The Viking Horse
As well as it's beautiful, almost lunar landscape, Iceland is famous for its breed of stunning native horses. The horses were bred from ponies taken to Iceland by Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries and are a tough and hardy breed that can survive the harsh winter climate.
One of the unique features of the Icelandic horse is its ability to run in two additional gaits to the traditional walk, trot and gallop displayed by other breeds.
The 'tölt' gait has the horse running almost as a human walks - with one hoof on the ground at all times. The result is a very smooth movement - it is said that Icelanders can drink a pint of beer while riding in the tölt gait without spilling a drop!
The 'flying pace' (flugskeið) is a high speed gait which is used for short distances and in which both hooves on one side of the horses body touch the ground at the same time. Riding at flying pace is considered to be the crown of horsemanship!
Icelandic horses are a relatively small breed, but are muscular in build, with short, strong legs. They have a full, coarse hair mane and a double coat for extra insulation in winter. They are known for their good temperament, being friendly, enthusiastic and self-assured.
There are still herds of wild horses which roam across the beautiful and unique landscape. Many have also been domesticated, and are still sometimes used for shepherding, as well as for leisure rides.
In order to protect the Icelandic horse from disease, no other breed of horse is permitted in Iceland, and any horse that leaves the country is not permitted to return. This is because the Icelandic horse has not developed immunity to disease - any outbreak could be potentially devastating to the population.
Photo courtesy by visiticeland.com