Icelandic Horse Connection

Ancestors of the Icelandic Horse (Pony)

The Icelandic Horse (Icelandic Pony) is a product of a combination of several European pony breeds.

Their ancestors were ponies, and their physiological characteristics are that of ponies. (See Pony Characteristics).

Here's some information that we have been able to gather together from different sources: "It is difficult to trace its origin conclusively, but it is thought that a combination of horses from Norway and the British Isles is the most likely."

"The available steeds were no doubt direct descendants of Celtic pony native to those regions, to which the Icelandic Horse bears a strong resemblance to this day. Smaller size may have been an asset in accommodating as many horses as possible."

"The ancestors of today┤s Icelandic horses came from Northern Scandinavia and the British Isles - in particular the Dole Horse of Norway and from Britain the Celtic Pony, the ancestor of the Exmoor and the Shetland."

"The recently revived Eriskay Pony breed in Scotland is perhaps the closest modern day example of the type of horse that left Scotland for Iceland in those Viking longboats all those years ago. It is fair to say that the Icelandic horse shares some of its genetic history with of our native Scottish breeds particularly the Shetland, Highland and Eriskay with whom they have many characteristics in common."

"The ancestors of the Icelandic horse were small, sturdy and well adapted to the harsh Icelandic climate. They were brought to Iceland in the 9th century by settlers from the north of Britain and western Norway."

"Its closest relatives today are assumed to be the native horse breeds of Scandinavia and horse breeds of the British Isles."

"The icelandic pony is based on stock taken to Iceland by the Vikings when they colonized it between AD 870 and AD 930, and probably included the Fjord pony and a group of ponies from the Lotofen Islands. Later, settlers from Scotland, the Orkneys and Shetland brought their own ponies. These have blended into one breed, but various types and sizes can still be seen."

"The breed is not indigenous, but was brought to Iceland by migrants in disagreement with Norway's reigning King in the 9th Century. These were joined later by settlers from the Western Isles of Scotland who brought with them native ponies of Celtic stock (Highland ponies)."

"The Icelandic horse orginates from Celtic horses taken to Iceland by boat from Norway and Britain in the Ninth Century. The horses have been held isolated on the island with very little import for nearly thousand years. This makes the Icelandic horse one of the oldest breeds in the world and it preserved most of the appearance of the original Celtic horse."

"Vikings brought the ancestors of the modern Icelandic Horse with them on open boats when they settled Iceland late in the 9th century. The horses were of Germanic origin. Some sources believe there was Mongolian influence; that they came to Western Europe via Russia, with potential contributions from Fjords and Tarpans. There is evidence of a breed in Scandinavia and Northern Europe called Ecuus Scandianavicus, which was later crossbred to extinction on the mainland but not on Iceland. Comparison between the Icelandic Horse at the time of the settlement of Iceland and ancient Norwegian and German horses show them to have similar bone structure. It is also speculated that when the Celts from Ireland and Scotland came over they crossbred the horses on Iceland with Shetlands, Connemaras, Exmoors and Highland ponies."

"Some sources claim that at the time of Iceland's settlement there was a breed in Scandinavia and Northern Europe called Equus Scandinavicus. Other sources claim that the Icelandic horse is closely related to the English Exmoor pony."

"The Icelandic Horse (Iceland Pony) is considered to be of Mongolian origin like the Arabian horse, arriving in Iceland via Russia and Norway."

"By: Olafur R. Dyrmundsson/Emma Eythorsdotti: The closest relatives are presumably the Norwegian breeds Fjord Horse and Nordland Pony, as well as the Shetland pony."

"By: Trˇndur Leivsson: DNA studies of the Faroese Horse conducted at the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (SLU) in 2004, show the closest relationship with the Icelandic Horse compared to other north-western European pony breeds."

"The breed comparison revealed several potentially interesting SNPs. One of these (Pro258Leu) occurs at a residue that is highly conserved among AMPK genes. In an SNP screening, the variant allele was only found in horse breeds that can be classified as heavy (Belgian) or moderately heavy (North Swedish Trotter, Fjord, and Swedish Warmblood) but not in light horse breeds selected for speed or racing performance (Standardbred, Thoroughbred, and Quarter horse) or in ponies (Icelandic horses and Shetland pony)."

About the Nordland Pony, Northland Pony, Lyngen, Lynghest:

All colors occur and are accepted with the exception of dun and pied. Chestnut color is dominant.

This pony is easily trained, willing to work, energetic, and good tempered. These ponies often reach the age of 30. They are also known for retaining their fertility into their older age.



"Of the genotypes which correspond with geographic areas, cluster C1 is the most striking one: It is geographically restricted to central Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia, including Iceland. 17 of 19 documented horses of the C1 type are North European ponies: Exmoor pony, Norwegian Fjord pony, Icelandic pony, and Scottish Highland pony. Furthermore, 14 of 27 insufficiently documented horses of C1 type were ponies, including Connemaras. Two ancient Viking horses were also found to have the C1 type. Another mtDNA type, cluster E, consisted entirely of Icelandic, Shetland, and Fjord ponies."

