. I don’t know how many times I made Tim stop on the side of the road so I could pet yet another cute Icelandic horse. And in winter, I think they’re even cuter with their heavy double coats to protect them against the harsh Icelandic winds.

Icelandic horsesThe Icelandic horse is also renowned for its five gaits, the most popular being the tölt. The tölt is a four beat running-walk with flowing movement unique to the Icelandic horse and is easy and comfortable to ride (though Tim might disagree).

Icelandic horse

Icelandic horses with their heavy winter coats

Where to See Icelandic Horses

  • Book a riding tour at Þúfa farm in Kjós, just 40 kilometers north of Reykjavik. We had a fantastic riding tour, which you can read more about here.
  • Attend the Icelandic Horse Festival in Reykjavik each April. The 2013 festival is April 4 – 7, where you can ride, learn more about, and see various Icelandic horse competitions. Entrance to the festival is free.

Subscribe and get our free accommodation guide, plus exclusive partner deals & discounts!

Up Close and Personal with Icelandic Horses


  1. says

    Great photos! I love horses and these ones look especially impressive against the dramatic iceland landscape. I haven’t ridden a horse in years, but will be doing so in June.

    • says

      How fun! I had two horses as a kid, but was too young to ride on my own. I love riding every chance I get, which isn’t too often. I really dislike those horse riding tours where you ride in a straight line.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *