What are Icelandic Horses?
A Horse Bred in Iceland
Icelandic horses are a compact, strong horse bred in Iceland, uniquely adapted for the long northern winters of their island home. They are renowned for their natural ability to perform five gaits: the walk, trot and canter/gallop standard to all horses, and in addition, the four-beat tolt and the two-beat flying pace.
Raised in Iceland since the ninth century, they were probably first brought there from Scandinavia by the Vikings. Horses have been valued throughout Norse history, where they have been associated with the Scandinavian gods and symbolized fertility.
Their compact stature allows them to conserve body heat in the damp, stormy winters and cool summers on the North Atlantic island whose maritiime climate is moderated by the warm North Atlantic drift flowing north along the east coast, and the cold Arctic current flowing south along the west coast.
The horses' thick, furry coats conserve body heat, while their long outer guard hairs help shed water and provide a second layer of insulation. They stand about 13-14 hands high, and weigh between 300 and 400 kg (700-850 lbs). They are used in Iceland today for farm work, recreational riding, showing, racing and breeding.
The foals are not ridden until their fourth year, and continue growing until the age of seven, when they reach sexual maturity. They can live 40 to 50 years, and continue to breed until late in their twenties.
The breed has stayed pure because Iceland does not allow hourses to be imported, a measure aimed to protect the island herds from diseases. Once an Icelandic horse leaves the country, it may not return, so the horses in international competitions are exclusively horses that have been sold or bred abroad.
Icelandic Horse at Tolt
Tolt and Flying Pace on Ice
A Gaited Horse
Icelandic horses are one of the gaited horses, which means they naturally perform additional gaits to the common walk, trot, and canter/gallop. The tolt is a fast, smooth gait, comfortable to ride, in which the horse's feet move in the pattern left hind, left front, right hind, then right front. The movement pattern of the tolt is like that of the walk, but the horse can do it at different speeds.
The fifth gait is the flying pace, a very fast racing pace that moves the horse at speeds up to 48 km/hr (30 mph). This is a two-beat gait, in which both feet on one side are off the ground at once, moving in a pattern of left hind and left front together, then right hind and right front together.
Like other horses, the Icelandic horses are social animals and need a herd.
Celista Estates Winery
The Shuswap region at the north end of the Okanagan Valley is a developing hub for British Columbia wines and family wineries.
The Herd of Icelandic Horses at Celista Estate Winery
Celista Estate Winery is a 160-acre property on the north shore of Shuswap Lake in the interior of British Columbia that has begun producing prize-winning wines in the family winery owned by Marg and Jake Ootes. Since the first vines were planted in 2002, the winery has begun to shine among the niche wineries of British Columbia producing grapes that are suited for the northern climate and sometimes harsh winters of the latitude north of 50.
In addition to growing grapes, the land is home to a small herd of Icelandic horses, shown in the pictures below. The herd roams the paddocks and fields fenced off from the vineyards, and overwinters in the barn fed on hay cut from summer hayfields. Family friends come to ride the horses on a network of trails in the forests and fields that slope down to Shuswap Lake near the village of Celista.
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