What’s So Different About Icelandic Horses and Why They Can Never Leave

Icelandic horses have long, shaggy coats, thick manes, and are considered some of the sweetest horses in the world. They’re also genetically unique because they’re descended directly from the horses the very first Vikings brought over to Iceland back in the 9th and 10th centuries. Since they haven’t been introduced to any other horse genes over the years, the result is a hardy breed that can withstand Iceland’s harsh climate with no problem. This genetic uniqueness also means that the horses have to stay contained in Iceland. At one point, other horses were brought over from mainland Europe, only for it to be discovered that Icelandic horses were not immune to the same diseases European horses were. That resulted in nearly half of the Icelandic horse population dying from disease. Now, no foreign livestock is permitted into the country, and any Icelandic horses that leave the island — such as for an international competition — can never return.