This fun horse breed is unique in so many ways. It has been isolated from all other breeds ever since the first settlers arrived in Iceland bringing with them horses from Norway. This has been vital to the evolution of taday's version of the horse. Both natural selection and selective breeding has created a horse which is hardy yet friendly, small yet strong. Another reason for its preservation, is the fact that it is against the law to introduce other breeds into the country. Even horses that are born in Iceland and are exported are not allowed back again.
This is a lively horse yet at the same time it is perfect for children and unexperienced riders. This is because it is generally easy going and has a friendly temperment. Also, this horse breed is well known for its innate ability to perform 5 gates, compared to most other breeds that can only use three or at the most four gates. In addition to the well known walk, trot and cater, the Icelandic horse has a unique gate called tölt and can also do a gate called pacing.
The breed is small enough to be considered a pony by most standards, however, it's strength and personality are more akin to that of a horse. Also, the word pony doesn't exist in Icelandic, which is probably the best explanation as to why we define this breed as a horse and not a pony.
In Iceland horses were historically used in farming and as a means of transportation. Nowadys they are used by farmers mainly to round up sheep in the fall. All other riders use them and as a leisure activity and some at a competitive level.
The Icelandic horse is popular in most of Europe and in the United States. In the past twenty years or so breeders in Iceland have sold thousands of horses both to mainland Europe and the U.S.. They fair particularly well in cold weather because of their coat of hair which grows quite long during the winter months.
If you are interested in the prospect of riding in Iceland, there are many companies providing tours both close by the capital and all over the country side. For more experienced riders or for people who are looking for an adventure there are tours available which last several days. The biggest and best known horse tour companies are Íshestar and Eldhestar.