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Science is My Specialty Presents: Anita Brook Dupree
The Icelandic Horse
This is an article in a series about my recent trip to Iceland.
Like most things in Iceland, the Icelandic horse has a history based on the remoteness and isolation of Iceland and the impact of settlement between 874 AD and 935 AD. When Equus ferus caballus was brought over from Scandinavia over 1000 years ago, the Vikings brought over only the best of the best horses to Iceland. Over the years, by selective breeding and natural selection, the horse has become sturdy and capable of withstanding the harsh Icelandic weather. Selective breeding is the process of breeding plants and animals for particular genetic traits. Animals brought to Iceland that were able to withstand the climate were bred with other animals with similar traits. Over many years the traits that allowed the horses to live in harsh conditions were the one that thrived.
No other kind of horse has been allowed in Iceland for over 800 years so the breed is quite pure, and has a low prevalence of disease. They also have little immunity to disease. No livestock of any species can be imported to Iceland so as not to infect the horse. All equipment taken into the country for use by horses is fully disinfected. Icelandic horses can be exported but no Icelandic horse can be returned after it has left.
The Icelandic Horse looks more like a pony, but most registries classify it a horse. There is actually no word in Icelandic for pony, so maybe this is why it is referred to as a horse, despite its size. This breed of horse has a double coat for extra warmth in cold temperatures, strong short legs, and full tails and manes with coarse hair. The tail is set low. They have an even disposition. Some people say the horse is more like a large pet because it is friendly, patient, adaptable and is friendly. They seem to like people, and the company of other horses. In fact these horses have more tendency to become grumpy if they are alone.
For a simple visual explanation of selective breeding go to: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=W_CnR0Ak604
To learn more about the Icelandic Horse: http://www.icelandhorse.org/