The Icelandic Horse is one of the oldest, rarest and purest breeds in the world since there has been no cross breeding in Iceland in 1000 years. They are quite cute, with long, flowing, Rockstar like manes, gorgeous eyes peeking out under tousled forelocks. They have five gaits: Walk, Trot, Canter, Tolt and Flying Pace.
The Icelandic is the only breed of horse in Iceland. In the late 9th Century these horses were brought over on Viking ships to serve as sole transportation over Iceland’s unforgiving volcanic terrain. The breed has remained pure since a law was passed in 982 AD stating that no horses could be imported, meaning that these native horses have very few diseases. The ancient law preserves the purity of the Icelandic Horse, and every horse exported from Iceland will never be allowed to return home.
Antje Freygang brought Dalur, Vaskur, Skuggi, Geisli, Ari and Atlas to Middleburg, Virginia. Antje started riding at an early age. After a back injury, her desire to continue to ride was strong. She was told that the Icelandics were all about comfort, and she has since been riding and competing on Icelandics for the past twenty years. Antje competes her horses in performance classes showcasing the breed’s unique gaits on an oval track.
The comfort that one experiences comes from a rapid, smooth gait with no bounce. During the tolt, which is the specialty of the Icelandic horse, one foot is on the ground at all times, so instead of an impact there is a gentle transfer of weight. The tolt is a smooth four beat gait in which the horse’s hind leg moves well under the body and carries more of the weight on the hind part, allowing a free and loose front rise.
Antje explains that the Icelandic horse takes longer to mature and will grow until the age of seven. They are born into large herds on pastures, left alone with very little to no human contact until the age of four. As a result, they have a very strong herd mentality and have not acquired a dependency on humans for survival. As a rider, Antje finds it important to have a strong mutual bond with each horse based on respect and acceptance. Once acceptance is granted the Icelandic horse will take care of his rider. As Antje explains, there is never any hidden agenda. It is a very strong relationship, honest and noble. When her horses arrived from Iceland they had never seen trees, deer, or any of the Virginia type of landscape. They would rely on the person’s cues of how to react. One can understand why the Vikings settlers centuries ago depended on these horses as their sole transportation through Iceland’s harsh terrains, wind and blizzards until the very first automobile arrived.