How Much Weight Can an Icelandic Horse Carry: Key Facts and Details

Are you planning to go horseback riding in Iceland? If so, you might be wondering, “How much weight can an Icelandic horse carry?” It’s a common question among riders, and in this post, we’ll explore the key facts and details you need to know before saddling up. So, let’s dive in and discover the weight limits of Icelandic horses!

Icelandic Horse History and Origins

Icelandic horse with a long flowing and blonde mane

Icelandic Culture and Riding Tradition

The Icelandic horse has a rich history, dating back to the early Norse settlers who brought their horses with them between AD 860 and 935. The horses accompanied the settlers from Western Scotland, Ireland, and most likely Norway, to the volcanic island that would become known as Iceland. These horses formed the foundation of the Icelandic horse breed, which has since become an integral part of Icelandic culture and identity.

The Icelandic people have relied on their horses for various tasks, including transportation, herding, and companionship. Riding has developed into a strong tradition in Iceland, with Icelandic horses being the center of many cultural celebrations and events. The bond between the Icelandic people and their horses has only grown stronger as the breed has persisted and thrived in its inhospitable environment.

Influence of Mythology and Literature

The Icelandic horse has not only held a significant role in daily life but has also left its mark on Icelandic mythology and literature. Featuring in numerous sagas and folktales, the Icelandic horse is often depicted as a strong and fearless creature, capable of crossing harsh terrains and carrying its riders to safety during battles or dangerous journeys.

Many myths even portray these horses as being endowed with magical abilities and intelligence—traits that the Icelandic people greatly admired. The reverence for the Icelandic horse extends to its unique gaits, which include the tölt and the skeið, believed to have developed from gene mutations. These gaits have become a symbol of the breed and contribute to its mythical reputation.

Selective Breeding and Isolation

The isolation of Iceland played a crucial role in the development and preservation of the Icelandic horse breed. With no other breeds introduced to the population since the initial arrival of the horses, selective breeding became an essential practice for maintaining the breed’s purity and hardiness.

Although the Icelandic horse is often considered pony size, with an average height of 13-14 hands (52-56 inches, 132-142 cm), it is always referred to as a horse. The breed showcases both four-gaited and five-gaited varieties, with the latter being more flexible and soft in their movements. The focus of breeding has been to maintain these unique traits while cultivating strength, resilience, and adaptability.

Through centuries of isolation and careful breeding, the Icelandic horse has become a distinct and beloved symbol of Iceland’s history, mythology, culture, and tradition. Today, the breed is not only cherished in its homeland but is also admired and celebrated by equine enthusiasts throughout the world.

Characteristics of Icelandic Horses

Horses in the mountains in Iceland

Size and Conformation

Icelandic horses are a unique breed known for their small stature and hardiness. They typically stand between 13 and 14 hands (52 and 56 inches, 132 and 142 cm) high, which is often considered pony size, but are always referred to as horses by breeders and registries. They usually weigh between 330 and 380 kilograms (730 and 840 lb). Icelandic horses have a well-proportioned and sturdy build, with short legs, strong loins and shoulders, and a deep chest. Consequently, they can withstand heavy weight loads while maintaining their lively temperament.

Mane and Tail

The thick and abundant mane and tail of the Icelandic horse contribute to its unique appearance. The mane is often long, full, and can be straight or wavy, while the tail is usually carried low and set well down between the buttocks, which provides additional protection from the elements in their Icelandic homeland. The hair can be of the same color or a different color from the rest of the horse’s coat, adding to its distinctiveness.

Colors and Coat Patterns

Icelandic horses exhibit a variety of coat colors and patterns, including chestnut, black, bay, palomino, pinto, and more. They can even have a unique coat color called ‘silver dapple.’ The winter coat of Icelandic horses is particularly thick and insulating, allowing the breed to withstand the cold and harsh climates of their native Iceland. The winter coat’s colors may even change, becoming lighter or darker than the regular coat. This variation in coat color and thickness is not only visually appealing but also functional, as it helps keep the horse warm and protected during the harsh Icelandic winters.

