Icelandic horses at the beginning of summer. Photo credit: Guillame Calas. Creative Commons license.
Fair warning: There won’t be a post on Friday. I have faith in you; somehow you’ll endure.
I’ll be playing Viking at an odd venue on Friday and through the weekend, the Minnesota Horse Expo at the state fairgrounds in St. Paul. The Viking Age Club & Society has been asked to provide context for the Icelandic horse exhibit this year. There will even be fight shows in the arena, though sadly the fighters will be old guys (not me; I’m still not up to that), as our young Vikings aren’t available. In real life, the Vikings would have probably had the stallions themselves fight, using goads on them. It was the Vikings’ favorite sport.
Things I’ve learned about Icelandic horses, mostly through internet research:
• It’s illegal to import any horse into Iceland, even an Icelandic horse. Once an Icelandic horse leaves the island, it must stay away forever. They’re afraid of bringing in exotic diseases or parasites.
• Icelandic horses have two extra gaits, which other horses can’t do (and only some Icelandics can do). One is called the tölt, a “four-beat lateral ambling gait” said to be “comfortable and ground-covering.” The other is the skeið, the “flying pace,” “fast and smooth” according to Wikipedia, a “two-beat lateral gait.” (Skeið was also the name of a kind of Viking ship; Erling Skjalgsson owned one of those.)
• Breeders of Icelandic horses consider them the purest of the northern breeds.
Author and artist William Morris (1834-1896) made a tour of Iceland with friends in 1871, producing a journal which I consulted (through a kind loan by Dale Nelson) in my research for West Oversea. He grew very fond of the horse he rode on that tour, and planned to bring it home with him. However it went lame before embarkation, so he took another horse instead. It lived to a good old age and grew very fat on his estate in England.
I shall tell you more about Icelandic horses next week.