Although it is widely known that no horses have been imported into Iceland for over eight hundred years, making this horse possibly the purest of all breeds, some may be surprised to learn that the Icelandic Horse has been exported almost since the beginning of its history. First sent to Norwegian kings as gifts, Icelandic Horses also made appearances in Denmark and the British Isles in different periods in history. By the 20th century, the horse was so widely exported that there were easily as many Icelandic Horses in Europe as there were in Iceland, an impressive feat when the horse is so incredibly popular in its native country.
In 1969, an international group of enthusiasts got together in order to create an association that would become what can be considered as the worldwide headquarters of the Icelandic Horse. The founders were Icelandic, Danish and Swiss, and they created the Föderation Europäischer Islandpferde Freunde, or Friends of the Icelandic Horse, which is better known today under the acronym FEIF (pronounced fife). The very first board of directors included a president, vice-president, secretary, treasurer, and a sports leader. The board members did much of the work themselves with the help of experienced friends. Today, the board has increased to include breeding, youth and public relations. Because the association was started in such a small way, it would be twenty years before the first committee, being the sports committee, would be formed with its own elected members. Today, each department represented on the board of directors has its own committee.
The first six countries to participate in FEIF were Austria, Denmark, Germany, Iceland, the Netherlands and Switzerland. Two years later they were joined by France and Norway, followed in 1975 by Belgium and Sweden. Since the beginning of the 1980's, the association has grown to include Finland, Canada, Great Britain, the United States, the Faroe Islands, Luxembourg, Italy and Slovenia. Today there are eighteen participating countries.
Since the beginning of the association, all decisions have been made by a delegates meeting that takes place once a year. Each member country has two delegates and each are allowed one vote. While smaller decisions today are made by each department's elected committees, final decisions are voted on at the delegates meeting on topics ranging from sporting issues to breeding rules and international events. Today this means that the breeding goals can be considered universally agreed upon, although this wasn't always the case.
The development of a worldwide breeding goal hit a difficult time in the beginning thanks to two schools of thought, between Icelandic breeding and German breeding. The problem was that the horses had been bred in Germany for many years and the breeding goals were different from those in the horse's native country, but the Germans were nevertheless pleased with their standards and didn't want to change. The breakthrough finally came with WorldFengur, the international Icelandic Horse database. This system stores the results of all individual breeding evaluations judged at FEIF approved shows by FEIF qualified breeding judges. Today, all member countries adhere to the rules of this breeding approval system and evaluations outside of FEIF approved rules are rare.