Icelandic Horses galloping in field, open lanscape

Íslenski hesturinn



Icelandic horse standing in the field Origin: Iceland
English name: Icelandic horse
Weight: 350-400 kg
Height: 140 cm (average)
Colour: Multiple colours and patterns
Type: Leisure riding and sport competitons
Number of offspring: 1-2 (occures but rarely)
Birth weight: 45 kg
Number of horses in Iceland 2019: 78.000
Number in other countries 2019: 195.000

Not at Risk Vulnerable  Critically Endangered  Extinct


The Icelandic horse breed has developed from ponies taken to Iceland by Norse settlers in the 9th and 10th centuries. The closest relatives seem to be the Norwegian Fjord, the Faroe Islands horse and the Shetland pony.

Considering the value of horses for transportation as well as the long journey across the Atlantic Ocean on small ships, it is likely that the settlers picked strong and sturdy individuals to fund their future herds. For centuries the horse was the primary means of transport in Iceland. The harsh weather conditions have without a doubt substantially shaped the stock.

Horses running upphill
The colour variation is great within the breed. Photo: Birna Kristín Baldursdóttir


Since the 19th century the Icelandic horse served well as a draught horse and was bred as such until tractor power took over by the middle of the 20th century and the number of horses decreased considerably. Organized breeding programmes began in Iceland early in the last century when coordinated horse shows were established. Today it has become a highly popular riding and equestrian sport horse and selection is based on defined breeding goals. The most unique characteristics of the Icelandic horse are the great colour variation and its versatility with regards to gaiting ability; possessing five gaits; walk, trot, canter, tölt and pace. The smooth gait, tölt, has become a well-known quality symbol of the Icelandic horse, contributing a great deal to its popularity worldwide.

In recent decades the popularity of the Icelandic horse has increased steadily and export of riding horses has become an industry. The Icelandic horse can be found in most parts of the world and the International Federation of Icelandic Horse Associations (FEIF) has 22 member countries. The Farmers Association of Iceland (FAIC) and The Horse Breeding Association of Iceland (FHB) are responsible for the breeding work and set the official breeding goals covering health, fertility, colour variability, character, conformation and riding ability. Breeding fields tests, coordinated judgement of horses, as well as use of the BLUP system for the evaluation of breeding values, have always been the most important aspects of the implementation of the breeding programme. The BLUP method with animal model has been used for genetic evaluation of the Icelandic horse since 1986. Artificial insemination and embryo transfers have been used to a small extent in the most recent past. An international recording system and a database is operated by FAIC and FEIF ( where horses of the Icelandic breed are registered worldwide, the database is available in nine languages. In WorldFengur you can find comprehensive information on around 450.000 Icelandic horses all around the world such as pedigree, offspring, pictures, videos, assessments, owners, breeders, BLUP, colours, DMTR3 „Gait keeper gene“, virtual mate selection, microchips and more. A regulation was issued in 2011 to support the recognition of Iceland as the country of origin of the Icelandic horse.

Characterization in research:

The Icelandic horse is a first glance one of the more characterized Nordic native breeds when looking through research. NordGen conducted a study showing up until 2019, 45 easily accessible studies were conducted. Many of the studies have focused on the DMRT3 “gait keeper gene”, but also responses to cold weather, temperament, colours, growth, performance, growth, cryptorchidism, summer exzema and SNPs association with pace performance has been described in at least one study. However, no studies focusing on the breed’s socio-cultural importance was found. Thus, there is still a need to continue and increase characterization of the Icelandic horse such that we are able to improve the basis of conservation decisions and thus conservation of the breed for future purposes.


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