Icelandic Domestic Animals


Icelandic Domestic Animals

Watch this audio slideshow about Icelandic domestic animals. Many people are familiar with the Icelandic horse, a special breed of small sturdy colorful horses, which have a unique gait called tölt. The Icelandic sheep is also well known, as are the Icelandic cows and the Icelandic sheep dog. However, fewer people have heard of the Settlement Goat and Settlement Hen.

Photos by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir, Símon Vilbergsson, Páll Stefánsson and Svanfrídur Oddgeirsdóttir. Narration by Eygló Svala Arnarsdóttir.

Click here to download the slideshow.


Many people are familiar with the Icelandic horse, a special breed of small sturdy colorful horses, which have a unique gait called tölt.

The breed was brought to Iceland with the settlers in the 9th century AD and the island’s harsh natural environments helped shape the horse into what it is today—an excellent horse for riding.

Horsemanship is a popular hobby in Iceland and tourists are keen on experiencing Icelandic nature from the back of a horse. Highland tours are especially popular—across the Sprengisandur desert, for example.

The Icelandic horse was invaluable to Icelanders of the past, both as a mode of transport and as a working animal on the farms. In the haymaking season, horses carried heavy loads.

Today, horses are still important to farmers, especially during sheep herding in the autumn. Both horses and sheep spend the summer in the mountains and are driven down to the valley in the autumn.

Both horses and sheep are herded into a special enclosure with different compartments, which the animals’ owners use to sort them out. The event is called réttir (stódréttir for horses) and has become quite the tourist attraction.

Icelandic sheep are also unique. Like the horses, they have many different colors. Their wool is used to make the traditional Icelandic lopapeysa sweater and lamb is considered especially tasty.

Now people can foster Icelandic sheep in the webstore in exchange for wool and/or meat and both Icelanders and foreigners have embraced these opportunities to become indirect sheep owners.

Icelandic cows are also unique and Icelandic dairy products are considered especially delicious by many people. Skyr, which is technically a soft cheese but tastes more like thick yoghurt, has acquired fans all over the world.

The Icelandic sheepdog is also becoming popular. It is considered an especially chirpy dog breed and has therefore been used to cheer up people in hospitals and nursing homes.

Horses and sheep are the most common domestic animals in Iceland; people driving around the country can observe them from their cars wherever they are. Cows and dogs can also frequently be spotted around farms.

However, fewer people are aware that there is also a special Icelandic goat breed, called the Settlement Goat, and a special Icelandic breed of hens, known as the Settlement Hen.

Tourists who want to see these animals up close can visit the Reykjavík Zoo.

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