The Perfect Horse for the Trail: The Icelandic

Nothing compares to the joy of riding out in the open on a trustworthy mount. Whether it be a relaxed “hack” through the woods or an exhilarating gallop across the prairie, trail riding on a beautiful day is pure delight to any equestrian.

Finding the perfect partner for your outdoor adventures can be a little more difficult. Horses are by nature “flight” animals, and the uncertainty of events outside the riding arena can strike fear in even the calmest of horses. A deer jumping out of the woods, a pheasant flying up from the tall grass, or even a plastic bag abandoned on the roadside, can trigger a mad dash toward safety - sometimes leaving their human companion in the dirt...literally! An insecure rider only adds fuel to the fire. When a horse’s senses are heightened by uncertainty, they look to their partner for reassurance. Unfortunately, a skittish steed often puts a bit of hesitation into the rider, and the domino effect that often ensues is never enjoyable. Fearful horse + insecure rider = disaster and possible injury. The best solution is to find the best horse for the job. 

“Icies” have a calm temperament. Of course, they are still horses, and the rider is well advised to always ride with awareness and be ready for the unexpected. However, most Icelandics have a relatively mild temperament and go to great lengths to take care of their rider. Even Gosi, our resident stallion, is suitable for a beginning rider or child out on the trails. That level of trust and temperament isn't something we've found in the "big horse" world. Perhaps their years of running free in Iceland have acclimated them to to the wilds of nature. That same free range time has created an appreciation for human contact. This friendly personality and calm spirit is present in the Icelandics on our farm, and it's a trait the breed has become known for.

Icelandics are brave and sure-footed. These small horses were bred as companion horses and for work on the rough terrain of Iceland. They were used to carry supplies; through rivers, up mountains and over the rocky lava fields. As such, they developed strong legs, hooves and backs. They are careful when descending a steep hill and willing to wade through water. They venture into tall grass without trepidation and seem comfortable in the woods (despite the fact that there are no woods in Iceland!). No matter the terrain, Icelandics are steady trail companions.

Icelandics can tölt! Most Icelandic horses have four gaits (walk, trot, canter and tölt), and many also have the fifth gait of flying pace. Tölt is a very smooth four-beat gait and a delight to ride. A natural tölter can maintain an even beat (resulting in a very smooth ride) at both very slow and fast speeds. One of the audience favorites at Icelandic horse shows is the beer tölt; competitors hold a stein of beer while tölting and whoever spills the least wins. A good tölt is magical, and your human trail companions will watch you pass by with envy.

No mounting blocks needed. The small stature of the Icelandic horse is a huge benefit! Riders can easily mount and dismount from the ground – on either side. Need to open and close gates? No big deal. What would be a chore for a rider on a 16 hand horse is a non-issue for the Icelandic rider.

Icelandics are willing. If you think that these small creatures must be slow and “ploddy” -  think again! Icelandic horses can reach speeds of up to 25 miles an hour at the tölt and 35 miles an hour at the pace! They consistently have more stamina than larger breeds and always seem happy to please. If you look closely, we think you'll see them smile. If you want to have a relaxed, slow ride, an Icelandic is happy to oblige. However, nothing matches the thrill of a flying pace across an open field. You will only get that on an Icie!

Inclement weather? No problem. You may not want to ride outside on a cold snowy day, but your Icelandic horse is ready to go. Icelandics grow an extremely thick coat during the winter months. They are not bothered by wind, snow, rain, mud, or frigid temperatures. Maybe the U.S. Post Office should use them! Just be sure to cool them down properly after a long ride in cold or wet weather. Take the time to let them dry out in the barn with a cooler to avoid illness.

Experience the joys of Icelandic riding. You can learn more about this special breed and facilities in your area from the United States Icelandic Horse Congress. Happy trail riding!