A significant characteristic of some horse breeds is their gait. Travel to various locations to experience breeds’ unique movements for yourself.
Gaited horses can move smoothly at a good pace with less up and down motion than most horses making them more comfortable and less tiring for riders, particularly over long distances. Apparently a mutative gene gives these horses the ability to synchronize independent leg movement. This unusual trait is thought to have first been developed in early medieval England. Such horses were called palfreys and were especially favored by women riding sidesaddle. They were bred selectively to accentuate this flat gait or amble. The Vikings discovered them when they began their attacks on England in the late 8th century and some of them were taken to Iceland where they became one of the foundations of the five gaited Icelandic Horse. In addition to walk trot and canter the Icelandic Horse can do the tolt which moves smoothly at a speed like the trot, but without the abrupt up and down motion which calls for posting on a normal horse. Top riders on well trained Icelandic Horses can reach a fifth gait, the epitome of the art, by doing the flying pace up to nearly 40 mph with a very flat motion.
The breed has been kept pure for a millennium. Once a horse has left Iceland it cannot return, to guard against bringing back an equine disease. Equitours has four popular riding tours in Iceland which use these friendly Icelandics to visit the most beautiful and inaccessible parts of the island. You will see live volcanoes, mountain streams full of salmon and spectacular wild scenery. You can bath sometimes in the soothing natural hot springs which are quite common. Nearer home you can also ride Icelandics on the Sugarbush Tolt Trek in Vermont where these good-tempered horses will carry you smoothly through the beautiful Green Mountains of Vermont.
We don’t know for certain if all gaited horses originated from those in medieval England or if the trait was developed elsewhere independently. Whatever their origin you can also ride some outstanding gaited horses in the highlands of Peru where the Peruvian Horse has been bred over four centuries to cover the ground rapidly and comfortably over long distances. These splendid animals are very much a part of Peruvian culture and are greatly revered. They will carry you safely high in the Andes where you can view the impressive remains of the highly developed Inca civilization. At a lower altitude you can ride Peruvian Horses at Los Potreros in Argentina where a 4th generation Anglo-Argentine family raises cattle and horses on their ranch. About half their horses are splendid Peruvian which they have been raising selectively for 30 years.