Two special gaits of the Icelandic horse
The Icelandic horse is what is called a gaited breed, they have, unlike other breeds five gaits. Horses usually have three: Walk, Trot, and Gallop. In addition to those gaits, the Icelandic horse has a smooth and desirable gait Tölt and Flying pace. Tölt and Flying pace are the gaits who make the Icelandic horse very special and desirable to ride.
The beginning of the gaits: tölt and flying pace
The Vikings who settled in Iceland brought their best horses. Our ancestors had noticed that some horses had smoother gaits than others and made sure to get offsprings from those horses. The Vikings brought the horses that had that versatility to Iceland and since the Icelandic horse has remained pure for centuries the gaits have been untacked since they were brought to Iceland. Gene mutation is the reason that the Icelandic horse is able to synchronize the right and left sides. This ability helps the Icelandic horse to move faster and get more speed like in flying pace. When the horses are in the fields they choose different gaits according to the speed they are moving at and to help them save energy.
Walk (Fet in Icelandic)
The walk is one of the horse’s natural gaits. It is a slow, four-beat, symmetry gait where there are either one or two legs touching the ground. The legs touch the ground longer than they glide in the air.
Trot (Brokk in Icelandic)
The trot is a natural two-beat gait where the horses move two legs diagonally to each other. This gait is faster than the walk and is often used first when the horses are being trained. This gait is more rough and bouncy than Tölt but it is important to allow the horses to trot since they use this gait to rest, especially on rough terrain and when going uphills.
Gallop (Stökk in Icelandic)
Gallop is a three-beat natural gait where the horse glides a bit in the air. The horses can gallop at a different speed from slow to fast gallop. On the Icelandic horse, the gallop and canter are considered to be one combined gait.
Tölt is a smooth four-beat gait where the horses seem to slides onward effortlessly, still, they always have one or two legs on the ground at the same time. When the horses are on Tölt they put more weight on the back part then on other gaits. The horses can Tölt at a slow to a faster pace and the footfall is the same as in walk but of course faster. To show smooth Tölt is the Icelanders often hold a full glass when riding Tölt without spilling it.
See also our other blog: When can you see tölt in foals
Flying pace (Skeið in Icelandic)
Flying pace is a two-beat gait where the horses move the front and back leg on the same side simultaneously so they glide in the air. The flying is ridden for a short period at a fast pace or about 48km/h. It is used for raising and for show and is equal to a full speed of gallop.
It can take a while and hard work to be able to put the horses on Tölt. For some horses, it comes naturally but for others, it takes time and effort to get the horse to tölt and to keep the horse Tölting.