The Icelandic Horse is one of the oldest breeds in the world. Iceland was settled between 874 AD and 935 AD. The settlers came in
open boats and brought their lifestock with them. Due to the harsh climate and limited forage, only the strongest survived. Their 4-6" coats offer natural protection against cold and storms.
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The horse was originally brought to Iceland by settlers over 1,000 years ago. The settlers may have come from Norway, the Western Isles of Scotland, Ireland
and the Isle of Man. The foundation stock for the Icelandic horse was,
therefore, drawn from all of these regions. The Icelandic Horse has
been able to keep it's due to the purity of the breed, being the only breed in Iceland.
Comparison between the Icelandic horse, at the
time of the settlement of Iceland, and ancient Norwegian and German horses
show them to have similar bone structure. It has been said that the Icelandic
horse may be related to the Shetland; but the Icelandic has a very different genotype
from other European horse populations.
One of the most fascinationg feature of the Icelandic horse is it's
extreme genetic purity. There has been no infusion of outside blood to the
Icelandic Horse breed for almost 1,000 years, and there is only one breed of horse
in Iceland. The presiding jurisdiction at the time, passed laws
prohibiting the importation of foreign horses into the country.
This prohibition has kept the horse pure and has also stopped any diseases from going into the country. Once a horse leaves Iceland, it can never return.
In the early 1900's and before, the Icelandic Horse was used primarily for transportation and as a work horse. The horse carried it's owners over the rough terrain of Iceland which includes lava fields, mountains, and many rivers. Presently, it is used in competitions and for recreation.
The horses did all types of work including driving and packing. Some of the photos on the Work Horse page show the Icelandic Horses carrying the harvest, as well as coffins. Centuries of isolation
in Iceland has produced an extremely sure footed horse who is agile on rough
terrain and shows great reserves of stamina.
Many of the horses were exported from Iceland to Great Britain to work as "pit ponies" in the mines.
Currently there are approximately 80,000 horses in Iceland; the same number in Europe, and about 3,000 in the US (add a little more to include Canada).
The Icelandic horse is described as somewhat small, sturdy and hardy, but
not light in build and thus often lacking in elegance. But the strong
characteristics of the breed are said to be the versatility in riding
performance, lively temperament and strong but workable character. High bone density makes their legs very strong.
Around 1960, a small group of Icelandic Horses were imported to North America. In September 1965, a group of Icelandic Horses were imported to Washington Island, Wisconsin to benefit the tourist trade as the island claims the title of the earliest Icelandic settlement in America.
No matter what country Icelandic Horses live in, they are traditionally given Icelandic names.
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