In my mind, I can smell the fresh rain in the air as the clouds roll on by. I hear the swish of a tail. I can feel my hand running down the soft silky coat of the horses’ necks, reassuringly patting my sturdy hoofed mount and curling my hand around to scratch that one spot under the incredibly thick mane. The chill from a gentle breeze leaves me with a flushed and fresh outlook on life. We slowly start the steady march across the field.  Each step softly crushing the emerald green grass beneath our feet and taking us further away. Away from our worries, away from the world and into the mountains we go. It’s just me and my imaginary mare Alfonka and we’re off on an adventure off to explore the land of fire and ice.

Iceland– the land of fire and ice. Majestic mountains. Roaring volcanoes. Sultry hot pools. Really adorable ponies.  In all honesty, I can’t think of any better way to experience the natural beauty and wonder of Iceland than with the Insta perfect size Iceland pony. No trip to Iceland is complete without at least a dozen photos of these adorable cheeky local residents.

Now some people may say that the best way to see Iceland is the traditional tourist way in a car. Pack your bags, your manners, and a fluffy beanie and off you go. If you’re short of time take yourself to the Golden Circle, which can include a short saddle up session if you choose wisely. There’s nothing wrong with going on a traditional tour of Iceland and not just plodding around on horseback. In fact it’s a great way to see some truly wonderful areas with experienced guides.

Why is the Icelandic horse such an icon?

Experience Iceland One Tolt at a Time
Image credit: Flickr by KLMNT

History of the Icelandic Horse

Legend has it that the strongest, bravest and most loveable horse were brought over by the Norse Vikings. There are historical references to the Icelandic horse in literature from as far back as the 9th & 10th century. Each horse was hand picked for their bravery, strength, and stamina. Traits that we still see today in the breed.

Up until 1904 and the introduction of the car in Norway the Icelandic horse was the only mode of transport. Taking man from cradle to grave. Helping families fetch the midwife, harvesting the crops, teaching children manners and eventually taking the coffin to the cemetery.

Today there are around 80,000 Icelandic horse in Iceland. Which is pretty impressive for a country with an estimated population of 320,000 (2015). Generally speaking, the Icelandic horse is now used for pleasure riding, competitions and the annual gongur every autumn.

Icelandic pony || Traveling Honeybird
Image credit: Flickr via David Gorla

Taking On The World One Tolt at a Time

The Icelandic horse, other than being perfect models for selfies which their long luscious manes, have a unique pace called the tolt. It’s a bizarrely comfortable pace that’s like a really strong, yet smooth, trot. For the non-equestrian folk reading along the trot is the bouncy pace of the horse. The one that is most likely to have the rider tumble off.

The tolt is a rather pace and partnered with the unique character of the Icelandic horse I can see why the Norse took them on adventures and the Icelanders kept them.  The Icelandic horse is self-assured, which can be seen in its ever willing nature to be in a selfie or two with tourists.

Due to the geographical isolation of Iceland, there are little to no diseases for the Icelandic horses.  Sadly this has resulted in many ponies leaving their homeland for international competitions and not being allowed to return as the government does not currently allow horses or horse gear to be imported or reenter the country.  A law that was brought into action around 1100 AD. Now there is an estimated 100,000 Icelandic horses outside of Iceland. Many being across Europe, America, Australia and New Zealand

Strangely enough, James and I had our first horse riding experience together on Icelandic horses in Christchurch, New Zealand. Which has just lit the flame for me to want to get to Iceland to ride them in their native country.

Icelandic Horses in New Zealand

Can I see the Icelandic Horse Roaming Around the Mountains?

You sure can. During summer months the younger members of the herd are allowed to roam Northern Mountains. It’s like a pony spring break before being broken in and becoming workhorses. Run free, eat some grass, meet some new friends. In autumn the farmers come together, following the tradition of gongur, to round up the ponies and bring them home. The belief being that this time in the wild increase the ponies sturdiness, stamina and attitude.

Iceland horses running free
Image credit: Promote Iceland 

This is a horse that has been purebred for over a thousand years. Treated with respect and dignity and raised to the highest levels with systematic and ambitious breeding. A horse born to climb mountains, gallop across the fields and cross rivers.

Wondering when the best time to visit Iceland? Personally, I think any time is the best time. So the next time you’re in Iceland will you forgo the modern and ride across the fields the traditional way?

Jeanette

Jeanette

Founder, Principal Blogger & Coffee Drinker

Coffee Lover | Travel Blogger | Horse Rider | Adventure Racer | Donut Dame. Generally nice lady-enjoys wine, indie movies & random dance parties in my tent.

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Experience Iceland One Tolt at a Time

37 Comments

  1. First of all, an amazing written post, not just all the information but also the writing was a pleasure to read. While I was aware of the Icelandic horses, I never knew they held such an iconic position. Traveling via horses would truly be a great experience. Thanks for sharing.

    Reply
  2. This reminds me of the horse riding classes that I used to take during my school days and of course my favorite story of ‘Black Beauty’. The islandic horses look so loveable. Glad you wrote about them and yes I dint know what tolt meant. Iceland is gorgeous and now I have more reasons to go there some day.

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  3. They’re so gorgeous! Definitely adding riding one of these onto my Iceland list!

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  4. Icelandic horses are so elegant. Its one of my most wanted places to visit list. Liked all your pictures of the horses. Thanks for sharing

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    • Oh I wouldn’t call them elegant! And sadly these aren’t my photos.

      Reply
  5. First of all, a wonderfully written post, not just all the information but also the writing was a pleasure to read. While I was aware of the Icelandic horses, I never knew they held such an iconic position. Traveling via horses would truly be a great experience, even though a little hard for the behind. It’s lovely that they are promoting and have the options to interact with such a beautiful animal rather than just driving as you said.

