Tolting : Part 1
When we were first introduced to the Icelandic horse, some 15 years ago, mastering the extra gaits ( tolt and flying pace) seemed like a frighteningly steep learning curve. My first experience of tolting was up and down the driveway on the Vinbrux's farm in NZ after nearly 10 years of almost no riding, with my poor mummy tummy, no balance and no confidence luckily not getting in the way of a very fun experience. Next came hopping on their stallion Dux and being shown how to get him to pace across the paddock - wow! After that we were able to take part in Icelandic Horse Clinics - the first with Bernie Willis from Alaska in NZ, followed by Herdis Reynisdottir in Australia. Our tolting adventures had begun and like many of you new to the icelandics we started knowing NOTHING and man has it been an incredible journey.
I was discussing tolt training for the young mares I had started at the beginning of 2018 with Robert Trosch and my question was " How should I gait train them?". His answer was so simple " You know how to ride tolt Amy!" and that was it. I'd been completely overthinking it all! Of course I know how to ride tolt now - I know how it should feel when it's good and know when it's not right. I also know what stage the horse should be up to before I concentrate my efforts on improving the tolt and ask for really good gait separation. That has come with a lot of time and allowing each horse to teach me a little bit more.
The way people ride and train the Icelandic gaits has changed quite a lot since we first started. The cheats version was "sit down in the saddle, weight back, shorten the reins, hands up a little, playful hands and ask for some speed" This kind of worked ok on horses that someone else had tolt trained already, but it didn't always result in great tolt nor great carriage from the horse.
I wish there was some super easy step by step guide to of how to press the tolt button on an icelandic horse that I could share with you! It used to frustrate me so much that no-one had written the idiots guide to riding an icelandic horse - at least I couldn't never find a foolproof one in English. When I finally realised how much each icelandic horse varied in it's gaits, train-ability, temperament, fitness and conformation I got less greedy for the "quick fix" and realised that tolt training and riding would always be a fun and rewarding journey of discovery and constant learning for the rest of my life.
Diagram of the gait variations - from Dream Team - riding in Harmony book.
Besides our stallion Haukur, almost all of the icelandic horses I've ridden here in Australia have been young green horses, starting their journeys as riding horses with little or no tolt training. As soon as they were "trained" they were usually sold and we started again with another group of horses. Luckily most of you will own one or a handful of icelandic horses allowing you to practice and constantly build your skills together.
I've had some great experiences with trainers and experienced horses overseas whom have helped me to improve my own riding skills and communication with the horses. All had their own way of riding and training tolt and I've had to find out what works for me and my horses. I developed a lot of really interesting habits over time - trying to ride like other people did, listening and trying to implement all the helpful advice and was totally relieved when another super lady instructor visiting Australia to do a clinic told me to "stop doing so much". And back I went to a happy content relaxed rider who's horse was much happier and we started to flow together. So don't be afraid to ditch something that doesn't feel right and try something new. What works for one person and horse might not be right for you and that is totally ok!!
Knowing how good tolt feels and how to prepare a horse for tolt are good lessons to learn before hopping onto a lesser trained horse. Our lovely "home team" of horses are available if anyone would like to spend some time in the saddle feeling what tolt is and how to prepare the horse, keep and improve it. Megalong Icelandic horses in the Blue Mountains also offer riding lessons on their Icelandic Horses as well as tolt training for icelandics.
There are now so many books, dvd's and blogs which offer ideas and help with tolt training and riding icelandic horses. Some of my favourites online resources are
Eyjólfur Ísólfssons' DVD's which can be purchased or are now available online. He also offers online coaching.
Gudmar Petursson Gaited Horsemanship: great video demos of where to start
He also does a paid Facebook group called "ASK GUDMAR" which I've been a part of since he started it! Amazing insights into training different horses, with informative videos and ample opportunity to ask your own questions.
Understanding the gaits of the Icelandic horse : a visual of all the various gaits
Online Magazine from the United States Icelandic Horse Congress: has some great articles on training icelandic horses
Because tolt is SO amazing to ride it be quite tempting to be greedy with tolt and just want to tolt all the time! Often that's where it can all fall apart. Rushing the tolt training or attempting it too early can also unravel so much hard work if not done when the horse is mentally and physically ready. My thinking is now "riding horse first" & the gaits will come. Good things take time!
To be continued ...
Me (Amy) and my horse Laena back in the very early days -
we've both come a very very long way since then!