Issue Date: March 2001

The horse was brought to Iceland from Norway in the ninth or tenth century. Since then, it has become a symbol of national identity. The Icelandic horse is small, with a heavy coat that gets shorter in the summer. In the winter, the hair changes color and gets shaggier to provide protection from the cold and wind. Because the animal is so adapted to its northern climate, importation of other breeds is not allowed. Experts at Ishestar (ice horse), a riding center near the capital, Reykjavík, explain another reason for the ban is that the Icelandic horse's isolation has kept it safe from common diseases. If such diseases made their way to Iceland, many horses would die.

The breed is exported, however, and is quite popular in mainland Europe, especially for its five gaits. These include a unique sideways trot and a type of running called tolting, in which the rider feels almost no bounce. Icelandic horses are known as gentle and friendly animals that can be as playful as children. Because of their temperament and height, about five hands, they are sometimes called ponies, but this is a misnomer.

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