Icelandic Horse vs Normal Horse: In-Depth Comparison Guide

Are you wondering what sets the Icelandic horse apart from a “normal” horse? Look no further! In this in-depth comparison guide, we’ll explore the unique characteristics of Icelandic horses and compare them to their more common counterparts. From their history and temperament to their physical traits and abilities, we’ll cover it all. So, saddle up and join us as we dive into the world of Icelandic horse vs normal horse!

Icelandic Horse Vs Normal Horse

A cute Icelandic horse foal

Origins and History

The Icelandic horse is a breed unique to Iceland with its ancestry tracing back to the Viking Age when Norse settlers introduced them to the island. Over the centuries, these horses have adapted to the harsh Icelandic environment, developing resilience and a distinct set of characteristics that set them apart from other breeds. In contrast, the term “normal horse” refers to the more widespread and popular breeds found around the world.

Physical Characteristics

Icelandic horses are usually smaller in stature than their normal horse counterparts. They possess a thick, double-layered coat that helps keep them warm in the cold Icelandic climate. Their heads are known to be plain and somewhat heavy, with a strong jawline. Icelandic horses also have short, sturdy legs that enable them to navigate rough terrain with ease. On the other hand, normal horses vary dramatically in physical traits depending on the specific breed. Some may have a more refined appearance with longer legs and a sleeker body, while others could be more robust and muscular.

Size and Strength

When comparing size and strength, Icelandic horses typically stand between 13 and 14 hands (52 to 56 inches) high, which may classify them as pony-sized. However, it is important to note that breeders and registries always refer to them as horses. Icelandic horses generally weigh between 330 and 380 kilograms (730 and 840 lb), a testament to their strength despite their smaller stature.

In comparison, normal horses come in a wide range of heights, sizes, and strengths, depending on their specific breed. Some breeds may stand taller than 17 hands (68 inches) and weigh up to 1000 kilograms (2200 lb) or more, whereas others can be comparable in size to the Icelandic horse.

One key factor that sets the Icelandic horse apart from other breeds is their natural gait variety. Icelandic horses have up to five natural gaits: walk, trot, tölt, canter, and pace. The tölt, in particular, is highly prized for its smoothness and is often referred to as the “gait of the gods.” Normal horses, on the other hand, generally have three primary gaits: walk, trot, and canter, with some breeds able to perform additional specialized gaits like the pace or gaited ambling.

In summary, the Icelandic horse boasts unique features that distinguish it from normal horses, including its distinct ancestry, adaptive physical traits, smaller size, and natural gait variety.

Breed Characteristics

A closeup of an Icelandic white horse


Icelandic horses are known for their unique gaits. While normal horses typically have three gaits—walk, trot, and canter/gallop—Icelandic horses possess two additional gaits, tölt and skeið, also known as the flying pace. The tölt is a smooth, four-beat gait, which provides a comfortable ride for riders even at higher speeds. The skeið, or flying pace, is a rapid, two-beat lateral gait that allows Icelandic horses to travel long distances quickly.


The temperament of Icelandic horses differs from other breeds, as they are generally good-natured, friendly, and intelligent. Their resilience in harsh conditions has also contributed to their hardy nature, making them more adaptable and easygoing. This amiable temperament makes Icelandic horses suitable for both experienced riders and beginners, as they are easy to train and build strong bonds with their owners.


Compared to other horse breeds, Icelandic horses are notable for their fertility. This can be attributed to their adaptability to extreme weather conditions and rough terrain, resulting in a robust and healthy population. However, Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country, and exported animals are not allowed to return. This protection ensures the continued purebred status and high fertility of the breed.

Purebred Status

Icelandic horses are recognized as a purebred breed, with their lineage tracing back over a thousand years. Their purebred status has been maintained through strict breeding practices and Icelandic laws that prevent crossbreeding with other horse breeds. This selective breeding ensures that their unique characteristics, such as their additional gaits, exceptional temperament, and hardiness, are preserved for future generations.

Icelandic horses possess a variety of distinct coat colors and patterns, showcasing the breed’s genetic diversity. There are over 40 recognized colors for Icelandic horses, which contribute to their stunning beauty and appeal. This breed’s combination of unique gaits, friendly temperament, and purebred status sets them apart from other horse breeds, making them an exceptional choice for riders and breeders alike.

Role in Icelandic Culture

Icelandinc horses having a good time

Mythology and Folklore

The Icelandic horse has a rich history embedded in the culture, mythology, and folklore of Iceland. These horses are believed to have been brought to the island by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries. Within Norse mythology, the Icelandic horse is often associated with the eight-legged steed, Sleipnir, ridden by the god Odin. Sleipnir is known for its exceptional speed and agility, reflecting the hardiness and resilience of the Icelandic horse in the harsh Icelandic terrain.

