You say you want a tough horse to do a full day's work. But you don't want him to eat too much. And you don't want him to go lame, but you do want him to live a long, long time.
How about a horse that thinks it's normal to work three or four days in a row without stopping for rest or food? And when he does get fed, he's happy with a few salted herrings.
How about a horse who knows it's a "no-no" to go lame." That's great you say, but how long does he live, you ask? Well, when one was 20 he was sold to an elderly man who used him to pull a milk wagon. When the horse was 50 years old, both he and the old man retired.
When the horse was 58 years old, the old man died. This remarkable horse is actually not a horse at all-he's a pony, an Icelandic Pony, and for the past 20 years his popularity in the U.S. has been growing in "tolts".
So what's a "tolt?"
For Icelandic ponies, it's a fifth gait-a single-foot or running walk. All Icelandic ponies walk, trot and canter. Most will also pace-move both legs on the same side at the same time. They pace as a way of resting after a fast gallop. Some will even tolt.
The tolt is a four-beat gait, with the footfall sequence the same as the walk, for example right rear, right fore, left rear, left fore. The Icelandic Pony can escalate the swiftness of the gait to great speed. The Icelandic Pony ranges in size from 12 to 14 hands. He was brought to Iceland by the Vikings about 1000 AD.
Iceland is a volcanic island in the North Atlantic, skirting the Polar Circle. More than 10 per cent of the country is covered with glaciers. Most of the interior consists of lava fields, devoid of vegetation. There are a lot of sand and stone deserts.
More than a quarter of a million people live in Iceland, and they count on more than 50,000 Icelandic ponies for help-help to survive. The climate isn't suited to cattle, so sheep and ponies became the meat mainstay. Therefore, more ponies are bred than are needed for riding. (This is really selective breeding. If a pony isn't a good one for work, pleasure or disposition, then he's a good one for dinner.)
The Icelandic Pony is extremely intelligent. Most of the time he had to fend for himself, so he learned to live at the highest altitudes where the early frost deep-freezes the grass while it is still green.
He developed a special way of breathing-taking short shallow breaths-so he could work hard in cold weather. Taking in small amounts of air at a time helps relieve him of excessive heat during work, and prevents lung damage from large amounts of very cold air.
In appearance, the Icelandic Pony is stout, big-boned, with the conformation needed to pull heavy loads. He comes in all the normal horse colors and is quite shaggy unless in show condition.
When at work, the Icelandic Pony is an energetic, high-stepping, smooth-moving animal.
About the only thing Icelandic ponies don't do too well is grow up fast. They are not full-grown before they are seven or eight years old, and they are seldom ridden before they are four or five years old.
As their numbers continue to grow in the U.S., I hope prosperity and affluence aren't too much for them
If you want to know more about Icelandic ponies contact the Icelandic Horse Adventure Society, 795 Entrance Rd., Solvang, CA 93463, or the Icelandic Horse Trekkers, PO Box 414937, Kansas City, MO 64141, or the U.S. Icelandic Horse Congress, 38 Park St., Montclair, NJ 07042.