Destinations · Things to Do · Culture · Iceland
March 16, 2023 Words: Katie Altman

A Horse of Another Color (or 40)

Make friends with Iceland’s unique pure-breed horses.


When you think of Iceland, the first thing that comes to mind might not be horses. But after you see and experience these amazing animals, you might just come home and be surprised about how much you are talking about them!

The origin of this special horse breed dates back 1,000 years to the arrival of Norse settlers. Today’s 80,000 Icelandic horses make up a pure breed descended from those brought by the Vikings. Iceland’s strict laws ensures that they are carefully bred to maintain the purity of the breed, with its unique characteristics. In fact, a law passed in 982 AD prohibits any other horse breed from being brought into the country — and if a horse is removed from Iceland, it is never permitted to return.

Their legs are short, but don’t make the mistake of calling them ponies — in fact, Icelanders may be insulted if you do! Icelandic horses are remarkably sturdy and resilient, able to withstand the country’s climate and unique terrain. They’ve made it through volcanic eruptions and earthquakes — not to mention Viking battles! While most horses live 25-30 years, Icelandic horses live up to 40 years or more.

Icelandic horses are one of the most colorful horse breeds in the world, coming in a fascinating array of colors and patterns. While there are only three “base coats” (red, black, and bay), there are 40 genetic color variations with names like skewbald, dun, and silver dapple. Horses with the rare roan gene even appear to change colors according to the season, showing off a white coat in spring and autumn. Unique markings in the breed include blaze, snip, and star. The variations are almost endless.

When you drive around Iceland famous Ring Road, you’ll start to notice the horses in the pastures, their gorgeous manes flying in the wind. It won’t be long before you’ll say, “How can I ride one of those?” Luckily, there are many opportunities to book a ride you won’t soon forget. When you book a horse riding tour with one of the country’s many farms, you may even be able to experience the Icelandic horse’s unique gait, called Tölt. These are the only horses in the world that have a fifth gait, and Tölt is so smooth, it feels more like gliding than riding. As a way of showing off this special gait, Icelanders have been known to ride while carrying a glass of water full to the brim, without spilling it!

The other thing that distinguishes Icelandic horses is their fun and friendly spirit. They love humans and will approach you without hesitation. Get ready to make a sweet new friend when you feed them some grass, pose for an unforgettable selfie, or get ready for your ride.

There are [many great times of year to visit Iceland]( "many great times of year to visit Iceland"), and Seabourn’s voyages provide a chance to see these incredible horses that are truly the pride of Iceland. While the horses are mostly kept for pleasure, in September, you can also find them helping with the annual sheep roundup, called the réttir. Visitors to the country are welcome to join in the fun celebrations that follow.

This is your moment to experience an ultra-luxury adventure refined to its purest form—and see horses in their purest form—on a Seabourn voyage to Iceland.

Ready to set sail?

Consider these upcoming voyages:

11-Day Iceland Circumnavigation

ROUNDTRIP: Reykjavik, Iceland

Jul 25, 2024

from $9,999*

Explore Itinerary

*Per Person, USD. Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses are included. Additional terms apply.

14-Day Icelandic Intrigue

ROUNDTRIP: Dover (London), England, UK

Jul 27, 2024

from $10,399*

Explore Itinerary

*Per Person, USD. Taxes, Fees and Port Expenses are included. Additional terms apply.

Icelandic horse in the field of scenic nature landscape of Iceland.
Icelandic horses galloping down a road, rural landscape, Iceland


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