As the snow melts over the Icelandic countryside and the days grow longer, the hardy Icelandic horse comes out to play and show off all it’s hard work over the winter.
The special gaits of the Icelandic horse, The tölt and pace are put to the test.
The Icelandic horse is a beautiful and majestic animal but when you get to see the Icelandic Horse in Competition you can really appreciate what makes this breed so special.
The Icelandic horse is a five gaited horse. With the usual walk, trot and canter/gallop or regular horses the Icelandic horse can also perform two more gaits. the tölt and the pace.
I would like to thank wikipedia for these great definitions of the two special gaits.
The first additional gait is a four-beat lateral ambling gait known as the tölt. This is known for its explosive acceleration and speed; it is also comfortable and ground-covering. There is considerable variation in style within the gait, and thus the tölt is variously compared to similar lateral gaits such as the rack of the Saddlebred, the largo of the Paso Fino, or the running walk of the Tennessee Walking Horse. Like all lateral ambling gaits, the footfall pattern is the same as the walk (left hind, left front, right hind, right front), but differs from the walk in that it can be performed at a range of speeds, from the speed of a typical fast walk up to the speed of a normal canter. Some Icelandic horses prefer to tölt, while others prefer to trot; correct training can improve weak gaits, but the tölt is a natural gait present from birth. There are two varieties of the tölt that are considered incorrect by breeders. The first is an uneven gait called a “Pig’s Pace” or “Piggy-pace” that is closer to a two-beat pace than a four-beat amble. The second is called a Valhopp and is a tölt and canter combination most often seen in untrained young horses or horses that mix their gaits. Both varieties are normally uncomfortable to ride.
The breed also performs a pace called a skeið, flugskeið or “flying pace”. It is used in pacing races, and is fast and smooth, with some horses able to reach up to 30 miles per hour (48 km/h). Not all Icelandic horses can perform this gait; animals that perform both the tölt and the flying pace in addition to the traditional gaits are considered the best of the breed. The flying pace is a two-beat lateral gait with a moment of suspension between footfalls; each side has both feet land almost simultaneously (left hind and left front, suspension, right hind and right front). It is meant to be performed by well-trained and balanced horses with skilled riders. It is not a gait used for long-distance travel. A slow pace is uncomfortable for the rider and is not encouraged when training the horse to perform the gait. Although most pacing horses are raced in harness using sulkies, in Iceland horses are raced while ridden.
I have had the great privilege of watching some of my friends in competition over the spring. There are many competitions and at many levels. The horses can have many specialities such as the best at tölt, best four gaited, best five gaited and my favourite the pace race! This is a truly exhilarating event you can’t help but be on the edge of your seat watching it!