Temperament and Personality

One of the most distinguishing breed characteristics of the Icelandic horse is its temperament and personality. Icelandic horses are known for being friendly, curious, and gentle, which makes them excellent companions for riders of all ages and skill levels. Mares and stallions usually have similar personalities, contributing to a more unified breed temperament. The Icelandic horse is also known for its assertiveness and natural curiosity, which complements its strong and robust physicality. With sure-footedness and versatility, the Icelandic horse is an ideal mount for a variety of equestrian activities, from trail riding to competitions.

Overall, the Icelandic horse has numerous notable characteristics, from its size and conformation to its stunning coat colors, luxurious mane and tail, and their adaptable temperament. These qualities create a versatile and resilient breed that is cherished by equestrians worldwide.

Icelandic horses are unique in the equine world, as they possess more gaits than most other breeds. Let’s explore their different gaits and how they set Icelandic horses apart from other breeds.

The Tölt

The tölt is a signature gait of the Icelandic horse, prized above all others. It is a four-beat trot that is exceptionally smooth, making it a joy to ride. The natural fluidity of the tölt allows the rider to experience minimal movement, ensuring a comfortable ride even over long distances.


The walk is a four-beat gait found in all horse breeds. It is the slowest gait, but it is crucial for connecting other gaits in the Icelandic horse’s repertoire. In the walk, the horse moves one foot at a time, creating a smooth, rhythmic motion.


The trot is a two-beat diagonal gait where the horse moves its legs in diagonal pairs. While trotting, Icelandic horses display impressive strength and stamina. The trot is an essential gait for these horses, though it might not be as celebrated as the tölt.

Canter and Gallop

The canter is a three-beat gait, while the gallop is a four-beat gait. Both gaits are characterized by their speed and power, with the gallop being the fastest of all horse gaits. Icelandic horses are known for their energetic canter, and their powerful gallop showcases their unique agility and strength.

Special Gaits: Skeið

Skeið, or flying pace, is a gait exclusive to Icelandic horses. It involves the horse moving quickly in a two-beat lateral pace, where they reach speeds of up to 48 km/h over short distances (100 to 200 meters). Not all Icelandic horses can perform the flying pace, and those who do are considered to be the best of the breed.

Five Gaits

In addition to their walk, trot, canter, and gallop, Icelandic horses have one or more unique gaits, such as the tölt and the flying pace. These additional gaits give them a total of five natural gaits, which sets them apart from other horse breeds. Icelandic horses’ ability to perform these diverse gaits reflects their versatility, adaptability, and incomparable grace in the equestrian world.

Weight Carrying Capacity

Icelandic horse in the scenic nature landscape of Iceland

Average Weight vs Maximum Weight

The Icelandic horse, a relatively small riding horse, measures around 140 cm at the withers and typically weighs about 350 kg on average. In comparison, many other riding horse breeds measure between 155-170 cm at withers and weigh about 450-550 kg. It is estimated that an Icelandic horse can carry up to 20% of its body weight. Therefore, a 350 kg Icelandic horse could carry up to 70 kg (154 pounds). However, care must be taken not to overload these horses, as doing so can cause them undue stress and strain.

Factors Affecting Carrying Weight

Various factors can influence the carrying weight of an Icelandic horse, such as:

  • Rider’s size and weight
  • Saddle weight
  • Distribution of the load
  • Horse’s fitness and health
  • Terrain and footing

Taking these factors into account, it is essential to understand that the figures provided are merely estimations, and it is important to assess each horse individually to determine the optimal carrying weight.

Carrying Capacity and Sure-Footing

A critical aspect of the Icelandic horse’s strength is its sure-footedness. The Icelandic horse is known for its ability to traverse diverse and difficult terrains, such as rocky landscapes and steep inclines. Their excellent hoof care and natural balance contribute to this remarkable sure-footedness.

Additionally, a properly balanced load will not only help maintain the horse’s carrying capacity but also improve its ability to navigate challenging terrains. Ensuring that the rider’s weight, saddle weight, and other equipment are well-distributed can significantly enhance the horse’s overall performance and comfort.

