All the hot springs, waterfalls, geysers, glaciers, and aurora borealis are indeed great reasons to visit Iceland. However, the cutest of all the reasons must be the Icelandic Horse, or well - 80.000 of them. There's roughly one horse per each three inhabitants of Iceland, which means you will be seeing them wherever you go, slowly grazing, play-fighting or just being cute. This is exactly why my first Golden Circle tour got pretty delayed. Each time we saw horses by the road, we actually stopped to just stare at them and try making friends. As there are no predators in Iceland, they are generally not scared and sometimes do approach people, which for me was a truly heart-melting moment (especially until I realised the fence between me and the horses was electric).
Fuzzy and cute, Icelandic horses look like stuffed toys, or horses coming out of a cartoons. But, they are real, and also one of the purest horse breeds in the world. They came to Iceland on the Viking ships between 860 and 935 AD and got quickly mixed with other breeds from the North Atlantic area. Already more than 1000 years ago the breed was protected and today is known as the Icelandic horse (Íslenski hesturinn). To prevent possible diseases, no other horse breed is allowed in the country and once an Icelandic horse is exported, it's not allowed back inside. This means that the Icelanders actually never take their best horses out for riding competitions.
Although they are small (up to 142 cm tall) they are very strong, and aren't considered ponies. The breed comes in all kinds of coat colours, often with extraordinary markings, and some Icelanders believe that a horse's colour might reflect its personality. In general, these horses are said to be "spirited but gentle".
An interesting detail is that this is one of a few breeds that can perform five gaits (ways of walking). Most of the breeds can only perform those well known three or four - walk, trot and gallop. The additional "gears" of Icelandic horses are rapid ambling gait known as "tölt" and so called "flying pace" ("skeið" in Icelandic).
For those who like horseback riding, doing it in Iceland surely is an amazing experience. Not only because of smooth-as-silk trot of Icelandic horses, but also because of the beautiful landscapes where you can do it. There are plenty of agents offering horseback riding experience and they are either expensive or... even more expensive. For true horse lovers, however, there are other options. You can either work or volunteer during high season in one of the companies and get to spend every day with these babies.
Did you like the travel story?
Get more! Subscribe to our monthly inspiration newsletter.