A unique versatility
Icelandic Horses are bred as 5-gaiters. They have the three basic gaits: walk, trot and gallop, and the two extra gaits: tölt and pace, of which the tölt is most popular. In tölt, the horse moves its legs in the same sequence as in walk. Tölt is a very comfortable and pleasant gait that can reach a high speed. Pace is a gait of speed and power in which both legs on each side move together. Pace provides a very spectacular sight and a magnificent experience in the saddle.
The origin of the Icelandic horse
Horses were brought to Iceland by the first Viking settlers, during the years 874 – 930. Their boats were small and only a few horses, the very best, were brought along. At a very early stage, import of farm animals was forbidden in the country, and the original Nordic horse was preserved purebred in Iceland through the centuries.
Indispensable for a thousand years
To the Icelanders the horse was indispensable. The country was rough and transport without Icelandic Horses was unthinkable. The Icelandic Horse carried the inhabitants over wide lava fields and rough mountain tracks, and acted as their bridge over powerful glacier rivers. Travelers counted on its sense of direction and stamina. The Icelandic Horse was a part of life, being a hard worker and a good friend. A good riding horse was a symbol of dignity and a studhorse could be a much appreciated gift. Young and old, rich and poor enjoyed the talents of the Icelandic riding horses and no other people depended on the feet of their horses as the Icelanders did.
A source of joy in a technological age
The Icelandic Horse has completed its task as the most needed servant, but has taken on another, no less important task. In our technological age, people turn to nature to relax from the speed and stress of city life. Man searches for his origins and the Icelandic Horse has proved to be man’s best companion in this quest. Horsemanship combines healthy outdoor activity with the sport and art of riding and the number of people who enjoy life on horseback, in good company, increases steadily. The riders sense the nature of their Icelandic Horses: their temperament, power, suppleness and pleasant character, and they identify with those qualities.
The characteristics of the Icelandic horse
The Icelandic Horse has lived and developed in Iceland for over a thousand years. Iceland’s nature, sometimes harsh due to vulcanic eruptions and other natural disasters, often took its toll of the horse population. Only the fittest individuals survived. That is why the Icelandic Horse is very healthy and tough. It is strong and surefooted, has a great temperament and stamina and a very good character. The training usually starts at 4 or 5 years of age and the horse is fully adult at 7 years. Icelandic Horses reach a very high age and can usually be ridden until they are well over 20 years old.
The Icelandic Horse in its summer coat
The same Icelandic Horse in its winter coat
An ambitious breeding goal
Today there are some 73,000 horses in Iceland and they are bred towards a well described goal. Judges and breeding specialists judge the mares and stallions according to strict rules. Judgement is based on the riding qualities of the Icelandic Horses, as well as a healthy and beautiful built. The goal is to improve these qualities steadily. The great interest in organized horse breeding in Iceland is reflected in the presence of many breeding societies and studs, as well as a stallion depot run by the State. The Agricultural Society of Iceland supervises all horse breeding matters and keeps a studbook of all stud horses accepted by the jury.
Diseases are almost unknown among Icelandic horses. Protection of the horses is assured by the strict regulations of the Icelandic government. No horse which has been taken out of Iceland can come back into the country. Also only new, unused horse equipment may be taken to Iceland. This is to prevent an outbreak of disease which could decimate the population of Icelandic horses.
Because Iceland has no predators, but instead is a country with tremendous environmental danger, such as quicksand, rock slides, rivers with changing currents, the ability to assess a situation rather than the instinct to flee, have been central in the survival of the horse. Therefore, these horses lack the “spookiness” that characterizes most horses. Due perhaps to their lack of fear of living things, they seek strong attachments to people and are quite nurturing and affectionate.
Also Known By:
Islenzki hesturinn, Icelandic toelter horse, Iceland Tolter
Contributed By: Oklahoma State University