The Icelandic horse is a small breed of horse that has evolved in isolation in Iceland. Archeological finds in Norway, where the Icelandic horse is descended from, have revealed that the Icelandic horse belongs to an ancient race that died out in other parts in Europe but survived in Iceland for 1100 years without crossbreeding. It has gradually developed into several strains. The most important of these are the Svaðastaðir strain and the Hornafjörður strain. Horses from Svaðastaðir are considered to have a more attractive gait and to be more dainty and frisky; while those from Hornafjörður are larger, and have greater endurance and courage.
The Icelandic horse is small, weighing between 330 and 380 kilograms (730 and 840 lb) and standing an average of 132 to 142 cm (52 to 56 inches) high. It has a spirited temperament and a large personality. It comes in a wide variety of colors, and the Icelandic language includes more than 100 names for various colors and color patterns of the Icelandic horse.
The Icelandic, as it is commonly called, is known for its sure-footedness and ability to cross rough terrain. It displays two gaits in addition to the typical walk, trot, and canter/gallop commonly displayed by other breeds. The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering. The breed also performs a pace called a skeið, "flying pace". It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth, with some horses able to reach up to 50 km/h (30 mph). It is not a gait for long-distance travel.
The Icelandic horse is long-lived and hardy and has become very popular internationally. A sizable population exists in Europe and North America. In their native country they have few diseases; and as a result Icelandic law prevents horses from being imported into the country and exported animals are not allowed to return.
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