Icelandic Horse Connection

Is the Icelandic a Horse or a Pony?

It has been said that some of the ancestors of the Icelandic Horse were the native breeds of Scotland: Shetland, Highland and Eriskay. During the time that the Vikings took the horses to Iceland, the easy gaits (foxtrot, tolt, rack, runningwalk, amble, singlefoot, pace, etc.) were common throughout horse breeds in Europe. There is scientific, historical and archeological evidence of the existence of these gaits at that time.

A pony is usually described as being under 14.2 hands. But more than that, there are particular characteristics that define a pony. The Icelandic Horse generally carries these traits.

Several pony breeds also like to be called "horses", for example the Caspian Horse and the Norwegian Fjord Horse. These two examples accept and use the "pony" word in talking and writing about their equines. Often the words horse and pony are used interchangeable.

It has been said that the reason the Icelandic Horse is NOT a pony is because it is the only equine in Iceland. It has also been said that there is not a word for "pony" in Iceland, therefore it's called a horse.

No matter the reason, there is no need to be offended by the "pony" word! Ponies have great attributes!

Compared to horses, ponies often exhibit thicker manes, tails and overall coat, as well as proportionally shorter legs, wider barrels, heavy bone, thick necks, and short heads with broad foreheads.

The following pony characteristics apply to all pony breeds, including the Icelandic Horse:

[] Typical compact body; round shape, stocky build, wide chest, and well-sprung ribs.

[] Shorter legs (shorter cannon bone length).

[] Short head and neck; trim ears, large eyes.

[] Ample bone as compared to the horse (the denseness makes them weigh more for their size).

[] Strong feet; harder, more resilient, better shaped). Rarely need shoes.

[] Distinctive coat features to protect from wet/cold weather. Extra tail hairs, and projected brow.

[] Thicker winter coat, mane, tail, and forelock.

[] Fewer incidences of pneumonia and colic.

[] Ability to live outside year round.

[] Centuries of living on harsh terrain: durability and self-reliance.

[] Agility and jumping abilities.

[] Easy keepers.

[] Generally live a long time.

[] Can transport a greater percentage of their weight.

[] Short muscular legs give more strength to pull.

[] Endurance to carry adults.

[] Carry less weight on their feet compared to horses, which adds to soundness.

[] Good surface area of the foot, compared to the bone-to-mass ratio of the body.

[] Can be easy to train, willing to work, and levelheaded.

[] More self-protective and prudent.

[] Can be independent and appear to think thru things.

[] Can be curious and cunning, and escape artists.

[] Naturals for pasture breeding and running in herds.

[] More resistant to diseases, but prone to certain conditions (mostly due to over-eating, i.e. laminitis).

[] More prone to upward fixation of the patella.

[] More prone to Cushings since they live longer.

[] Capture attention with their distinctive conformation, attitudes, and durability.

Ponies for adults are becoming more and more popular due to the number of mature people coming into the horse world. These owners love their ponies!

If someone calls your Icelandic Horse a pony--it's true, it is!

Ancestors of the Icelandic Horse / Pony.

Here is a group of pictures of ponies and horses. It should be obvious to a horseman's eye which one is a pony and which one is a horse.

Included in the pictures are: Welsh, Dales, Fjord, Fells, Icelandic, Standardbred, Tennessee Walker, Quarter, Appaloosa, Warmblood, Thoroughbred.

ponies and horses


"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, J�rgen 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.

To contact us, please go to the Contact Page.