The Gaits
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  • 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.

  • Why do Icelandics Tölt?

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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

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    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 five-gaited brothers.

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    To see some online videos of Icelandic horses in action, click here (offsite)

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