Tölting is a gait unique to the Icelandic Horse, a small breed of horse which was developed in Iceland to cope with the harsh winters and rugged terrain of this Northern nation. Because this gait is distinct from the walk, trot, canter, and gallop, Icelandics are known as “gaited horses,” reflecting their extra skills. In addition to tölting, Icelandics are also capable of exhibiting the flugskeið or “flying pace.” Almost all Icelandics are capable of tölting naturally, although some horses prefer trotting, and this gait can also be refined through additional training.
This gait is a lateral four beat gait, which means that both legs on one side move forward together. It is very similar to racking, a gait found in some American gaited horses, but tölting is slightly different from the classic rack. Owners of Icelandics tend to be particularly defensive about the difference between the rack and the tolt, but there actually are differences between the two gaits which are often visible even to people who are not experienced with gaited horses.
When a horse tölts, it keeps its back level, its head up, the neck arched, and it lifts both front and rear legs high. At least one foot is on the ground at all times in the tölt, and the gait is extremely smooth. Icelandics can also move very quickly; speed at a tölt can approach that of a gallop, unless the horse is also capable of the flying pace, in which case it tends to tölt a bit more slowly.
The best Icelandics tölt so smoothly that the rider barely moves in the saddle. Some riders like to show off with an cup filled with liquid, demonstrating how no liquid is spilled during an especially smooth tölting session. This gait is also very fluid and showy to look at, especially in a well-groomed horse, and like other ambling horse gaits, it is highly energy-efficient, which means that the horse can maintain the gait for an extended period of time.
Many Icelandic horses start tölting at a very young age; colts and fillies at play, for example, may tölt in the field before they've ever been ridden. The gait may require no additional development from a rider or trainer, although some riders teach their horses to step especially high for the show ring. In other instances, an Icelandic may need to be taught to tölt, because it prefers trotting or pacing.