The Icelandic Horse
The Icelandic horse is an excellent riding horse. It is tough, hardy, extremely good natured and tempered, versatile and enthusiastic.
It has charm, strength and courage. It is intelligent and loves learning and being trained. Icelandic horses usually lead a long and healthy life, and their natural life span is 25-30 years though some have lived to over 40. It is not unusual for them to be ridden and trained well into their twenties.
What is special about the Icelandic Horse?
The Icelandic horse has five gaits. Among the usual gaits – walk, trot and canter – the Icelandic horse also has the magical tölt, a remarkably smooth four-beat running walk. The tölt is the specialty of the Icelandic horse – the Icelandic horse is one of very few species in the world that has both tölt and pace and one that has preserved it very well. When tölting each hoof spends a shorter period of time on the ground than
in walk, and there are always one or two hoofs on the ground at any time. This gives a supremely comfortable gait for the rider. It can be so smooth that a rider can carry a glass of beer without spilling a drop. Tölt can be performed at a variety of speeds. No other breed can manage this gait as naturally and beautifully as the Icelandic horse.
Pace is the fifth gait and is not found in all Icelandic horses. A good Icelandic 5-gaiter will show short bursts of flying pace under saddle, covering 100m in under 8 seconds, or 250m in under 20 seconds. Pace is highly prized among the Icelanders, but is saved for special occasions and only ridden at top speed.
The Icelandic horse is strong, enthusiastic, forward-going and docile. The Icelandic horse is also self-assured and behaves well in traffic. Most Icelandic horses today are between 13hh and 14hh, hence their pony-like height look. They are extremely strong and in Iceland are expected to carry any adult, no matter how tall and heavy.
The Icelandic horse can be found in over 40 different colours, with hundreds of colour combinations.
What can one use the Icelandic Horse for?
The Icelandic horse can be used for various purposes – pleasure rides for the whole family, farm work, endurance, riding club activities, specialised competitions for Icelandic horses and much more. Its potentially explosive power and willingness to work for the rider is very attractive to experienced riders and its easy going, well mannered behaviour is highly appealing to novice riders. Icelandic horses are surefooted also in challenging terrains, have strong and steady nerves and an easy interaction with other horses – all these features make riding (alone or with others) in the nature or on the arena a pleasant, save and hassle-free experience. The fourth and fifth gaits (tölt and flying pace) add another dimension to riding – especially the magical tölt is an awesome experience. Tölt is very gentle to the rider’s back and is widely acknowledged as an ideal gait for people struggling with back problems.
If one likes the technical challenge of dressage but craves the exhilaration of speed, one will love Icelandic competition riding. Gait riding tests require accuracy, wide flowing movements, speed and elegance. Pace races are for speed but also demand skill and horsemanship.
Training of an Icelandic horse is not started until the age of four in order to allow the muscles to develop fully. The horse is then taught to work with the bridle and saddle, shod for the first time and ridden a little. Breeding mares and stallions can be judged for riding abilities at this age. When they are five, the real training starts for most.