Breeds from Around the World: Part Six – the Faroese Horse

Posted on July 26, 2021


In this series of blogs, we are taking a look at horse breeds from around the world. In this post, we learn about the Faroese Horse. For this, we need to head to the Faroe Islands – an isolated group of islands in the North Atlantic.

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Origin

Precisely when this breed originated is not entirely clear. Some believe the Faroese Horse travelled with the first Irish monks to the Faroe Islands in the year 726, even before horses arrived in Iceland. Others believe Norwegian settlers brought them from Scandinavia and Britain, when they colonised the Faroes in the 9th Century. The geographical isolation of the Faroe Islands in the North Atlantic forced the Faroese Horse to adapt to its surroundings. Only the horses that could withstand the harsh climate survived, thus the Faroe Islands developed their own population of strong, hardy and agile horses.

, Breeds from Around the World: Part Six – the Faroese Horse, In The Saddle

The Faroese Horse has been roaming the islands for more than a thousand years (credit MN Johansen)

Breed Characteristics

At around 12hh, the Faroese Horse is small – technically a pony. But ‘pony’ is a relatively new word from the 16th Century. Due to limited outside influence on their language, the Faroese do not distinguish between ‘horse’ and ‘pony’. They use the word ‘ross’ – which means horse.

Faroese horses are seen in chestnut, bay, black and skewbald. They have a very dense coat, which offers effective protection against the island weather. They have well-shaped, expressive heads and short, low-proportioned necks. Their feet are strong, with good quality hooves that allow them to negotiate all types of terrain. This breed has a patient character and mild temperament, but they can sometimes be strong-willed. They are incredibly strong in relation to their size and have impressive stamina.

, Breeds from Around the World: Part Six – the Faroese Horse, In The Saddle

Faroese horses are small, but very strong (credit J Olavsdottir)

Links Between Faroese and Icelandic Horses

In 2003, Dr. Sofia Mikko from the Agricultural University of Uppsala in Sweden, made an advanced DNA analysis of Faroese horses. The analysis confirmed that the Faroese Horse is most closely related to Icelandic horses, and then to Shetland ponies. Some say that Faroese horses are able to tölt, but in 2020 the breeding association “Felagið Føroysk Ross” had DNA samples tested at the University of Agriculture. The  results showed none of the living Faroese horses had the genetics for tölt.

, Breeds from Around the World: Part Six – the Faroese Horse, In The Saddle

These horses are related to Icelandics and Shetland ponies (credit MN Johansen)

Working Horses

Faroese horses were originally workhorses, used to carry heavy loads around the islands. Whenever peat, hay, manure, stone or goods had to be transported between villages, the horses were called upon. The Faroe Islands are characterised by rough ground and there were no roads at the time – making carriages useless. Everything that had to be moved was placed on the back of a horse and the horse was led on foot. They were only used to a lesser extent for riding.

When not being used for carrying loads, the horses were turned out in herds on the islands throughout the year. They had little need for supplementary feed, even in winter.

Falling Numbers

Between 1880 and 1935, many Faroese horses were sold to Britain. Due to their size and endurance, they were ideal pit ponies. Prices were good and so many Faroese farmers sold all their horses. Ploughs and cars increased in number on the islands, which meant the horses were needed less. Equestrian sports also became increasingly popular and some islanders chose to import other breeds rather than use their native horses. The different breeds were turned out together and began to mix. By the 1950’s it was widely thought that the Faroese Horse was extinct.

, Breeds from Around the World: Part Six – the Faroese Horse, In The Saddle

Faroese Horses in their native lands (credit MN Johansen)

Preservation of the Faroese Horse

In the 1960’s, a few private individuals on the Faroe Islands decided that they would try to save the Faroese breed. They found four animals that were thought to be purebred. The only known Faroese horses between 1965 and 1969 were one stallion and four mares, which were used for breeding.

In 1978 the “Felagið Føroysk Ross” breeding association was formed. Thirteen blood samples from descendents of the original four animals were sent to the Agricultural University of Sweden for analysis. Results showed that the population was without foreign blood and so the Faroese Horse won its recognition as a breed.

Since 1978, Felagið Føroysk Ross has regulated breeding of the horses. They also carry out blood tests to ensure that horses are purebred before being registered.

The Faroese Horse Today

Today, Faroese horses are mainly used for breeding and riding. Because of their mild temperatments, they are often used for children.

Although the population remains relatively small, none of the horses today show signs of inbreeding or degeneration. Today, there are 94 registered Faroese horses – of which 50 are breeding stock. The aim is to increase numbers to 200 breeding horses, which will mean the Faroese Horse is considered safe from extinction.

, Breeds from Around the World: Part Six – the Faroese Horse, In The Saddle

Currently there are just 94 registered Faroese horses on the islands (credit J Olavsdottir)

Where can you see the Faroese Horse?

Faroese horses can be found living on the Faroe Islands, which lie in the Atlantic Ocean midway between the Shetland Islands and Iceland. The Faroes are made up of 18 islands interconnected by a series of tunnels and bridges.

In The Saddle has a fabulous ride in this very special part of the world – the Streymoy Ride. During the Streymoy Ride, you will discover a wild and rugged landscape, incredible views, and a rich cultural heritage that once experienced can never be forgotten. You ride wonderful Icelandic horses, but during your stay you are sure to meet Faroese horses out in the countryside. The farm next to your base at Berg Hestar has Faroese horses, so you are likley to see them out grazing during your stay.

If you’d like more information on riding on the Faroe Islands, please call us on +44 1299 272 997 or email rides@inthesaddle.com

WITH THANKS – We would like to extend our thanks to the Felagið Føroysk Ross Association for kindly sharing their knowledge and for their help with putting this post together.

 

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