The Five Gaits of the Icelandic Horse Make it a Breed Apart

19.02 2015

All horse breeds have three natural gaits — the walk, the trot, and the gallop. A natural gait is one that is performed by inherent, natural impulse and without training. Some horse breeds canter naturally, but not all. Few horse breeds have more than four gaits.

The Icelandic Horse is a breed apart from all other horse breeds, in more than a few aspects, and among its most celebrated features is its five natural, and unique gaits: the walk, the trot, the canter, the tölt, and the flying pace.

The Walk is a slow and natural four-beated gait, during which two of the horses hooves always touch the ground, and in which all hooves move forward at an even pace.

The Trot is a two-beat gait, and is faster than a walk. It is called a diagonal gait, because the horse lifts a hind leg and a front leg simultaneously, and in mid-stride has all four of its hooves suspended off the ground.

The Canter has an easy, three-beat rhythm. Instead of moving directly forward, the horse “canters” slightly diagonal to one side. Because the four hooves lift from and touch the ground in odd-numbered sequence, two legs must simultaneously bear the entire weight of the horse. Thus, the canter is a bit strenuous on a horse.

The uniqueness of the Iceland Horse lies in its two other gaits, the tölt and the flying pace.

The Tölt is a natural, fluid gait of the Icelandic Horse, during which at least one foot always touches the ground. Foals often tölt in pastures at an early age. The tölt is an extraordinarily smooth four-beat gait, which allows the rider an almost bounce-free ride, even at 32 kmh (20 mph). It is said a rider can drink a pint while riding, without spilling a drop. The footfall is the same pattern as the walk, but is much faster, almost as fast as a gallop.

The Flying Pace is a fast, high speed gait (48 kmh - 30 mph), during which both legs on one side of the horse simultaneously touch the ground. The gait is used for short distances, and can equal the speed of a full gallop, thus it is the primary gait used for racing. Being a two-beat gait, at one interval all four hooves of the Icelandic Horse are suspended off the ground during a flying pace. Riding at a flying pace is considered the crown of horsemanship.

The Icelandic Horse is unique from other horses in its gaits, and in many other aspects, because it is one of the most purely bred horses in the world. It has remained isolated and exclusive to Iceland for more than a thousand years. No other horse has been introduced to Iceland since the Vikings first settled with their livestock in the 9th century. Any horse that leaves Iceland is not allowed to return, which further ensures the pureness of the Icelandic breed.

It is fun to simply watch Icelandic Horses frolic in the pastures and in the wild, but the most fun is riding such an amazing horse. Riding Iceland offers that kind of excitement, across all kinds of terrain in Iceland, with a great selection of horse trekking tours. Check out our web site and choose an adventure that puts you in the saddle of the world’s most amazing horse!

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