National Pride

Icelandic horses hold a special place in the hearts of Icelanders due to their unique qualities and historical significance. With their spirited yet gentle temperament, they are adored and celebrated by the people of Iceland, who take immense pride in their national heritage link. Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country, and once exported, they are not allowed to return, ensuring the purity of the breed and protection of their valued native horses link.

Horse Riding

Horse riding has been an important aspect of Icelandic culture for centuries. The Icelandic horse is well-renowned for its diverse gait, particularly the famous tölt, which is unique to this breed. The tölt is a smooth, comfortable gait that allows riders to traverse long distances without tiring link. The Icelandic horse is also capable of performing the standard walk, trot, and canter, as well as the less common skeið, or flying pace, which demonstrates their exceptional agility and versatility.

Horse riding in Iceland is not just limited to leisurely activities but also features in the form of competitions, such as the Icelandic National Horse Show, an annual event where Icelandic horse enthusiasts gather to celebrate their beloved equines.


Races are a popular form of entertainment and competition within the Icelandic horse community. Both tölt and pace races captivate audiences, showcasing the speed and grace of these horses. Icelandic horse racing events are characterized by a blend of tradition and contemporary sportsmanship, reflecting the deep-rooted connection between the Icelandic people and their horses. These races reaffirm the strong bond between the people of Iceland and their national symbol, promoting unity and cultural pride.

In conclusion, the Icelandic horse is not only a unique breed with its own set of fascinating characteristics but also a representative symbol of Iceland’s culture, history, and mythology. It retains a prominent role in the lives of Icelanders and continues to be a captivating source of folklore, national pride, horse riding, and racing that brings the community together.

Adaptability and Resilience

Harsh Weather Conditions

Icelandic horses showcase remarkable adaptability and resilience to thrive in their native Iceland. The country is known for its harsh weather conditions, including storms, heavy snowfall, and freezing temperatures. Icelandic horses have evolved to withstand these challenging conditions, thanks to their unique genetic makeup and spirit. An essential feature that sets them apart from other horse breeds is their double-layered coat, which provides excellent insulation and protection from cold Icelandic winds.

These horses have developed strong bonds with their human counterparts, which has further enhanced their ability to survive in Iceland’s relentless climate. Historically, they have been relied upon for transportation, herding, and companionship. This relationship has led to the breed’s versatility, intelligence, and endurance, making it a popular choice worldwide.

Rough Terrain

Iceland’s landscape is characterized by varied terrain, from volcanic lava fields to steep mountain slopes. The Icelandic horse has adapted to traverse this challenging environment with ease. Their small stature, measuring between 13-14 hands tall, coupled with their stocky build and thick bones, allows them to navigate the diverse terrain with exceptional stability and agility.

One aspect that contributes significantly to the Icelandic horse’s adaptability in rough terrain is its five natural gaits: walk, trot, canter, tölt, and flying pace. The tölt, a smooth four-beat lateral gait, provides a comfortable ride for riders and enables these horses to cover long distances quickly. The flying pace, a rapid, two-beat lateral gait, allows the Icelandic horse to reach impressive speeds while maintaining their balance and control.

  • Harsh weather conditions:
    • Storms
    • Heavy snowfall
    • Freezing temperatures
  • Unique adaptations:
    • Double-layered coat
    • Strong bonds with humans
    • Versatility, intelligence, and endurance
  • Rough terrain capabilities:
    • Small stature and stocky build
    • Five natural gaits
      • Walk
      • Trot
      • Canter
      • Tölt
      • Flying pace

In conclusion, Icelandic horses exhibit exceptional adaptability and resilience, allowing them to thrive in their native homeland despite the challenging weather conditions and rough terrain. Their unique physical and behavioral traits have earned them recognition as a versatile and enduring breed, admired for its spirit, tenacity, and the strong bond it shares with its human partners.

Equine Population and Tourism

Beautiful brown Icelandic horses

Wild Horses

Icelandic horses have unique characteristics that set them apart from other horse breeds. They are known for their distinct five gaits, which include the additional tölt and flying pace. In Iceland, the population of these horses is notably high, with around 80,000 Icelandic horses in the country, which amounts to approximately one horse for every four people.

Although Icelandic horses are not considered wild, they roam the Icelandic countryside freely in certain areas. This close proximity to the people and the widespread popularity of the breed contribute to their significant role in the local culture and economy.

Horseback Riding Tours

Tourism plays a significant role in showcasing Icelandic horses and their unique features. Horseback riding tours have become popular activities for visitors to experience the landscapes and natural beauty of the country while riding these exceptional animals.

The popularity of riding tours has led to an increase in the number of tour operators that offer them, catering to both beginners and experienced riders. Most riding tours are guided and can vary in duration, from a few hours to multi-day excursions. These tours often introduce visitors to the icelandic horses’ additional gaits, showcasing their unique qualities and abilities.

