The Five Gaits Of Horsepower: A Trip To Fákasel Horse Park

The Five Gaits Of Horsepower: A Trip To Fákasel Horse Park

Photo by
Art Bicnick

A glorious, wise and spiritual creature stands calmly in the stable. His eyes are focused, his carbon-black fur is shining under a bright light, and his posture is perfect.

After being properly washed, brushed and pampered like a real star, this beautiful Icelandic horse and his colleagues are waiting to perform a show called ‘Night at the Farm – Legends of Icelandic Culture’ at the Icelandic Horse Park, Fákasel. The show brings together history, old Norse mythology and exhibition riding to demonstrate the beauty and unique qualities of the Icelandic horse.


A family affair

Fákasel is owned by a married couple, Guðmundur Ólason and Bryndís Mjöll Gunnarsdóttir. This is their fourth summer hosting thousands of guests at Fákasel. There are about 80 horses in the horse park, and 30-40 of them are included in the shows. Bryndís is keen to emphasise that their horse theatre shouldn’t be compared to the circus, no matter what. “We are doing this to honour the Icelandic horse,” she says, “because Icelanders are very proud of the breed. Show elements are really easy for the horses and they like it. Our horses are never forced to do circus tricks.”

Bryndís Mjöll Gunnarsdóttir (left)

Bryndís Mjöll Gunnarsdóttir (left)

When asked why Icelandic horses stand out from other breeds, Bryndís cites their full-bloodedness and unique temperament. “They are very willing, friendly and kind,” she says. “What’s more, even though they are small—Icelandic horses weigh between 330 and 380 kilograms and stand an average of 132 to 142 centimetres—they are really strong. When you’re touching an Icelandic horse, you’re touching a Viking horse, because the breed has remained pure for about thousand years, since the first horse was brought to the island.”

No going back

But to maintain the purebred Icelandic horse, Icelanders must make sacrifices. “If you take an Icelandic horse abroad, it can never return,” explains Bryndís. “This may be really sad and heartbreaking for the rider, but this is a law.” So taking part in a competition outside of Iceland means permanent deportation for the horse.


Another thing that differentiates the Icelandic horse from all other breeds is its ability to perform two additional gaits besides the usual walk, trot and canter. These natural and unique gaits are called the tölt and the flying pace. The chief of the Fákasel horse show team stresses that the flying pace shouldn’t be used on a daily basis, as “it can be wearing for a horse.” But not all Icelandic horses are capable of reaching flying pace, in which the legs on the same side move together, and the horse can go up to 50 kilometres per hour.


As we finish, Bryndís recalls a story that that could have come straight out of the American television series ‘I Didn’t Know I Was Pregnant’. “One of our horses, Stella, was a really good mare to use in the friendship scene at the horse show,” she recalls. “Then one day we found out there was a foal in her stall. No one could believe their eyes. We’re still wondering when she had the time to visit a lover.”

So, given that the animals used by Iceland’s elves are said to be as invisible to humans as elves themselves, maybe an elf horse knocked up Stella? One can only suppose…


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