The Icelandic horse is one of the more iconic aspects of Iceland. Dating back to the 9th and 10th centuries, these horses are a distinct breed to the island and the only type of horse that’s allowed on the island. Even Icelandic horses that leave aren’t allowed to return for fear of disease.
The Icelandic horse has a wonderful personality. They are naturally playful, good tempered, and are simply a joy to be around. Stopping by any pasture and hopping out of the car will almost certainly result in horses coming over to greet you and seek your undivided attention. More intrepid visitors can jump the fence and interact with the horses without any divide. I was initially scared to “jump the fence” and stroll into the pasture, probably because a similar act in the States would almost certainly result in a verbal barrage if not an actual volley of gunfire. However, the people of Iceland are far more even tempered about such things and you may even find that your foray into pasture paparazzi may net interesting conversations with locals.
Once committed to the pasture, I was immediately surrounded by horses seeking attention or just otherwise inquisitive of me, my camera, and my pack. Licking and nudging wasn’t uncommon, so expect that you may get a little horse snot on you! At one point, I had no fewer than four horses surrounding me. The horses get so close and are so inquisitive that it’s a challenge to frame good shots. I often found myself backing up to keep the subject in view. Having a companion to keep the horses attention was helpful, so bring friends who love horses!
(photo by Anne Archambault)
Icelandic horses are also as hearty as they are playful. The weather in Iceland can be brutally cold and is often rainy and windy. These horses come custom built with thick winter coats and a sturdy, stoic disposition that suits the weather perfectly. As such, it’s not uncommon to turn around and find one of the herd striking an almost kingly pose. It’s not hard to see why the ancient vikings respected these horses and incorporated them into Norse mythology.
I’d dare to say that no trip to Iceland is really complete without a stop to see Icelandic horses. They’re simply a joy to interact with and photograph. If Iceland is on your bucket list, don’t let yourself leave without some time in a pasture!