The Origins of the Icelandic Horse
Icelandic horses are descended from horses brought by settlers when Iceland was settled between 874AD and 935Ad. Those who settled Iceland came from Norway, Ireland and the Western Isles of Scotland, so native breeds from all these places are likely to have been the ancestors of the modern Icelandic horse. Once settled in Iceland the harsh nature will have shaped the breed producing a hardy horse well adapted to the wild weather and rough terrain in which they found themselves. Icelandic horses developed short legs and necks, a long and thick winter coat and an efficient digestive system. They are known for being sure-footed, which is not surprising when you think of the mountains, rivers and lava fields of Iceland.
Once the horses in Iceland were sufficiently well established to breed it is unlikely that many more horses would have been imported and it is said that they are pure bred for 1000 years. 1882 a law was passed forbidding the import of any horses and this remains in place today to protect the national herd from diseases. This is the reason that no horse that leaves Iceland to take part in the international competitions can ever return, and also the reason that the Icelandic Horse World Championships are never held in Iceland.
In June 1783 there was a huge volcanic eruption at Laki, which continued to spew into the atmosphere for eight months and created a haze right across Europe. In Iceland the effects were catastrophic, up to 25% of the human population died, and most of the livestock. There were around 36,000 horses in Iceland before the eruption and it is thought that up to 27,000 died after it. Today’s Icelandic horses are descended from the hardy little fellas that survived.
For more information of the origins and history of the Icelandic Horse:-