Discover the legendary horses of Iceland, a direct lineage from the Viking era. Dive into what makes these beautiful creatures unique and an essential visit on your Icelandic adventure!

A Brief History

Icelandic horses came to Iceland via Viking longships over 1,000 years ago, making their way across treacherous water. The Vikings selected only the most able-bodied and strong horses to make the journey, which is one of the reasons why they are so robust and strong.

Like today, horses of Iceland were one of the most important possessions of the Icelanders of old. They even appear frequently in the Icelandic sagas, mythology, and folklore, further driving home how revered these creatures were even hundreds of years ago.

These sturdy animals first came to Iceland between 860 and 935 AD, traveling across tumultuous waters on Viking longships. Selected for their strength and ability to cross rough terrain, these breeds of horses are not just robust but are part of the purest horse breeds globally.

In ancient times, these horses were so valued that they were frequently featured in Icelandic sagas and folklore. Their unique gaits and resilience in harsh weather have evolved due to centuries of isolation, resulting in a breed that is hardy and stout, standing around 14 hands high.

horses follows the vikings and moved to iceland

What makes Icelandic horses so special?

Aside from the simple fact that Icelandic horses are one-of-a-kind, there are a few traits that make them extra special.

The beautiful Icelandic horse is renowned for having five natural gaits, making it one of the most unique breeds in the world. While most breeds exhibit the walk, trot, and canter gallop, the Icelandic breed also masters the tölt and skeið, or flying pace, a fast beat lateral ambling gait exclusive to them.

This isolation has made them one of the purest horse breeds, preserved by prohibiting the import of other horses into Iceland to maintain this purity.

a very happy icelandic horse

What are Icelandic horses used for?

Icelandic horses aren’t just cute, they’re an integral part of Icelands agricultural practices. Used mostly for herding and leisure riding, Icelandic horses are cherished members of Icelandic society and regarded as a national emblem.

Here are just a few of the things that Icelandic horses are used for…

Icelandic Horseback Riding Tours

Horse riding tour is a fun activity for visitors of all ages in Iceland – and something you can do just about anywhere in the country! Whether you’re based in Reykjavik or the countryside, chances are you can find a stable to go riding at.

Icelandic horses are fairly short and stout, in fact they’re technically pony sized! This makes them even more ideal for horseback riding.

join a horseback riding tour in Iceland

Sheep Herding

Many of Iceland’s horses are used for sheep herding. There are more sheep than humans in Iceland and no better way to round them up throughout the year than by herding with Icelandic horses! Like the Icelandic horses, Icelandic sheep are also an isolated breed and revered throughout the world.

As Pets

Some Icelanders simply keep Icelandic horses as pets! Not only are they friendly, they’re also extremely personable and make for great companions.

As Food

It’s true that some Icelandic horses are raised for their meat. While few Icelanders eat horse meat today, most of it is exported to other countries where the practice is more common. Of the meat that Icelanders eat, horsemeat only accounts for 2% on average.

try Icelandic traditional food when visiting Iceland

Where to see these horses

Most visitors to Iceland will get up close and personal with Icelandic horses on a tour, either visiting a farm or on a horseback riding excursion.

If you do decide to go horseback riding, you’ll be treated to stunning landscapes like lava fields or along black sand beaches. This activity is great for children as Icelandic horses are known for their friendly disposition.

For those who don’t want to go horseback riding, you can also visit one of the stables outside of Reykjavik.

You might also see Icelandic horses from your car if you’re doing a road trip! They’re known to graze close to the road. Some of them might appear to be wild horses but many farmers let their horses graze freely throughout the countryside in the summer months.

Be sure to NEVER stop your car on the side of the road to see Icelandic horses unless there is a designated pull off. Going off road is illegal in Iceland.

possible to see horses along the way

When to see Icelandic horses

Icelandic horses roam the fields and countryside pastures year round, winter weather doesn’t phase them! That being said, there aren’t certain times of year that are ideal for seeing Icelandic horses and going horseback riding.

The best months to partake in leisure riding are during the summer months or shoulder seasons of Iceland (between mid-May and mid-September). Horseback riding can be uncomfortable in winter due to harsh weather conditions.

