Icelandic horses should
have five gaits - Walk - Trot - Tölt -
Canter - Flying Pace
WALK - the usual slow four-beat gait in which there are always at
least two feet on the ground. However, most Icelandics have an extremely good walk which
covers the ground very well.
TROT - a two-beat diagonal gait (diagonal pairs of legs move
together) which has a moment of suspension in which there are no legs on the ground
TÖLT - a four-beat lateral gait in which there is always at least
one foot on the gound. As there is no moment of suspension this gait is very smooth and
comfortable for the rider. It can be performed at any speed from a slow trot to a gallop.
CANTER - a three-beat gait with a moment of suspension. The
Icelanders count canter and gallop as a single gait.
FLYING PACE - a two-beat lateral gait in which the pairs of legs on
the same side move togethe, and there is a clear moment of suspensionr. This is a fast
gait used for racing over short distances, and the horses can reach 30mph.
History shows us that, as little as 300 years ago, most horse breeds
possessed lateral gaits. Chaucer´s "palfreys" and "amblers" were
soft-gaited horses, much prized for their comfortable way of going. But over the
centuries, horses were bred for greater size and trotting ability (a gait better suited
for pulling carts or for mounted warfare) and gradually most horse breeds lost their
lateral gaits. Only in a few isolated areas away from so-called "civilisation"
did horses stay lateral. Thus we have Icelandics, Peruvian Pasos and Paso Finos, Basuto
Ponies (in Africa), the Cretan Horse, some of the American breeds and only a few others
which still have the easy gaits.
Icelandics have lived on Iceland in total isolation for a thousand
years. There has been no in-breeding due to the law passed by the Icelandic parliament in
982AD which forbade any importation of horses to prevent disease. Even today, any horse
which leaves Iceland can never return. So today´s Icelandics are the direct descendants
of the Viking horses who possessed the lateral gaits.
- Flying Pace
Not all Icelandics can do the flying pace. Four-gaited horses do walk,
trot, canter and tölt, and five-gaited Icelandics add pace to their repertoire. To ride
flying pace is wonderfully exhilarating, but it´s not easy. Both horse and rider must
have excellent balance, and the horse will become stiff if ridden in pace very often.
It´s best kept for races, so four-gaited horses are no less valuable than their
To see some online videos of Icelandic horses in action, click here (offsite)