The history of the Icelandic Horse can be traced right back to the settlement of the country in the late 9th century. Viking settlers brought with them their best horses, from various origins, though mostly of Germanic descent. The breed has remained pure for over a thousand years and thus today there is only one breed of horse in Iceland – The Icelandic Horse.
Today, there are close to 80,000 horses in Iceland which is an incredible number for a nation that counts 330.000 people.
The Icelandic Horse is intelligent, good-tempered and versatile. It is the most colourful breed in the world, with over 40 different colours and over 100 variations.
Travel on horseback is growing in popularity and Icelandic horsemen are respectful and considerate when it comes to nature, just as they are with their horse. All sorts of competitions are held, emphasizing the different gaits of the horses, from novice fun classes to top class championships.
THE FIVE GAITS
The Icelandic Horse is unique amongst horse breeds because it masters five gaits; walk, trot, tölt, canter/gallop and flying pace. The breed is best known for its four-beat smooth gait, the “tölt”, which is very comfortable for the rider and elegantly displayed by the horse.
The walk is a four-beat gait. The horse should be relaxed when walking, moving ahead briskly and putting each foot down independently.
The trot is a two-beat gait where front and hind legs on opposite sides move together. It is important to train it as well as the other gaits.
The canter/gallop is a three-beat gait, ridden at different tempi. A slow canter is comfortable while a fast gallop can liven up the horse and increases its willingness.
The tölt is the specialty of the Icelandic Horse. It is a smooth four-beat gait in which the horse’s hind legs move well under the body. The Icelandic Horse can manage this gait naturally and with variations in speed, from a gracious, collected slow tölt up to a very fast and extended tölt. The smoothness of this gait is what makes it so desirable.