Several factors contribute to the success of these horseback riding tours. Iceland’s magnificent landscapes provide the perfect backdrop for exploring on horseback. Additionally, the docile and friendly nature of Icelandic horses makes them ideal companions for riders of varying skill levels.

In conclusion, the Icelandic horse’s unique qualities and Iceland’s vast equine population have made them an integral part of the country’s tourism industry. Horseback riding tours offer visitors an immersive and unforgettable experience, further solidifying the Icelandic horse’s status as a true icon of the country’s culture and identity.

Icelandic Horse Care

The Icelandic horses huddled together

The Icelandic horse is a unique and spirited breed that requires special attention and care. This section will go into detail about their feeding and grazing needs, equine health, and housing requirements to ensure they live a healthy and happy life.

Feeding and Grazing

Icelandic horses, like other horse breeds, need a balanced diet to maintain their health and energy levels. They should be provided with hay, grains, vegetables, and access to clean water. Given their tendency to be hardy and adaptable, they can thrive in various grazing conditions, including Iceland’s harsh environments. However, it is essential to monitor their weight and adjust their diet accordingly, as they may be prone to obesity from overgrazing.

Equine Health

The health of an Icelandic horse is of paramount importance. These horses are known for their lively and energetic nature, which requires experienced riders to manage. As a result, proper health care measures must be taken to ensure they remain in peak condition.

Icelandic horses are a purebred breed, which means they may be less likely to encounter genetic diseases. However, a gene mutation is responsible for their unique gaits, the tölt and the skeið. It is crucial to be aware of these potential issues and consult with a veterinarian to monitor and maintain their health.


Icelandic horses need a well-maintained stable to provide shelter from harsh weather conditions. They are not meant to be left alone to fend for themselves in extreme cold or forage for their own food. Adequate housing should be dry, ventilated, and spacious enough to ensure their comfort, with a separate area for bedding, feeding, and exercising.

In addition to a proper stable, Icelandic horses should have access to a pasture or paddock for daily exercise and grazing. Regular grooming and hoof care are essential aspects of their care routine, as these support their overall well-being.

Taking care of an Icelandic horse can be a rewarding experience, as they are known for their friendly and adaptable nature. By paying close attention to their feeding, grazing, health, and housing needs, owners can ensure these horses thrive and maintain their unique and spirited characteristics.

Global Presence


The Icelandic horse is a unique and versatile breed that has gained prominence in various equestrian competitions around the world. This hardy horse is renowned for its agility, talent, and five distinct gaits, which set it apart from other horse breeds. Icelandic horses have been featured in competitions organized by the International Federation for Equestrian Sports (FEI), where they demonstrate their exceptional abilities and adaptability in different environments.

Icelandic horses excel in competitions such as tölt races, four-gait, and five-gait, where they display the walk, trot, canter or gallop, tölt, and pace gaits. These horses have become popular choices for many equestrians due to their unique gaits, smooth rides, and friendly temperaments. They can be found participating in events not only in their native Iceland but also in Europe, North America, and other parts of the world.

Size Requirements

Although Icelandic horses typically stand between 13 and 14 hands tall, which is generally considered pony-sized, they are always referred to as horses. This is because of their impressive strength, ability to carry heavy loads, and spirited personalities. The official breeding goal for Icelandic horses allows for significant size variations, ensuring that the breed remains diverse and adaptable.

These horses are well-suited for diverse equestrian activities, including trail riding, endurance events, and even dressage competitions. Furthermore, their small stature doesn’t hinder them from competing with larger horse breeds, as their energetic and spirited nature allows them to excel in various equestrian disciplines.

In conclusion, the Icelandic horse is a globally recognized breed that has a strong presence in various equestrian competitions. Their unique characteristics, like their five distinct gaits and hardiness, make them a favorite among many equestrians. Likewise, their versatility and ability to compete with larger breeds contribute to their steadfast reputation and worldwide popularity.

Comparisons with Other Breeds

A mature Icelandic horse

In this section, we’ll compare the Icelandic horse with two other unique breeds—the Fjord horse and the Mongolian horse. By looking at their similarities and differences, we’ll gain a better understanding of their unique characteristics and capabilities.

Fjord Horse

The Norwegian Fjord horse is a strong, compact breed originating from Western Norway. One of its distinguishing features is its unique mane, which is trimmer and stands upright, compared to the Icelandic horse’s long and flowing mane. The Fjord horse is slightly larger, standing between 13.2 and 14.2 hands high, compared to the Icelandic horse’s height range of 13 to 14 hands.

Both breeds demonstrate similar temperament traits, being friendly, adaptive, and hardworking. Icelandic horses, known for their natural ability to perform five gaits, including the tölt and flying pace, have a smoother ride compared to the Fjord horse, which generally performs the more common three gaits—walk, trot, and canter/gallop.