In conclusion, the Icelandic horse’s carrying capacity is greatly impacted by factors such as average weight, maximum weight, and the horse’s overall health and sure-footedness. Considering these aspects is essential when determining the optimal carrying weight for this unique and resilient breed.

Physiological Responses to Weight Carrying

Icelandic Horses In Winter standing on fresh snow

Icelandic horses are known for their exceptional strength and ability to carry heavy loads. This section will explore the physiological responses of these horses to weight carrying, focusing on heart rate, plasma lactate levels, fatigue, and fitness level when carrying different percentages of their body weight.

Heart Rate and Plasma Lactate Levels

The heart rate of an Icelandic horse is an essential physiological response to consider when understanding the impact of carrying heavy loads. A study on Icelandic horses found that their heart rates increased as the weight of the load increased. The same study also observed an increase in plasma lactate concentration with increasing weight carrying ratios (BWR) between 20% and 35% of the horse’s body weight.

Plasma lactate concentration serves as a vital indicator of the horse’s anaerobic energy metabolism, which increases during periods of heavy exertion. As the load on an Icelandic horse increases, the amount of anaerobic energy required also increases, leading to higher plasma lactate levels.

Fatigue and Fitness Levels

The fitness level and overall body conditions of Icelandic horses also play a critical role in determining their ability to cope with different weight loads. In the same study mentioned earlier, it was observed that horses mainly worked aerobically until reaching a BWR of 22.7%, after which there were considerable individual differences in fitness levels affecting their ability to carry further loads.

However, these individual differences were not solely linked to the horse’s size, but rather the body condition score. This body condition score also revealed a strong relationship between the overall fitness and fatigue levels experienced by the Icelandic horse when carrying various weight ratios.

Icelandic horses are resilient and can adapt well to weight carrying, but it is essential to maintain their overall health and fitness levels to minimize the impact of increased weight loads on the horse’s heart rate, plasma lactate levels, and fatigue. Factors such as regular exercise, proper nutrition, and sufficient rest can significantly enhance the Icelandic horse’s ability to cope with heavier loads.

To summarize, the physiological response of Icelandic horses to weight carrying is influenced by their heart rates, plasma lactate levels, fatigue, and fitness levels. By understanding these factors, and ensuring the overall health and well-being of the horse, the Icelandic horse can continue to showcase its strength and ability to carry heavy loads without compromising its health or performance.

Icelandic Horses in Sports and Work

Cute brown and white Icelandic horses with typical manes standing around iron fence

Icelandic horses are known for their versatility, strength, and unique gaits. They are utilized in various aspects of sports and work, including transportation, agriculture, and equestrian competitions.

Transportation and Agriculture

In the past, Icelandic horses played a crucial role in transportation and agriculture. Due to their strength and endurance, they were utilized for carrying heavy loads across rugged terrains and even played a primary role in plowing fields. Their resilience and adaptability enabled them to thrive in Iceland’s harsh and unforgiving climate. As a result, Icelandic horses have been invaluable to the country’s development and remain essential for various rural tasks.

Pony and Draft Horse

Although smaller in size compared to other horse breeds, Icelandic horses possess the strength and capability to perform as both a pony and a draft horse. They typically weigh between 330 and 380 kilograms and stand an average of 13 to 14 hands high. Despite their smaller stature, Icelandic horses are known for their power and endurance, enabling them to carry loads comparable to larger draft horses.

Icelandic Horse Riding and Equestrian Sports

Icelandic horses are famed for their unique tölt gait, a smooth and rhythmic four-beat gait that enables the rider to maintain a comfortable and stable position. Their versatility extends to equestrian sports, where they are involved in various forms of riding and competitions. Research has shown that Icelandic horses can carry 20% to 35% of their body weight in rider weight, making them suitable for riders of different sizes.

