Buyer's Checklist

It is the aim of this Buyer's Guide to assist the prospective purchaser by providing a description of some of the steps involved in making a horse purchase and a glossary of frequently used terms.

Table of Contents

The United States Icelandic Horse Congress

The United States Icelandic Horse Congress (USIHC) is the U.S. member association of FEIF, the international organization which governs the competition and breeding of Icelandic Horses in all countries outside Iceland. FEIF recognizes in each country one member association which regulates competition and breeding in that country in accordance with the policies of FEIF. With this organizational structure, uniformity has been achieved throughout the world, since each country must recognize and adopt one breed standard, one set of competition rules, and one set of registry rules. There may be other Icelandic Horse organizations within a country, but they are social or promotional in nature and have no authority to regulate competition, breeding or registration matters.

Being a purebred, registered Icelandic Horse is a great deal of the value of the horse, so the buyer should have proof of this before completing the purchase. The USIHC Registry is concerned with maintaining the purity of the breed by insuring that registered Icelandics have been verified as purebred by having their blood type matched to that of their parents (who are registered Icelandics).

To avoid complications, it is simplest if the horse purchased has already been registered with USIHC by the seller. When a U.S. registered horse changes hands, the seller fills out the transfer of ownership section on the back of the original U.S. Registration Certificate and gives it to the buyer, who sends it (not a photocopy) to the USIHC Registrar with the applicable fee. The new owner receives a U.S. Registration Certificate showing him or her as the owner of record.

To register a horse, certain document and proof of the parents' registration and blood-typing are required. The FEIF member Registry rules for Icelandic Horse are extremely strict and no lack of the required documents is permitted; photocopies are not acceptable. There have been cases of horses being ineligible for U.S. registration because of the lack of the proper official paperwork, which means that their offspring are also ineligible for registration. A prospective purchaser can contact the Registrar for registration information to learn the specific details and procedures.


A prospective buyer should familiarize him or herself with the terminology used to refer to different types of horses and their gaits, in order to determine which one is best for his or her needs. The following are the generally accepted meanings although individuals may differ in their own definitions of these terms.


This is the four-beat, lateral gait of the Icelandic Horse, which is very comfortable to ride. It is sometimes compared to the rack of the American Saddlebred, but there is a lot of variation in this gait, from horses which move somewhat like a Paso Fino to ones which tölt similar to the running walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse. The tölt is a natural gait, meaning that the horse is born with the ability to perform the gait (although it is best brought out by good training and riding), and it doesn't require the use of manipulative training devices, extreme shoeing, etc. A four-gaited horse will possess the tölt, in addition to the walk, trot and canter.

An incorrect tölt is closer to two-beat than four-beat is the "Pig's Pace" (similar to the lateral gait sometimes seen in gaited breeds which rely on shoeing and training). A tölt/canter combination, sometimes seen in young, untrained horses, or in horses which mix their gaits, is the "Valhopp." Neither of these gaits are desirable, and they can be uncomfortable for the rider.

Flying Pace

Also known as the skeith, not every Icelandic Horse exhibits this fifth gait. This is a very fast lateral gait, very slightly four-beat, with a period of suspension in which all four feet are off the ground. The Icelandic Horse is the only breed in the world which performs this distinctive gait and, unlike the pace of the American Standardbred, it is comfortable to sit. Icelandics Horses are raced in flying pace under saddle (like Thoroughbreds), not pulling a sulky (like Standardbreds). A five-gaited horse will possess the flying pace, in addition to the tölt, walk, trot, and canter.
Natural Tölter

This term is sometimes used to refer to a horse whose favorite gait is tölt. This horse might be more difficult to get into trot and/or canter (the Icelandic Horse is truly four and five-gaited and a good trot and canter are prized), and may not have high leg action desired in a competition horse, but might be a good choice for a pleasure rider who wants a horse that is very easy to get, and keep, in tölt.


This term refers to the "goeyness" (the fire or spirit) of an Icelandic Horse. A great deal of willingness is prized in Iceland, while American riders usually prefer a less willing horse. A horse which is docile in the field or during groundwork could be surprisingly willing under saddle. A willing horse is more of a volunteer, a less willing horse may wait to be asked, and a very willing horse will have faster reactions and greater speed.
Family Horse

This term refers to a horse that is claimed as being calm, well-trained, quiet, and suitable for the average rider. This is a relatively less willing horse.
Grandmother's Horse

This term refers to an extra-quiet, well-behaved horse that is claimed to be suitable for the inexperienced or timid rider. This is a horse without much willingness.
Competition or Sport Horse

This term refers to a horse that is claimed to have the brilliance, willingness, and ability necessary to excel at competitive gait classes. This horse is more likely to posses high leg action, speed, and a distinct clear beat in all gaits. It may be more sensitive, or challenging to ride, and is likely more suitable for the experienced rider, although the ideal competition horse is also a superlative pleasure horse. In some cases, a Family or Grandmother's Horse could be a Sport Horse, possessing whatever willingness the activity or rider requires.