Icelanders love their horses so much that there’s an entire festival dedicated to them! The Icelandic Horse Festival, also known as Landsmót, takes place every year in July. This competition features riding events and awards for the best breeding stallions.

Another annual event that features Icelandic horses is réttir, the yearly sheep round up. Icelandic horses are used to herd sheep from the countryside into their pens for the harsh winter months. This event takes place every September across Iceland and features fun parties and picnics.

summer is one of the best time to see horses in Iceland

Rent a cheap car with Firefly Car Rental to see Icelandic horses!

If you rent a car, there’s no doubt you’ll see Icelandic horses roaming the countryside or grazing in their pastures. A road trip is one of the best ways to see these Viking steeds. Rent your car through Firefly Iceland Car Rentals and be well on your way to seeing Icelandic horses in person!

For those who plan to complete the entire Ring Road, you’ll have the best chances of seeing herds of Icelandic horses while you’re driving around the country.

if you plan to hike in Iceland, dress well

Conclusion

Icelandic horses are worth seeking out on your trip to Iceland! Whether you want to go horseback riding or simply pet an Icelandic horse, there are so many ways to interact with these furry friends.

Cheap rental car options in Firefly car rental Iceland

DUSTER

Dacia Duster or similar | Manual | 4×4 | 2020-2021 (CFMX)

Group E2 Reservations are made by car category only. We cannot guarantee a specific car model. or similar

  • 5 Passengers
  • 3 Large
  • 5 Doors
  • Manual
  • Airconditioning

Suitable for the highland F-roads. Please read Terms & Conditions.
You must be 23 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 4 Wheel Drive
  • 116 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • ABS
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags
VW-GOLF

VW Golf or similar | Automatic | 2020-2021 Model (CDAX)

Group: B2 Reservations are made by car category only. We cannot guarantee a specific car model. or similar

  • 5 Passengers
  • 2 Large Bags
  • 5 Doors
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning

This vehicle is NOT allowed in the highland F-roads.

You must be 20 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 1 Small Bag
  • 2 Large, 1 Small
  • 138 cc
  • Adjustable Steering
  • Cruise Control
  • Electronic Stability Control
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags
  • Fog Lamps
VW-GOLF

VW Golf or similar | Manual | 2020-2021 Model (CDMX)

Group: B Reservations are made by car category only. We cannot guarantee a specific car model. or similar

  • 5 Passengers
  • 2 Large Bags
  • 4 Doors
  • Manual
  • Airconditioning

This vehicle is NOT allowed in the highland F-roads.

You must be 20 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 1 Small Bag
  • 2 Large, 1 Small
  • Front Wheel Drive
  • 125 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags
  • Fog Lamps
VW-POLO

VW Polo or similar| Manual | 2020-2021 Model (EDMX)

Group A Reservations are made by car category only. We cannot guarantee a specific car model. or similar

  • 5 Passengers
  • 2 Large
  • 5 Doors
  • Manual
  • Airconditioning

This vehicle is NOT allowed in the highland F-roads.

You must be 20 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • Front Wheel Drive
  • 99 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • ABS
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags
  • Fog Lamps
  • Satelite Navigation
TIGUAN

VW Tiguan or similar | Automatic | 4×4 | 2020-2021 Model (IFAX)

Group: OReservations are made by car category only. We cannot guarantee a specific car model. or similar

  • 5 Passengers
  • 3 Large
  • 5 Doors
  • Automatic
  • Airconditioning

Suitable for the highland F-roads. Please read Terms & Conditions.
You must be 23 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • 4 Wheel Drive
  • Adjustable Steering
  • ABS
  • Bluetooth
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Power Windows
  • Remote Locking
  • Airbags
  • Fog Lamps
VW_UP

VW Up or similar | Manual | 2020-2021 Model (MBMX)

Group: Z Reservations are made by car category only. ,We cannot guarantee a specific car model. or similar

  • 4 Passengers
  • 1 Large
  • 4 Doors
  • Manual
  • Airconditioning

This vehicle is NOT allowed in the highland F-roads.

You must be 20 years of age to drive this vehicle.

Additional Features
  • Petrol or Diesel
  • Front Wheel Drive
  • 95 C02 g/km
  • Adjustable Steering
  • ABS
  • USB
  • Power Steering
  • Remote Locking
  • Fog Lamps