To ensure that Icelandic horses’ welfare is maintained during sporting events, it’s crucial to monitor the impact of a rider’s weight on the horse’s performance, particularly in tölt competitions. A study concluded that Icelandic horses’ stride parameters were affected by the rider’s weight in the range of 20% to 35% of the horse’s body weight. However, these horses’ remarkable resilience and adaptability enable them to comfortably participate in various equestrian activities, including pony racing, dressage, pleasure riding, and endurance events.

In conclusion, Icelandic horses have proven their mettle in sports and work settings, showcasing their incredible versatility, agility, and strength. Their unique characteristics make them suitable for various purposes, from transportation and agriculture to equestrian sports and beyond. As a result, these resilient and adaptable horses continue to be treasured by riders and enthusiasts all over the world.

Horse and Rider Relationship

Icelandic Highlands in Snow Covered Meadow

Understanding the Icelandic Horse’s Temperament

Icelandic horses are known for their unique temperament, which is characterized by their gentle and friendly nature. These horses are highly intelligent and versatile, making them excellent partners for riders of all experience levels. The Icelandic horse’s exceptional gait, called the tölt, sets them apart from other breeds and provides a smooth and comfortable ride for the rider.

Taking the time to understand your Icelandic horse’s temperament is essential for establishing a strong and lasting bond. Patience, consistent training, and positive reinforcement are key components to build trust and respect between the horse and rider.

Horsemanship and Care

To maintain a healthy relationship with your Icelandic horse, it is essential to practice proper horsemanship and care. This includes providing a safe and comfortable living environment, regular grooming, and routine health check-ups. Ensuring that your horse’s tack and equipment fit properly will also contribute to a positive riding experience for both the horse and rider.

When it comes to carrying weight, Icelandic horses can handle a significant load. Studies have shown that they can carry up to 35% of their own weight, or an average of 128 kg. However, overloading should be avoided, as it can cause undue stress and strain on the horse.

Nutrition and Hoof Care

Proper nutrition is critical for maintaining the health and well-being of your Icelandic horse. A well-balanced diet that contains the appropriate amount of vitamins, minerals, and nutrients will ensure your horse maintains the energy and strength needed to carry the rider. It is important to consult with a veterinarian or equine nutritionist to develop a customized feeding plan tailored to your horse’s specific needs.

In addition to a balanced diet, proper hoof care is vital for a healthy Icelandic horse. This includes regular hoof trimmings and cleanings to prevent debris from accumulating and causing infections or other issues. Exercising your horse on various terrains can also help keep their hooves strong and well-adapted to different environments.

By following these guidelines, you can help foster a healthy and enduring relationship with your Icelandic horse, ensuring that it remains a dependable and valued partner.

How Much Weight Can an Icelandic Horse Carry?

Close up view of two Icelandic horses in winter

The Icelandic horse, a small yet sturdy breed, has impressive strength despite its size. Weighing between 730 and 840 lbs and standing 12.2 – 13.2 hands (50-54 inches) tall, these horses are known for their ability to carry heavy loads relative to their body weight.

Experts suggest Icelandic horses can carry up to 20% of their body weight, which means that a 740-pound horse can hold up to 148 pounds (67 kilograms). It’s essential to avoid overloading these horses to prevent undue stress and strain.

Historically, Icelandic horses were used for haymaking, carrying 100 kg of hay each, known as “hestburður.” At that time, the horses were smaller, with an estimated body weight of around 300 kg.

When using an Icelandic horse for riding, it is crucial to consider the physiological effects of the rider’s weight. A study on Icelandic horses found that these horses can still support adults of various sizes. The research on Icelandic horses established that the horses performed well and without significant signs of discomfort when carrying a weight of 20%-35% of their body weight in tölt (an Icelandic horse’s unique gait) for short distances.

It is crucial to uphold ethical practices when determining how much weight an Icelandic horse should carry. Factors such as the horse’s age, body condition, and overall fitness should be considered to ensure the animal’s well-being.


In conclusion, the Icelandic horse’s carrying capacity is a testament to its strength and adaptability. While these horses can support up to 20% of their body weight, it is essential to consider each horse’s individual characteristics and limitations. With responsible and considerate practices in place, Icelandic horses can continue to flourish as powerful and reliable companions for various equestrian activities.