Icelandic horses are often said to be very easy to ride. Truth is that due to their gentle and sweet nature, as well as their smooth gaits, it is very easy to “get a lift” on an Icelandic horse.
hours in the saddle
Most people feel quite comfortable sitting on these rather small mounts, who almost feel like they are gliding forward when doing their very supple and smooth 4-beat gait, tölt. With no bumping around (when in tölt anyway) and if on a reliable, gentle horse, not much can go wrong. However, if we talk about riding the Icelandic horses properly, or even to train them, the rider certainly needs a fair amount of feeling and technique, only aquired by hours in the saddle, preferably with guidance from good instructors.
straight balanced seat is the goal
Any experience with other horse breeds is, of course, very valuable and useful when riding Icelandic horses, after all, a horse is a horse. But because the horses of Iceland have the extra gaits, tölt and flying pace, there are some fundamental differences in cues and aids compared to riding a “regular” riding horse. In the training of Icelandic horses, most modern riders use quite a lot of dressage techniques, in order to improve the balance and quality of the gaits, straightness and overall agility of the horse, as well as the ability to carry the rider in the most efficient way. Icelandic horse competitions are mainly focusing on showing the quality of the 4-5 gaits, along with some races in pace. Some Icelandic horses are talented in show jumping but such competitions are not very common.
In short, the main riding technique consists of a straight, balanced seat, light cues and steady, light hands often with very light rein contact. The voice is commonly used along with seat, leg and rein aids. Icelandic horses are supposed to keep moving until told otherwise, to keep the tempo and beat until otherwise suggested. Most riders prefer the horse to keep offering more energy and forwardness, rather than the rider having to ask for more all the time.
the initial training
The horses of Iceland are usually started no earlier than 3,5 years old. Until then they often have little contact to humans although it is becoming more common that a few days of pre-training occurs earlier to make it easier for everyone later on. Traditionally, young horses would go out as a hand-horse with another older riding horse, for quite some time, before they are ridden. Still today hand-horse (or ponying) riding is popular and considered an important part of the initial training.