    Reply
  6. Wow I didn’t realise how beautiful Icelandic horses are! I would absolutely love to visit Iceland, and would love to have a horse riding experience there. Funny how your first experience with Icelandic horses was in NZ, but I’m sure the scenery there was just as beautiful as it is in Iceland 🙂

    Reply
    • When we get to Iceland I’ll be sure to compare!

      Reply
  7. Wow, I never knew there was so much to the Icelandic horses. Great story and cool adventure!

    Reply
  8. Very interetsing read. My Grandfather was from Norway, cool to imagine his ancesters getting around on those horses! Hoping to get to both Iceland and Norway one day real soon!

    Reply
  9. I’ve always seen pictures of horses in Iceland but never knew anything about on them. Thanks for all the information! If I ever go, I’ll be sure to try and see Iceland the traditional way.

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  10. I’ll be there next week and am crossing my fingers we see some! Thanks for the history on them, I will enjoy teaching our son as we ride along the road trying to spot them!

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  11. I wanted to see a Iceland horse selfie!! haha. Such beautiful animals. I had to take a double look at their manes, so gorgeous. Looked like a great trip.

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    • Thanks Alexa. Sadly we haven’t gotten to Iceland as yet!

      Reply
  12. They are such gorgeous creatures! Yet another reason to visit Iceland.

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  13. The pic with the horse looks so amazing. I see that it definitely pays off to travel on the old roads in Iceland. The landscapes look amazing.

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    • Ah which pic? They all contain horses 😂

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  14. Very cool history lesson and sounds like a good time! 🙂 I only did Iceland on a short stopover, but this looks so interesting!

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  15. I loved the analogy of the pony spring break! These Icelandic horses are absolutely stunning!

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  16. Those are gorgeous. Icelandic horses are beautiful. I had no idea the history so I really appreciate this and learned a lot. Great photos!

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  17. Last time I visited Iceland my friend and I went on a full-day riding excursion in the middle of winter. It was absolutely magical and I could not have imagined a better way to experience the snow-covered landscape on a foggy, but sunny day! Thanks for reminding me of that moment 🙂

    Reply
  18. Icelandic horses are pretty special and get why Iceland is super strict with bringing animals in the country. Sadly with all the road tripping we did in Iceland we never actually stopped to take a closer look at the horses or go horse riding.

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  19. The Icelandic horses look majestic and photogenic. They have been featured in a lot of movies probably. Their mane look fabulous. I have not seen anything like that. I laughed when you said that the younger ones have spring breaks. I wish that I can go to Iceland someday and see these creatures.

    Reply
  20. Iceland is such a dream destination for me! I would love to explore and see the Icelandic horse. The weather actually looks really good for you – not too cold?

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  21. WOW! I really really love your stunning pictures in this article. I think it’s NatGeo worth photos. I visited Iceland two years ago and also fell in love with the Icelandic horses. They are the most beautiful horses I’ve ever seen. Sad to know that they are not allowed to be back home again after being exported 🙁

    Reply
  22. Seeing horses roaming around in the ‘wild’ (or just a very large pasture, haha), is breath-taking! Exploring Iceland would be amazing enough, let alone on horseback. I rode for ten years when I was younger and would be very interested to see what this tolt is like!

    Reply
  23. The Icelandic horses are so majestic. There is something so magical about them running wild all over the Icelandic landscape. But it is sad to hear that those that have been exported can never go home, although for the protection of the rest from disease, it is probably a good thing.

    Reply
  24. I didn’t know about Icelandic Horses until I visited Iceland and saw them at the side of the road. I agree they are truly majestic and make for wonderful selfies and Instagram snaps. It’s good you’ve been inspired by a horse ride in New Zealand to see them in Iceland, I wish I had know about them before visiting I would have paid more attention and got better snaps of them.

    Reply
  25. Hi Jean,

    Love that lead in 😉 Icelandic horses have to be incredibly hardy to sustain themselves in the land of fire and ice, or ice and fire if you are a GOT fan. I cannot wait to visit. Maybe one of these days we will cease flying over or by Iceland when going cross Atlantic and stop at the darn place. Thanks for sharing 🙂

    Ryan

    Reply
  26. I’ve always seen Iceland as a somewhat magical place. It’s full of so many natural wonders. And horses! They are adorable. And I can’t even picture these horses being the only way of transportation back in the old days.

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  27. Iceland is wonderful. I did not manage to meet the horses but I heard a lot about them before going there. When I return I will be sure to visit them this time

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  28. Iceland is so high on my bucket list! Yet I haven’t convinced hubby just yet. The fact is that it’s a pretty expensive country, unfortunately, and he is afraid it’ll be freezing. Me? I just had to look at your photos, as I love horses: I’m in!

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    • You can always wear warm clothing… just saying!

      Reply
  29. I often see pictures of these horses on Instagram and blogs and I think they are absolutely beautiful creatures – I didn’t realise there were so many of them though! That’s almost one horse for every 3 people on the island! As a horse riding rookie (i’ve only ever ridden a horse once) I’m not sire I could tour the island on horseback but I would definitely go for a short ride if i’m ever in Iceland.

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  30. I didn’t realize horseback riding in Iceland was a thing! What a unique way to explore! I know so many horse-enthusiasts who may now want to add Iceland to their travel list!

    Reply
  31. Your pictures of the horses are amazing. I didn’t know about the Icelandic horse before my visit to Iceland and it was so lovely to see them. I would love to go back and see them up close. It is interesting to know about them not being aloud back into the country to prevent spread of disease

    Reply
    • I wish I could claim the photos as my own! Sadly not. One day I’ll get there and take my own

      Reply

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