From: Mitochondrial DNA and the origins of the domestic horse
Thomas Jansen, Peter Forster, Marsha A. Levine, Hardy Oelke, Matthew Hurles, Colin Renfrew, JŘrgen Weber, and Klaus Olek

The clearest association between cluster and breed is evidenced by cluster C1 (n = 48): in our sample, it is geographically restricted to central Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia, including Iceland. A total of 17 of 19 documented horses with C1 are northern European ponies (Exmoor, Fjord, Icelandic, and Scottish Highland). Additionally, 14 of 27 undocumented horses (3) with C1 are ponies, including Connemara ponies. The cluster is younger than perhaps 8,000 y, but definitely older than 1,500 y, because C1 was also found in two ancient Viking horses. Furthermore, mtDNA cluster E (n = 16) consists entirely of Icelandic, Shetland, and Fjord ponies. Taken together, this suggests a common late glacial or postglacial origin for these pony breeds.

Today this pony is mostly used for riding or driving or as a pack horse. The Nordland is also used in jump racing and show riding.

Nordland Pony

The horse of the vikings: Two men from Iceland: Stefan Adalsteinsson and Eirikur Sigurdsson are in no doubt that the Norlandshest is ancestry of the Iceandic Horse.

1) The north Norwegian Horse is quite similar to the Icelandic Horse in colours, size, composition, and appearence.

2) Similar horses are found in the islands nort and nortvest of scotland which are the same appearance as the Icelandic horse and have the same ancestry as provenn by bloodsamples.

3) T°lt exists in the Icelantic horse as well as the Norlandshest which is rare for horses in Europe. This crew from Iceland would very much like continue the research where the Faroe Horse also was included in the the research. If this temporary results are interpreteded the way we are doing, it is most likly that the Vikings have used this horses and have them transported the by sea from Norway across the Atlantic towards the Faroe and to Iceland.



"Of the genotypes which correspond with geographic areas, cluster C1 is the most striking one: It is geographically restricted to central Europe, the British Isles, and Scandinavia, including Iceland. 17 of 19 documented horses of the C1 type are North European ponies: Exmoor, Norwegian Fjord, Icelandic pony, and Scottish Highland. Furthermore, 14 of 27 insufficiently documented horses of C1 type were ponies, including Connemaras. Two ancient Viking horses were also found to have the C1 type. Another mtDNA type, cluster E, consisted entirely of Icelandic, Shetland, and Fjord ponies."


This is from ├zorgeir Gu├░laugsson, author of "Equus Islandicus", a new book on the origins and history of the Icelandic horse to be published in November 2004:

"The Icelandic horse and the Norwegian Fjord do most likely have some common ancestors but that does not make the Fjord horse the ancestor of the Icelandic one. Just to keep it clear; the modern day Norwegian Fjord (and in fact all modern breeds) can't be taken into the discussion about the ancestry of the Icelandic horse. Pure and simple because Icelandic horses have been bred in isolation for at least 800 years but most of other breeds haven't. Therefore one must ask, how much do those modern horse breeds look like their ancestor who were walking around in the 10-11th century (when horses were brought to Iceland)?

In his paper, "The multiple origin of horses and ponies" J. Cossar Ewart at University of Edinburgh (published in1904) comes to the conclusion that the Icelandic horse must be adescentants of different types of horses. Cossar Ewart made a series of hybridisation experiments with horses at Pennicuik, not far from Edinburgh, and even imported horses from Iceland in the 1890┤s to use in those experiments (we have a picture we believe is of him in a field full of Icelandic horses taken in Scotland around 1895).

He introduced the phrase "Celtic pony" to indicate the one of the wild equine subspecies ancestral to the domestic horse. Another heavier, Northern sub-species he called the Norse horse.

According to Cossar Ewart the ancestors of the Icelandic horse was to be found in horses belonging to both of those groups. Latter day followers of Ewart, Speed (also of Edinburgh), Skorkowski in Poland, and Ebhardt in Germany (who became an owner of Icelandic horses before the WWII) made the following classification of four different types of Equus Caballus:

1. The Celtic Pony was initially established in North West Europeandis thought to be a descendant of the Tarpan. It stands at 12 hands or1.2 metres and its closest living relative is the waterproof Exmoor Pony.

2. A heavier type of pony standing at 14 Ô?" 14.3 hands or 1.4 Ô?"1.5metres was established in Northern Eurasia. Although it has a different chromosome count, it looks similar to Przewalskis Horse. The modern equivalents are Norwegian Fjords, the Norikers and Highland Ponies.

3. A desert horse that is resistant to heat and drought. It stands at 14.3 hands or 1.5 metres and has thin skin, a long, narrow body with a long neck and long ears. It inhabits Central Asia and Spain.

4. A smaller, heat resistant horse standing at 12 hands or 1.2 metres with a refined head, and silky, fine coat, mane and tail. It is native to Western Asia and its closest living relatives are believed to be the Arab and the Caspian breeds.

