Icelandic Horses Special Gaits (with video)

by Darley Newman

In working to explain the Icelandic horse’s special gait or way of moving to travelers who hoped to ride Icelandics in Vermont and Iceland, I recently went straight to the source. I had my Icelandic friend Gitta, who works for the Icelandic equestrian vacations that we feature on, explain in her own words more about the Icelandic horse’s movements on Icelandic riding tours.

Here in Iceland we have the only one breed of horses, the Icelandic horse, a five gaited breed. We use the fourth gait tolt (a smooth four beat running walk) when travelling cross-country. Then we ride this gait approximately at the speed of trot over long distances. If the terrain is rough we allow the horses to trot or walk, but if the ground is smooth, the tolt is the preferred gait. In the beginning of each tour our tour, the guide takes some time to explain how and when to ride tolt.

Many Icelandic horses master also the fifth pace (a two beat lateral gait). This gait is only used for competition and racing. We do not use it on an everyday basis on our tours, but our hosts will be able to demonstrate this gait if asked, to give our guests an idea.

Icelandic saddles are close to English style saddles. There are no Western saddles used in Iceland. The rains are controlled with both hands, but riders sit deep in the saddle and do not post the trot. What is also a bit closer to Western riding style is that we encourage the horses with foot signals to change the gait and then expect it to perform the gait, rather than working the horse constantly for each step like it is done in English riding style.

The above video lets you see the tolt in action.

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