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, running walk,
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
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
 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
About the Author
Judy Ryder is a long-time gaited horse owner, student of natural
horsemanship, gaited horses and gaits, and of human-horse relationships.