Icelandic Ponies: Pasos of the North

Bloged in Icelandic Ponies by admin Tuesday April 3, 2007

When doing the research for my blog entry on Pasos, I
wanted to know if there were any the horses which could
perform the Paso Llano so closely associated with the
Peruvians.

The answer, which surprised me, is “Yes.” But what
surprised me even more is which other breed has this
delightfully smooth action in its collection of gaits.

To find them, head due north from the sun-baked pampas of
South America. When you’re about a hundred miles south of
the Arctic Circle, head due east. Don’t stop when you get
to the Atlantic; in fact, don’t stop until you get to
Iceland.

When you get there, you’ll be in a country where there is
one Icelandic pony for every five Icelanders. The figures
are about 50,000 ponies to 250,000 humans. Why?

Because without the Icelandic ponies, there would probably
be no Icelanders. Iceland is the sort of place which
takes no prisoners. Its cold, harsh, and barren
interior is largely composed of lava fields which support
no vegetation. That which does not support vegetation does
not support the cattle which graze on vegetation. So the
meat in the Icelanders’ diets–what there is of it– comes
from sheep and Icelandic ponies.

That may seem cruel, but we’re not talking about healthy
unwanted horses being shipped to Canadaian slaughterhouses,
now that the U.S. slaughterhouses have been shut down.
The Icelandic ponies are not killed to satisfy the palates
of Europeans who could just as easily eat beef, or pork,
or chicken, or seafood. Icelandic ponies are an
essential food source for Icelanders.

But because they are also an essential work and riding
horse, only the ponies which are unable to work are used
for food.

And work they do. Icelandic ponies are highly intelligent
equines which have adapted to survive in a place where
winter comes when the grass they forage on is still green.
They have evolved to take very shallow breaths, so that
their lungs are not damaged from the cold.

They are stout ponies with plenty of bone and the shaggy
coat necessary for their surroundings. They can go two or
three days between meals and are as surefooted as goats,
thanks to having learned to navigate those volcanoes and
lava fields.

They do not sound like they would have a way of going
similar to that of the Peruvian Paso. But they do.

Like all equines, each Icelandic pony comes equipped with
a walk, trot, and canter. Most of them, oddly, will also
pace when they are trying to recuperate from a long
gallop. But then there’s the “tolt.”

The tolt is the same four-beat gait that is known as the
“Paso LLano” seen so far to the south in the Peruvian
Paso. It’s a left rear, left fore, right rear, right fore
pattern in which the pony always has one foot on the
ground so that the bounciness of the trot is eliminated.
And the Icelandic ponies can do it double-time.

Icelandic ponies, unlike other breeds, take between seven
and eight years to reach their full growth, and are not
ready to be ridden until they are at least four. But
they more than make up for their long childhood at the
other end of their life spans. One Icelandic pony is
said to have worked until the age of fifty, and was still
going strong eight years later when its owner died!

Pictures of Icelandic horses grazing

Pictures of Icelandic ponies in the winter snow

Pictures of Icelandic ponies in their natural habitat

Cute closeup of Icelandic ponies

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