As an equine lover for most of my life, I had always known about the Icelandic horse. The furry, little creature often came up in the book of horse breeds that I read as a little girl and many Icelandic tourism videos show people trotting along on their small steeds across the beautiful countryside.
I never realised how unique the Icelandic horse was until I visited Iceland this past winter with my family. Arriving with the Norwegian settlers over 1,100 years ago, the Icelandic horse has been an untouched specie since then. Called "The nation's most faithful servant", the Icelandic horse's heritage was traced to a now-extinct breed of ancestral horse. There are strict rules that state that any Icelandic horse brought outside of the country (be it for competitions or road shows) are no longer allowed to return to Iceland. Foreign horses are also not allowed to be brought into the country for fear that they may bring diseases to the otherwise healthy local herds.
Aside from the classic walk, trot, canter, and gallop gaits that horses have, the Icelandic horse has two additional gaits called tölt, known for being explosive and covering much ground, and the skei∂ or "flying pace" which is used for races.
There are many companies throughout Iceland that organise proper riding tours which can last anywhere from half a day to over a week. Islenski Hesturinn and Eldhestar do tours right outside Reykjavik which cater for riders of all levels.
If you decide to do a Golden Circle tour, you'll notice straight away that as soon as you leave Reykjavik, you'll see that the highways are sandwiched by numerous horse farms. If you were like us and didn't have time to do a riding tour but still wanted to meet the famous Icelandic horses, you can drive your rented vehicle or ask your tour bus driver to stop by the many farms that welcome visitors to feed and pet their horses that are out grazing in the fields.
Take note that not all owners welcome this, as many farmers have complained that over the years, tourists have pet and fed their horses things that are not good for their delicate stomachs. Some farms have signs that strictly forbid petting or feeding of the horses, but we found one particular farm that even had an "honesty system" feed box where you could leave money and take out some approved food to give to the horses.
Good luck on your search and I hope that you enjoy making some new furry friends!