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The Icelandic Horse

icelandic horses winter martin-jernberg

The Icelandic horse is the original breed that the first inhabitants, vikings of Iceland brought with them in the early settlement of Iceland in 874. Many believe that the settlers picked out the very best livestock possible to transfer oversea when they relocated to a land with such harsh weather conditions. It is also believed that once livestock had been established in Iceland that the settlers that followed soon ceased bringing livestock with them and simply purchased what they needed from previous settlers.

As a result of isolation, the Icelandic livestock has not changed since the first settlers arrived. There has been no mixed breeding for hundreds of years. Unique Icelandic breeds, including the Icelandic horse are sheep, goat, cattle, and the Icelandic sheep dog. The Icelandic horse stands out for its five gaits, horses usually have three gallop trot and walk. In addition, the Icelandic horse has two desirable smooth gaits, “tölt” and flying pace.

The horse has been named the must needed servant in Iceland. The horse would carry heavy burdens, long distances during summer to prepare for long and hard winters. During winter the horses had to fend for themselves as hay was kept for sheep and cattle. The Icelandic horse has adapted to endure the harsh winters in Iceland, growing a thick coat during winter months to protect themselves from the cold.

Icelandic horse mountain winter view

Horses in Southeast Iceland

In Southeast Iceland, where you find the biggest glacier in Europe, Vatnajökull and other glacier outlets that crawl down the highest mountains of Iceland you will also find powerful glacier rivers. Rivers such as Jökulsá, that flows from Jökulsárlón glacier lagoon, and Fjallsá, that flows from Fjallsárlón glacier lagoon put their mark on the region. There are also numerous rivers near Skaftafell National Park that flow to the sea. In this part of Iceland there became known a horse breed called, “Hornfirski hesturinn”, named after the area. This special breed was essential to locals as these horses were well suited to handling the unique challenges posed by the rugged terrain and powerful forces of nature. They were able to cross thundering rivers that humans could not pass unaided, connecting land that was naturally divided by glacier rivers.

Legendary Horses of the Glacier Rivers

In the past there were no bridges over these glacier rivers so the rivers would flow wildly over the black sands in the region. The steps in the sand were burdensome for these horses and crossing these black deserts was a lengthy journey. But that was not the greatest challenge as the forces of the thundering glacier rivers flowing from every glacier tongue could be deadly if care was not taken in every step. You would need an extremely courageous horse to wade into a roaring streams of a glacier rivers, often over a meter in depth. The horse needed to be strong, carefully navigating each small step across the rocky riverbed and at the same time pushing its weight against the stream. Any panic from the horse, such as attempts to swim or jump while in the river could have serious consequences. The unforgiving current would quickly sweep both horse and rider away.

Icelandic horse mountain river view

The horses in the area became well known for their great stamina, enormous strength, and huge courage. They were also known for having a big and heavy chest and neck although they are quite small. Foreigners often refer to our horses as the Icelandic pony, a term that fails to amuse Icelanders who hold their horses in high regard. As machinery replaced horses, people began breeding them for recreational riding, competitions, and guided tours for tourists. There are many tour operators in Iceland that offer riding tours, such as Íshestar in Reykjavik and Eldhestar in the south of Iceland.

Icelandic horse special gait

Modern Icelandic Horses

In modern breeding the local breed from the glacier area was considered a bit heavy and temperament could go either way in terms of being too strong willed and difficult. It was a challenge to breed a kind of a light and elegant horse out of this strong courageous beasts that would rush into glacier river after a glacier river and storm over the sand deserts like a tank.

The special breed line Hornfirski horse has been bred to adjust to the modern Icelandic horse. There are few riding competitions in the country that do not have horses tracing back to the Southeast of Iceland. One of the greatest ancestor of the Icelandic horse today is a stallion from the area called Nökkvi from Hólmi

The glaciers around Fjallsárlón, Jökulsárlón and Skaftafell have shaped the surrounding nature enormously. They have also shaped the people that live in the area as well as the animals like our cherished horses. The inheritance that the glaciers have molded in the spirit and body of the Icelandic horse leaves a legacy of highest value in the modern Icelandic horse.

The most photographed animal in Iceland?

The Icelandic horse is probably the most photographed animal in Iceland. Travelers and tourists experience great joy in capturing the best shot of this legendary animal. Often travelers are tempted to stop on busy country roads such as the main ring road if they see a good photo opportunity creating road hazard. We strongly advise you to locate a safe area to park your car off the roads for a safe journey in Iceland. Additionally, please be aware that feeding these animals is prohibited as it may lead to digestive issues. Happy travels!

Icelandic funny horse dan-cook



3-4 hours

29.900 ISK

May - Nov

Your multi adventure starts with a calm boat ride on Fjallsarlon glacier lagoon. Following the boat ride, you’ll land at the foot of Fjallsjokull glacier, a place we have secluded access to. After the glacier hike, you will walk to a super jeep for a fun 15-20 min. return drive.


75-90 min

10.100 ISK

Apr - Nov

Sail with us in a Zodiac boat, amongst floating icebergs on the majestic Fjallsarlon Glacier Lagoon. This adventure tour will allow you to connect with the Icelandic nature in a way you have never experienced before. Come, have fun and cruise with us!



155.000 ISK

May - Oct

Immerse yourself in the spectacular Icelandic wilderness and spend a memorable night on the lagoon. The magnificent view over the glacier lagoon towards Vatnajökull Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe is sure to impress even the most experienced traveler!


75-90 min

101.000 ISK

Apr - Nov

On this private tour you can decide along with your captain how your cruise evolves. Cruise among icebergs and sail beside the glacier wall in your own style! This tour is popular with couples, friends & families who want to share an adventure in a private and personal way.


2 hours

255.000 ISK

Apr - Oct

Cruise to a secret island located close to the edge of the glacier in the lagoon. Set foot on land that only few have entered! Sip champagne and take in the magnificent view towards Vatnajokull Glacier, the largest glacier in Europe. Create memories that will last a lifetime.


3,5-4,5 hours

24.500 ISK

Nov – Mar

Explore the Icelandic wilderness on our way to a blue ice cave located in Breidarmerkurjokull glacier outlet.
Ice caves are a natural wonder that every adventurer should behold.



3-4 hours

21.900 ISK

Encounter the extraordinary by joining our exclusive glacier hike! This trip is tailored for those who seek adventure, are physically fit, and have a deep desire to explore the untouched, rugged attraction of Fjallsjökull glacier.

Fjallsarlon Iceberg Boat Tour Iceland

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