That said, the Fjord horse exhibits more powerful conformation, making it suitable for a broader range of physical activities such as plowing and heavy farm work. Meanwhile, the Icelandic horse is highly regarded for its endurance, versatile nature, and adaptability to various riding styles.

Mongolian Horse

Mongolian horses share some similarities with Icelandic horses, as both breeds are small in stature, highly resistant to harsh weather, and renowned for their hardiness. While the Icelandic horse weighs between 330 and 380 kg, the Mongolian horse weighs approximately 450 kg, making it a slightly heavier breed. Both breeds stand roughly between 12 and 14 hands high.

One key difference between the two breeds is their gaits. Unlike the Icelandic horse, the Mongolian horse does not perform the smooth tölt or the rapid flying pace. Instead, the Mongolian horse is known for its ability to travel significant distances over challenging terrain without tiring—a trait highly valued by the nomadic Mongolian people.

Icelandic horses tend to have thicker fur and a broader range of colors, which can include bay, black, chestnut, dun, gray, palomino, pinto, and roan, as mentioned on Nat Hab. In contrast, Mongolian horses typically have more limited coat colors, with chestnut, bay, and gray being the most common.

In conclusion, while the Icelandic horse, Fjord horse, and Mongolian horse share some similarities, they also exhibit unique traits that cater to the needs of their native environments and diverse riding styles. By understanding these differences, riders and caretakers can better appreciate the qualities that make each breed special.

Color Variations

Icelandic horses exhibit a wide range of color variations compared to standard horses. They are known for their colorful and diverse coats, with over forty basic colorings officially listed and more than a hundred variations in total. Among the base coat colors found in Icelandic horses, we can find red (chestnut), bay, and black.

Chestnut is the most common base coat in Icelandic horses and comes in four different shades. Standard horses, on the other hand, typically have four or five basic coat colors: black, bay, brown, chestnut, and sometimes gray or dun. Additional color variations such as roan, palomino, and dun can also be found, although they might be more prevalent in certain breeds.

Icelandic horses are widely recognized for their unique and diverse coats, which might be related to their isolation on the island of Iceland. The Icelandic language has over 100 names for various colors and color patterns. Interestingly, it is believed in Icelandic culture that a horse’s color could be reflective of its personality.

In comparison, the coat colors of standard horses can also vary within breeds, but they might not be as diverse as the Icelandic horses. Common variations in standard horses include roan, chestnut, gray, bay, brown, palomino, and dun. Paint horses, a specific breed known for their distinct color patterns, have three main coat patterns: tovero, overo, and tobiano.

To summarize, Icelandic horses showcase a broad array of colors and patterns compared to standard horses, making them an attractive breed for enthusiasts and horse lovers. Both breeds can exhibit a variety of coat colors and patterns; however, Icelandic horses are notably more diverse in their coloration, which in turn makes them a unique and fascinating breed to study.

Icelandic Horse vs. Normal Horse

An Icelandinc horse standing on a mountain

The Icelandic horse is a unique breed that sets itself apart from other horse breeds in various aspects. This hardy and long-lived equine species has a distinct genetic makeup, originated from Viking steeds that were brought to Iceland in the year 1000 source. Icelandic law strictly prohibits the import of horses, ensuring the preservation of the breed’s unique traits.

In contrast to other horses, Icelandic horses can display two additional gaits besides the usual walk, trot, and canter/gallop. These extra gaits make them exceptional in the equine world source. Despite their relatively small stature, similar to that of ponies, they are still considered horses due to their ability to carry heavy weights, spirited temperament, and overall hardiness source.

A “normal” horse, although more commonly known, is not as easily defined due to the numerous breeds that exist globally. Each breed has its characteristics, strengths, and abilities. However, the Icelandic horse is often compared to thoroughbreds, which are taller and leaner in appearance. Thoroughbreds are well-known for their speed, agility, and impressive performance in racing and various equestrian sports.

The temperament of Icelandic horses differs as well, as they tend to be warm-natured and patient, making them an excellent option for beginner riders. Their shorter and stockier build also provides a stable and less intimidating experience for those new to horseback riding source.

In terms of health, Icelandic horses benefit from longstanding legislation preventing importation, resulting in a breed with minimal disease exposure. The tough and multicolored breed has also experienced several population crashes throughout history, contributing to its resilience source.


In summary, the Icelandic horse and what one might consider a “normal” horse, such as a thoroughbred, exhibit notable differences. The Icelandic horse’s unique gaits, hardy nature, and strict breed preservation regulations make it an exceptional species within the equine world. In contrast, the thoroughbred is widely recognized for its racing prowess and athleticism, making it more suitable for equestrian sports. When it comes to choosing a horse for casual riding or embracing the world of equestrianism, these differences should be taken into consideration to make an informed decision.