Thursday, October 31, 2013

The Icelandic Horse

The Icelandic Horse is legendary. Brought to Iceland by the Vikings in the 9th and 10th centuries, the Icelandic Horse is one of the oldest breeds of horse in the world. It was our goal to see a these pure beauties during our drive around the Ring Road, and it did not take us long before we saw plenty of horses running over the volcanic terrain. We did not realize that these horses are everywhere. There are 80,000 horses in a country that has a population of only 300,000 people.

Why so many horses? It took us a while to realize what the horses are used for. Iceland is a popular tourist destination, but not popular enough to keep 80,000 horses occupied. Do the Icelandic people eat horse? Maybe they breed their horses for food. Nope! The Icelandic Horse is used for companionship and simply for enjoying the ride. They are a huge part of life and history of the people of Iceland. They are also used for breeding and exporting. The Icelandic horse is in high demand around the world. There is even an International Federation of Iceland horses comprising of 18 countries including Canada. It is no wonder, they are so beautiful.

The Icelandic Horse

Not only is the Icelandic Horse the prettiest horse in the world, they are also the only horse that can tölt. While other horses have the walk, trot, canter and gallop, the Icelandic horse can tölt. It is an ambling gait known as the fifth gear. Other horses have a 5th Gait. My mom told me that the Tennessee walking horse also has a similar gait and there are others with that extra gear, but the tölt is unique to the Icelandic horse. The tölt is the gear in between a trot and cantor. A quick gait is a smooth ride and allows the horse to cover long distances without getting tired.

We had the chance to ride the Icelandic Horse and it was a highlight of our trip to Iceland. It was beautiful to saunter through the Iceland countryside while we traced the route of the Norsemen. Okay, it was a small route, but as we rode, I imagined what life must have been like back then. I cannot believe how man and horse survived in the unforgiving terrain and harsh weather of the country. However, the Icelandic horse is sturdy and was made for these conditions. Their fifth gear helps too. During our ride, when the horse reached the tölt we could not believe how smooth it was, it felt like we were gliding. It makes for a comfortable ride for the rider and makes travel easier for the horse.


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