Short, Stocky And Furry: Cold-Weather Horse Breeds

Posted in: Featured, Horse Care, Uncategorized

Unlike my fair-weather self, several horse breeds have evolved over the centuries to survive and thrive in extremely cold winter weather conditions. Here are three hardy breeds who have it made in the snow.

Icelandic Horse

Weight: Around 800 pounds
Height: 13 to 14 hands
Color: A wide range of coat colors, including chestnut, bay, black, dun, gray, palomino, pinto and roan. They have a double coat of hair for extra protection from the harsh climate.
Body type: Short, stocky and furry – basically the opposite of your ideal Saturday night date. Natural selection played a major role in breed development, as many specimens died due to starvation and exposure.
Temperament: Friendly, easy to handle, and not easily spooked. This last aspect is likely a result of the horses’ not having any natural predators in Iceland.
Gaits: 5 gaits. In addition to walk, trot and lope, Icelandic horses can amble (also called tolt) and pace. The tolt is a four-beat lateral gait known for its explosive speed and comfort. The pace is a two-beat lateral gait with a moment of suspension between footfalls. Not all Icelandics can perform both the tolt and the pace, and those that can are considered the best of the breed.

Here, an experienced rider performs the pace on a well-balanced, skilled horse.


Ahhh, this pair makes the tolt look relaxing and fun!

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Modern-day uses: Some Icelandic sheep farmers still use these horses to gather their sheep, but their primary use is for riding and leisure.
Cool fact: The earliest Norse people considered the horse as a sign of fertility.
Sad fact: White horses were slaughtered as sacrifices.
Solemn yet sweet fact: Horses were a prized possession of medieval Icelanders, and war horses were sometimes buried with their fallen riders.
Something we wish had never happened: Organized stallion fights were held during 930 to 1262 AD. These bloody spectacles served as entertainment and public gatherings for politicians.
The last of the….Icelandics: This is the only horse breed present in Iceland. By law, no horses are allowed to be imported into Iceland, and horses that leave aren’t allowed to return. This strict policy has kept disease rates impressively low, as well as helped keep the breed pure.

Horses beware: You can’t go to the purple country on the upper left, and if you leave, you can’t go back.


How beautiful are these two?

Very. They are very beautiful.
Photo Credit:

Yakutian Horse

Alias: Yakut Horse
Why: Because this furry equine hails from Yakutia, in eastern Siberia.

: About 13 hands
Body type: Short and compact, with a short neck and straight, wide feet.
No sweater body here: Yakutian horses lose up to 20% of their body weight during the long, cold winter months.
Because they are always wearing a sweater: Yakutians have thick manes and tails and exceptionally thick winter coats.
Claim to fame: This is the only horse that can survive in the Arctic Circle. They can safely be kept unstabled in -94°F temperatures.

Wow, everything about this looks cold. But how about that mane, right?

Photo Credit: If you are as fascinated by these horses as I am, check out their website for more breathtaking photos.

Is he still breathing?! These horses’ entire bodies adapt during the wintertime, and their respiration rate drops from 20 breaths/minute to 10-12 breaths/minute.
What’s that smell? Yakutians have an exceptional sense of smell, enabling them to sniff out grass to eat beneath the many feet of snow.
Human helpers: These horses would most likely not have been able to survive in this extremely harsh climate if not for the help of the Sakha people, who provide them with feed during the harshest weather.

Yakut horses adapt to summer weather, as well. I bet they really enjoy both days of it.

Got (horse) milk? The Sakha people use fermented mare’s milk as a main ingredient in a local drink called Kumiss. They also use the skin and the mane to decorate clothing, and horse meat accounts for as much as 22-25% of annual meat consumption.
Still wild: Many Sakha people maintain a low level of maintenance for their horses, preserving their state of near-wildness. They believe that the horses allow themselves to be used by humans in a sort of symbiotic relationship.

Yakut horses are used by the Sakha people to transport ice on sleighs.

Fjord Horse

AKA: Norwegian Fjord Horse
Height: Between 13.1 and 14.3 hands
Weight: 900 to 1,200 pounds
Color: Dun. They can also be dun, dun, or sometimes dun. The breed association recognizes five shades of dun, and white markings are discouraged.

OMG, there are ZEBRA FJORDS???!!! No, calm down, this is definitely paint.

Body type: A light draft. Wait, are we talking about a horse or a microbrew? Fjord horses are light enough for riding and strong enough for driving. The average microbrew is strong enough for imbibing and should of course never be used while driving.
Temperament: Mild and docile, they are often used as a children’s riding horse or for driving tourists around the country.
History: Like the Icelandic horse, Fjords are one of the purest breeds in the world.

See that purple country on the left? They are super picky about their horses. Strict import/export laws have helped keep the Fjord horses pure through the centuries.

Fjord horse, in poetic form: “The eyes should be like the mountain lakes on a midsummer evening, big and bright. A bold bearing of the neck like a lad from the mountains on his way to his beloved. Well-defined withers like the contours of the mountains set against an evening sky. The temperament as lively as a waterfall in spring, and still good-natured.”
Holy moly, if that description doesn’t make you want to hop a plane to Norway and get your hands on a Fjord horse ASAP, nothing will. This verse was used to describe the horse, which is also a national symbol of Norway, at the 1996 International Conference.

If I had Fjord horses, this is definitely what I would do with them.


Okay, okay, fine. It would probably be something more like this, if I was 5 years old and adorable.


In addition to riding, Fjords are also used for driving.

Thanks for reading and I hope you enjoyed learning about these wonders of winter as much as I did. Stay warm and stay riding!


Posted in: Featured, Horse Care, Uncategorized

About Jolyn Young

Jolyn Young lives near Fallon, NV with her cowboy husband and 3 small kids. For more, visit

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