The Icelandic horses were brought to Iceland by the first Viking settlers during the years 874 – 930. Their boats were small, and only a few horses, the very best, were brought along. At an early stage, import of farm animals was forbidden in the country.
Because of this, no other horses have been brought to Iceland for 9 centuries, and now there is only one breed of horse in Iceland: the Icelandic horse, one of the purest in the world. There have been no infusions of outside blood for over 800 years and if a horse is exported from Iceland it can never come back to the country!
People used to keep their horses outside, and only started to stable them in the 20th century. Thus, the horses were toughened by harsh weather conditions, volcanic eruptions and other natural disasters. The principle of “Survival of the fittest” made the Icelandic horses very fit indeed: they are famous for their amazing strength, sure-footedness, stamina and endurance. They also have a highly developed large intestine that enables them to survive on very little food.
WHAT KIND OF SADDLES TO USE ON THE ICELANDIC HORSE
The tack used for Icelandic horses is slightly different then the tack ordinarily used for other breeds. The saddle is built close to a dressage saddle and has a relatively flat seat. Saddles come with plain or quilted seats. On longer rides a crupper helps keeping the saddle in place. Riding style used on Icelandic horses is close to English riding style, but stirrups are worn long.
If you are riding the Icelandic horse it is recommended to use an Icelandic saddle, made especially for the Icelandic horse. The main reason is, that they put the weight of the rider too much forward. The rider is thus resting it´s weight on top of the withers of the horse, or very close to it. Sometimes even interfering with the movement of the shoulder blades. When the horse lifts it´s leg and takes a step in tolt, there is a huge rotation happening in the shoulder blade, and the horse should not have to squeeze the shoulder blades under the saddle in every step. To get the Icelandic horse to free it´s withers, riders have to be resting their weight a bit more behind on the horse than on many other breeds, endurance, dressage, western and other such saddles.
The tree, and consequently the panels of the Icelandic saddle are generally more flexible than traditional English and endurance models. That helps the horse free the shoulder, it improves saddle fitting and makes it less likely that the horse gets sore from the saddle. Not all saddles made for Icelandic horses are great, and some saddles made for other breeds work superbly for the horses and their gaits, but this should be given a thought before selecting a saddle for the horse. Few questions riders also need to take into consideration: How is the saddle fitting the horse? Does it poke it somewhere? Does it give the shoulder blades enough space to rotate? Is it helping centering your center of weight over the center of weight of the horse?
It seems as though the position of the stirrup leather on an Icelandic saddle is further back and straighter down than more typical English or endurance models. This keeps the leg more towards the middle of the horse and also away from the sides of the horse.
Bits used are mostly simple snaffles or Icelandic curb bits. Bridles have a detachable nose band and clip on reins.