Orri from Ţúfu.
There is endless interest in the tölt. After all, that's one of the primary thing that makes the icey's so great, besides the other 102 good reasons for loving icey's. The tölt is a four-beat lateral gait in which there is always at least one foot on the gound. As there is no moment of suspension this gait is very smooth and comfortable for the rider.
The footfall of tölt
Here in this description:
1 = left hind foot
2 = left front foot
3 = right hind foot
4 = right front foot
In Iceland we talk about three types of tölt:
Clean tölt (tölt, hreint tölt, single foot, rack), with perfect four-beat. The beat you hear is 1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4-1-2-3-4 as each of the four legs step down.
Trot-tölt (brokk-tölt, fox-trot, trotty tölt), where you hear almost two-beat even though the horse is tölting. It becomes more up-and-down to sit on, and it's a mixture between tölt and trot. The horse wants to trot and does it if given free reins when brokk-tölting. Then the beat is still four beat, but nearer trot, you hear 1--2-3--4-1--2-3--4-1--2-3--4.
Pacy tölt (bundiđ tölt, skeidtölt, stepping pace), where you hear two-beat even though the horse is tölting. It becomes more from side-to-side to sit on, and its a mixture between tölt and pace. The beat is still four beat, but nearer pace, you hear 1-2--3-4--1-2--3-4--1-2--3-4
You can think of the gaits as being on one fluid line, with trot and pace on each extreme:
_________________________________________________________________ trot trot-tölt clean tölt pacy tölt pace
When a horse is doing clean tölt, it is doing the same footfall as in walk. The difference is that in walk a horse is standing on 3 feet once in a while, when a horse is standing on only 1 foot in tolt. Both trotty tölt and pacy tölt are considered faults in the icelandic horse. Other faults in tölt include:
Rolling: A small hop in one of the front legs, as a horse is getting nearer canter, then the beat is 1-2-3-hop4-1-2-3-hop4.
Víxl: When a horse mixes gaits in such a way that the horse tölts, but because of tension it does a mix and it feels like it is jumping an inch in in loose air for a split second an then it tolts again. The footfall there is very complicated and I'll spare you an explanation, as vixl is rather rare. It is extremely uncomfortable to sit víxl.
Pig-pace (lull, slow pace) where the horse is pacing, but so slow that you want the horse to tolt, not pace. The horse is very stiff in movements doing this and you are thrown from side to side in the saddle.
Right -->Tölt ridden in balance and coordination, and the movements of the horse are smooth. Toppur from Hömluholti.
Here is a short description about how tolt is ridden. It is difficult to discuss how to ride tolt, as individual horses are very different. You learn much by using every oppurtunity you have to try riding different icelandic horses, and trying how you have to change your riding in many minute ways riding them. The same horses can have, and usually have, different footfall in the tolt depending on many things, like how they are ridden, in what shape they are, on what kind of ground they are tolting, whether they are riding up or downhill, how fast they are going, and more.
As the footfall is similar in walk and tölt, you often let the horse tolt from walk. As the horse carries its neck higher in tolt than in walk, you shorten the reins a bit before and while the transition is done. Usually it is easier for the rider to tolt the horse if the rider sits a bit backwards in the saddle, that is, sits mabe an inch or two behind the point where he usually sits. The rider has to take care not to tilt backwards, the legs and back should be straight as usually, and relaxed. So, in the transition from walk to tolt, the rider:
1. Moves a bit backwards in the saddle.
2. Shortens the reins.
3. Encourages the horse to go faster, with a verbal clue and with the lower leg.
4. When the horse has tolted a few steps usually you give it again a bit of rein (an inch or so), so it can move freely inthe neck, but keep neccesary reincontact. The hands should be like rubberbands, have reincontact without stiffness.
Now comes the difficult part, that when you’re riding the tolt, you want to let the horse keep on having the neck raised, but at the same time you don’t want to have the horse bracing against you, so that it’s mouth becomes unresponsive. You do thus keep the reins rather short but use half-halts and playing with the reins to get the horse to keep it’s raised position without stiffening against the reins.
So that the horse can tolt well, it needs freedom in the withers (that is why you move the weight backwards and encourage speed so that the horse powers from its behind, and that is also partly why goey horses are popular in Iceland, this is more natural for them). It also needs to carry its neck rather high but the faceline may not be too horisontal, or too vertical. The horse raises it’s neck naturally if it is properly collected and is in a good shape. You do not want the horse to raise it’s neck without collection, that just results in an eve-neck and bad or no tolt. The horse is collected, not like a dressage horse, but collected anyway, using their behind as a motor to push the light front end forward, free the withers and allow the horse to balance it self, not lean on the reins. If the horse does not know how to collect, teach it collection at the walk, and later (weeks later) try keeping that collection at the tolt.
If you find that the horse is loosing the tolt, and goes from tolt towards walk or wrong footfall (pacy or trotty) the simplest way to correct this, that works in most cases, is to use half halts. You take and give with the reins, and you give a bit of leg, then you’re asking the horse for collection without the leg resulting in the horse actually going faster. Very often it is enough to play a bit with the reins to get the horse into correct beat again.
Remember that the effect of the reins are really just as long lasting as the “take”. When you take the rein, you’re working with the rein, but if you keep on holding the reins stuck and stiff the horse gets stuck and stiff back. So, you give again, and if needed, you take again, and then give again.
Find the ideal speed for your horse to tolt clean (or almost clean). All horses have a speed where it is easiest for them to tolt clean. For pacy horses this is usually medium-speed, for trotty horses this is usually slow or fast tolt. As they get more training, you can tolt them slower and faster than this particular speed without loosing clean hoof-beat. But this is also the reason that it is often problematic to tolt-train horses with bad tolt-balance in a group, because each of them might need to tolt in different speed to be at their best.
Find the ideal ground for your horse to tolt on. Usually it is best where the ground it not very soft, it is more difficult for the horse to tolt as the ground gets softer. Keep though in mind that tolting for long distances on asphalt is straining for the legs of the horse.
The horse needs to be soft in the mouth to tolt well, do everything you can to keep your horse soft and responsive in the bit. Avoid a dropped back and eve-neck, because that leads to a tense body and stiff or no tolt. The softer you are, the softer the horse is, and the softer the tolt is.
The saddle needs to fit well for the tolter, and sit right, or he stiffens up to brace himself against pain.
Many horses tolt better going slightly downhill (again, extremes are bad). It is difficult for most horses to tolt clean uphill, and riding a horse uphill in tolt either teaches the horse nothing about tolting or makes the tolt worse. Tolt (or walk) on horisontal or downhill, trot (or walk or canter) uphill. But as with everything, you can not generalize about every horse, experiment with your horse whether it works best going up- or downhill, or on flat land.
Improving a horse that lacks balance in the tolt takes time in many cases. Be patient, good things happen slowly, and do not get frustrated even though the training takes weeks or even months. Teaching a piggy-pacer to tolt can take riding him 4-5 times a week for 3-6 months. If it happens fast, be overjoyed, but brace yourself for a long training period. Give your horse at least 3-4 rides per week for 2 months if you really want to change it's tolting.
But the most important thing, if wanting to improve the tolt in your horse, is working on getting the horse more athletic. Tolt problems are often caused by stiffness in the horse, and lack of collection, so all methods that help your horse be more athletic help you to improve it’s tolt.
Problems in getting the correct tölt
Of course, ideally there would be no problems. But as some horses and riders have problems getting a perfect 4-beat tölt, what can be done?