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Danish top-rider: The Icelandic horse is polite, curious and a breath of fresh air

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Nils Christian Larsen Photo: Kronholt

When you think about special horses, it´s hard not to think about the Icelandic horse – and here´s why. This breed is very different from any other horse breed especially because of its two extra gaits tölt and flying pace. For a closer look at the Icelandic horse and the disciplines connected to this breed, we had a chat with the Danish top rider Nils Christian Larsen.

Nils Christian Larsen

…is one of the best riders when it comes to Icelandic horses and has ridden many competitions. He is the Nordic champion in several disciplines, the European champion on ice (multiple times) plus the World champion. Furthermore, he is educated as a riding instructor and has several years of experience coaching riding on Icelandic horses. He also runs his own stud farm Kronholt in Denmark.

What are the most special features when it comes to the Icelandic horse?

“They have a great mind, great work ethics, and multiple gaits. It's great that they function perfectly as all-around horses and they are very cooperative. And then they are curious, polite and they are like a breath of fresh air.”

Why is it amazing to ride an Icelandic horse?

“Because of the adrenalin kick you get from riding this elastic, strong horse like who carries himself well with a great power!”

How are the disciplines different compared to competitions with “ordinary” horses?

“The disciplines are divided into different classes of tölt, other gaits, and flying pace. Tölt and gaits like trot, canter, and walk are demonstrated on a 250-meter track. The focus is on the quality of the gaits and tact, self-carrying, collected work, and harmony in the programs.”

You may also like to read: The Icelandic horse: A versatile and friendly legend

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How is that performed at the competitions?

“Flying pace is shown on a 100-, 150- and 250-meter oval track with the ride also being registered as far as time. The competition is demonstrated in front of five judges who are placed in the middle of the track. They give a total score based on the performance.”

How do you work on everyday training with Icelandic horses?

“The basic training is the same for riders of Icelandic horses as all other serious riders.”

What can the “ordinary” riders learn from Icelandic riders and their training?

“My experience is that many Icelandic riders are good at motivating the horse to think of moving forward, and they are good at letting the horse move forward without necessarily increasing the speed. It is kind of an artform to keep the lightness in the legs when you ride Icelandic horses – it is a big part of the training. Because of the extra gaits, Icelandic riders often also have a very good balance. This is a strength we have. “

 How do you personally train your horse?

“I believe in variation in the training plus variation of the surface. It can be divided into technical training, specific exercises or signals that need improvement. Training of gaits, pole training, hacks and not to be forgotten condition, which is always a part of the development of the horses. It is also important to remember that each horse has its own requirement and personality. We cannot train all horses the same way."

What is your favorite gait?

“There is just nothing like flying pace – it is magical!”

What is the best advice you can give other riders?

“My passion is in the signals, body language and handling the individual horses. Horses use all senses to read humans and our routines. Our job is to show them the way and motivate the horses to perform the work we would like them to. Remember to have fun and enjoy it! Be creative and make sure the horse has a great time with you.”

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