8/23/2005, Canon PowerShot SD500 Iceleanders refer to their pony-sized breed as “horses”, and one of the most spectacular annual events I hope to participate in soon is the “running of the horses”. There are communal grazing grounds to the north of the island (“Iceland” is spelled “Ísland” in Icelandic, which means “island”, so the story about Iceland being ‘Green’ and Greenland being ‘Ice’ in order to deceive foreigners is a misconception.)
Anyway, each year after first thaw, thousands of Icelandic horses are allowed to roam free in sparsely populated regions to the north, and then they are collected and brought back to the south to spend winters at their owners’ farms. Hundreds of local horse owners and enthusiasts take a week or two to participate in collecting the horses and bringing them to the city, where they are distributed to their respective owners according to brand. Foals which have not yet been branded tend to stay with the mares who sired them, and the local populace adjudicates ownership in case of dispute.
Icelandic horses are known for their great strength, diminutive size, and additional gait. Quoting from Wikipedia:
The Icelandic is a “five-gaited” breed, known for its sure-footedness and ability to cross rough terrain. As well as the typical gaits of walk, trot, and canter/gallop, the breed is noted for its ability to perform two additional gaits. Although most horse experts consider the canter and gallop to be separate gaits, on the basis of a small variation in the footfall pattern, Icelandic breed registries consider the canter and gallop one gait, hence the term “five-gaited”.
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.
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