It is believed that the ancestors of the Icelandic horse are horses belonging to group 1 and 2 and small influence might be from horses of group 4.

One of the Sagas (├zorskfir├░ingasaga) tells of the transport of a horse of an Oriental breed from Sweden to Iceland. This was the horse "Kinnsk├Žr", a Gothic racehorse owned by a man named Gull-├z├│rir. It is said that this horse had to be grain-fed both winter and summer, which was quite uncommon at that time in this area. Theod├│r Arnbj├Ârnsson the former advisor in horse husbandry insists that the Icelandic horse is a descendant of the Mongolian horse and thus related to an early Arab breed, although a long wayback."


From an article in "Freizeit im Sattel" 9/2002 by Hardy Oelke: The study also demonstrated that the Icelandic horse is closely related to other small breeds, such as Exmoor, Fjord and Scottish Highland, as was expected. But contrary to what was believed so far, Icelandic horses are not descending completely from the North European stock, it seems there is some Iberian blood as well, which has probably been brought into the stock by the Vikings...


Ari frˇ­i says in ═slendingabˇk that Iceland was settled from Norway. Some Celts came here around the time of the Settlement, but probably mostly without animals. Slaves owned nothing, and free men had much farther to come to Iceland from Ireland than from Norway. So our stock should have mostly have come from Norway.

The Icelandic cow is a good example of the relationship between Icelandic and Norwegian farm stock. Research on the origin of the Icelandic cow show that it is quite closely related to a breed in Norway called Blacksided Trender and Nordland Cattle, but more distantly related to all other Nordic cattle breeds. Analysis of blood samples has shown that the DNA of Norwegian Blacksided Trender and Nordland Cattle has much in common with that of Icelandic cattle.

When using the degree of relationship between the two breeds to calculate how long it was since the Icelandic breed was separated from its mother kin in Norway, it proved to coincide closely with the start of the Settlement of Iceland.1

Icelandic Horse.

The origin of the Icelandic horse has been researched twice. In the first instance the research aimed to establish whether an old Norwegian breed called the Nordland/Lyngen horse, was related to the Icelandic horse. Two Icelanders, one with specialised knowledge on the origin of horse breeds and the other an expert on horse gaits, went to Northern Norway in the autumn of 1998 to see if the Nordland/Lyngen horse had the rack (t÷lt) gait.

Nine horses of this breed were tested and five proved to perform the rack (t÷lt) well, while the remaining four did not. The Nordland/Lyngen horse is also so similar to the Icelandic horse in size and appearance that if five of the Norwegian breed were released in a paddock with fifteen Icelandic horses it would be difficult to tell them apart.2 Dr. Kristjßn Eldjßrn examined the the Nordland/Lyngen horse on one of his trips to Norway and concluded that it could be the ancestor of the Icelandic horse.3

Extensive molecular biology research on the genetic relations between horse breeds in Norway was conducted recently, and a doctoral thesis on the subject was defended in 2001. The research dealt with four Norwegian horse breeds, the Dales, Fjord, Norwegian trotter and the Nordland/Lyngen. The research also included two British breeds, an English racehorse and an English Standardbred and finally a Shetlands pony and a Mongolian horse. It should be noted that Norway conquered and annexed the Shetlands in 800 AD. All place names on the islands are of nordic origin.4 It is likely that the Norwegians took farm stock to the islands.

The comparison described above showed that the Shetland pony and the Icelandic horse are closely related, and both more related to the Nordland/Lyngen horse than to any breed in the study. The breed most closely related to the three mentioned above was the Mongolian horse, followed by the Fjord horse, the Norwegian trotter and the Dale pony. The British breeds were more distantly related to the other breeds.5 The answer to the question about the origin of the Icelandic horse is that it came from Norway from where it had originated from Mongolia.

The Icelandic breed has in some respects adapted to its environment. Those individuals who were susceptible to hard winters or to fluoride poisoning from volcanic eruptions were less likely to survive than those who could stand such conditions.6

Translated by Paul Richardson.


1. Kantanen, J. 1999. "Genetic diversity of domestic cattle (Bos tourus)." University of Joensuu Publications in Sciences, No. 52 (doktorsritger­).

2. Stefßn A­alsteinsson og Bjarni E. Sigur­sson 1998. "Er forfa­ir Ýslenska hestsins fundinn?" Ei­faxi (10), 66-67.

3. Kristjßn Eldjßrn 1991. "Or­ Ý belg um uppruna Ýslenska hestsins." Ei­faxi (4), 4-6.

4. Shetelig, H. 1933. Vikingeminner i Vest-Europa. H. Aschehougs & co, Oslo.

5. Bj°rnstad, Gro, 2001. Genetic diversity of Norwegian horses with emphasis on native breeds (doktorsritger­). Norges VeterinŠrh°gskole, Oslo.

6. Hannes Finnsson 1970. MannfŠkkun af hallŠrum, Almenna bˇkafÚlagi­, ReykjavÝk.

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