The buyer must decide what he or she requires from a horse, in order to determine what type of horse can best fill those requirements. For instance, is the horse to be used for trail riding, competition in gait classes, a particular riding discipline (such as dressage), breeding, etc.? What is the buyer's experience level (as judged by an expert, such as a riding instructor or professional trainer): beginner, novice, intermediate, advanced, or expert? It is best to be as truthful as possible about one's goals and abilities, in order to find a suitable horse. Remember that, as in all breeds, a green horse needs an experienced rider, while a green rider needs an experienced horse. Do not interpret the apparent easy-going nature and temperament of the Icelandic Horse as an exception to these guidelines.

As an example of how goals and abilities might influence the type of horse desired, a rider who wishes to participate in dressage competitions will require a horse with an exceptionally good trot and canter, while a trail rider with a bad back might prefer a natural tölter. A less experienced rider may be more comfortable with a four-gaited family horse, while an advanced equestrian could desire the excitement and speed of a five-gaited competition horse.

The prospective owner should take advantage of any chance at education, requesting the USIHC's informative brochure and Breeder's List, checking out the videos available on the market, attending Icelandic Horse demonstrations, and talking with knowledgeable owners and breeders (while keeping in mind that every individual involved in Icelandic Horses has an individual opinion).

Ideally, the buyer should look at several horses before selecting one. If there is a special quality particularly important to the purchaser, he or she should emphasize that during the search. For safety, it is a good idea to require (after making clear the buyer's requirements as to abilities, type, character, and willingness) that the seller of the horse first demonstrate it. Then, the buyer could try the horse in a controlled situation, such as an arena, before taking it out into an open area. The horse should be ridden in the type of situation in which the new owner will be using it, for instance, out on the trail in the company of other horses. Preferably, the horse should be tried out on more than one occasion, so that the buyer gets a clearer idea of the horse's true temperament and abilities. There are many horses available and the buyer should resist the temptation to fall in love with an unsuitable horse.


The value of an Icelandic Horse is determined by its breed, abilities, training, pedigree, appearance, character, soundness, farm reputation, and the market demand. All of these factors, and perhaps others unlisted, can be considered by the prospective purchaser, who can obtain sales lists from farms (such as those found on the USIHC Breeders' List) and check out the advertisements in the Icelandic Horse Quarterly (the official publication of the USIHC) to get an idea of what a suitable horse will cost.

The buyer may want to have the horse inspected thoroughly by a veterinarian in a pre-purchase examination, may wish to obtain radiographs (x-rays), and should rely on his or her veterinarian's advice as to the soundness of the horse for the particular activity desired. The buyer may want to question the seller about the health history of the horse and its relatives. Although not unique to our breed, some Icelandic horses (rarely domestic ones) may develop allergies. A horse may be free of allergies in one location, but develop them in a different place, or at a later time.

Icelandics cost a considerable amount to import and, because they are relatively slow-maturing and cannot be started until approximately four years old (which means that they can't be sold as trained horses at a young age), they may never be as inexpensive as some popular U.S. breeds. Because they tend to be healthy, long-lived, athletic companions with wonderful personalities, owners generally consider them to be a great value.

After The Purchase

Welcome to the Icelandic Horse family! Be sure to join the USIHC (individual and household memberships are available, and include a subscription to the Icelandic Horse Quarterly), and contact the Registrar about transferring ownership of the horse.

The USIHC can be contacted at:

United States Icelandic Horse Congress
c/o Kari Pietsch-Wangard
300 South Sawyer Road
Oconomowoc, WI 53066
Tel 866-929-0009 [extension 1]

The Registrar can be contacted at:

USIHC Registrar
P.O. Box 1724
Santa Ynez, CA 93460
Tel (866) 929-0009 [extension 2]
Email The Registry

To get the most out of your new horse, it will require proper tack, equipment, and shoeing. Icelandic tack (which resembles English tack) is recommended, as this style fits the breed physically and allows the horse to move correctly, although some Icelandic Horses are able to perform well in other types of equipment. Advertisements for tack and shoeing supplies, shoeing and training videos, etc., can frequently be found in the Quarterly (although the USIHC is not responsible for the contents of the ads).