Featured Breed- Icelandic Horse
The horses of Iceland are the original Viking horses and one of the purest horse breeds in the world. The breed has been isolated on the rugged island in the North-Atlantic since the settlement, or over 1000 years ago, without any genetic input from other breeds. As the first settlers came to Iceland they could only bring a limited number of livestock with them, and most probably chose their very best animals. Thus, the Icelandic horse has its origin in a herd of preselected, high quality individuals who had to survive the rough trip on a Viking longship across the Atlantic, before taking on their role as “the most indispensable servant” for the first Icelanders in this vast, wild, and entirely unknown country.
Due to the geographical isolation of Iceland, very few horse diseases occur here, and no vaccinations are needed. However, this also means that no horse can enter the country at all. Once a horse leaves Iceland it can never return. Anybody travelling to Iceland is also kindly requested not to bring any used leather equipment such as gloves, chaps or riding boots, and to disinfect all gear (particularly helmets).
The Icelandic horse is an extremely versatile breed. These strong, intelligent and smooth horses are successful in endurance racing and very well suitable for therapeutic riding. Some are excellent jumpers and many are trained to quite a high level in dressage. Carriage pulling, polo and barrel racing are also activities where the horses of Iceland do well. Today, the most common use for the Icelandic horse is as a general riding horse. A horse that the whole family can enjoy as a trustworthy and loved companion, but also out on long or short rides through the woods of Germany, along the beaches of Denmark or mountains of Iceland.
The horses of Iceland are a so-called gaited horse breed. This means that most Icelandic horses have two extra gaits to offer besides walk, trot and canter/gallop. All horse breeds have these three natural gaits and can perform them without training. The extra gaits that set the Icelandic horse apart from other breeds are called tölt and flying pace.
TÖLT Tölt is the unique four-beat lateral gait, that the breed is best known for. The horse’s hind legs should move well under the body and carry more of the weight on the hind end, allowing the front to rise and be free and loose. Tölt is very smooth to ride since there is no suspension between strides, as is the case in trot or canter, and it can be ridden very slowly up to a very fast speed, depending on the horse.
FLYING PACE The flying pace is the “fifth gear”, offering a two-beat lateral movement with suspension. This gait is ridden very fast, even used for racing and only for short distances, 100-200 metres usually. Not all Icelandic horses can pace, but those that manage all five gaits well are considered the best of the breed.
NATURAL GAITS The extra gaits are natural and new-born foals frequently show them right from the start. Most Icelandic horses are five-gaited, meaning they possess all five gaits, while some are considered four-gaited, and lack the flying pace. There is a genetic variation that all gaited horse breeds have in common, which allows them to reach high speeds in a given gait without breaking into canter and gives them the smooth lateral movements. Five-gaited Icelandic horses always have this gene from both parents, as do some of the four-gaited horses. Some only have the gene from one parent, making them a pure four-gaiter which does not offer flying pace.
Icelandic horses can be found all over the world. Over 250,000 Icelandic horses are registered around the world, thereof approximately 40% in Iceland. They have amazing adaptation skills and do well in the ice-cold climates of Greenland and Alaska, but also down under in Australia and New Zealand. They can even be found in Hawaii. It can surely be said that the horses of Iceland are the best ambassadors for the little island in the north. They represent the country and culture well and encourage their human friends to visit Iceland at least once, if not regularly.