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“The horse’s eyes should be like the mountain lakes on a midsummer evening, big and bright. A bold bearing of the neck like a lad from the mountains on his way to his beloved. Well-defined withers like the contours of the mountains set against an evening sky. The temperament as lively as a waterfall in spring, and still good-natured.”
This was the poetic breed description offered at the 1996 International Conference hosted by the Norges Fjordhestlag or Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry, to convey the romantic and deep sentiment the Norwegians possess for their Fjord horses. One of the world’s oldest and purest breeds, they ran in wild herds over the Norwegian soil at the end of the last ice age. Now a national symbol of Norway, the Fjord horse is believed to have migrated to the district of Veslandet—the western mountainous region of Norway—where it was domesticated over 4,000 years ago. Information gleaned from Viking burial sites suggests the Fjord horse has been selectively bred in the region for 2,000 years.
The Norwegian Fjord Horse (or Fjord horse as it is often referred to) is relatively small, generally ranging in size from 13.2 to 14.2 hands, but extraordinarily strong, agile and sure-footed. It has the build of a light draft horse, usually weighing in at between 900 and 1200 pounds at maturity. Fully capable of carrying an adult human, the animals are also able to pull remarkably heavy loads.
The breed has retained its significant survival instincts, remaining efficient foragers adaptable to various climates, whether hot, dry, wet or cold. The modern Norwegian Fjord seems comfortable in both pasture and stable settings, remaining vital, fertile and useful throughout most of their long life. Their inquisitive yet calm presence is highlighted by a unique appearance.
While body structure within the breed may vary from flatter, lighter muscling to rounder, stockier muscling, all Fjord horses are dun in color, sporting a tan, gold or related shade with darker black or brown “primitive” accents.
The breed standard recognizes five shade variations. The most common color (nearly 90% of all Fjords) is brunblakk or “brown dun”, a pale yellow-brown, varying from buttermilk to a light chestnut. The other colors are red dun, grey dun, white or uls dun, and the rarest color of the breed- a true yellow dun. The head is medium-sized with a broad, flat forehead and a straight or slightly dished profile and small, wide-set ears. The neck is supple and powerful, with a natural arch.
All Fjords have a full mane that is thick and heavy, traditionally clipped in a distinctive crescent shape two to four inches high to showcase the breed’s trademark, a darker dorsal stripe in the middle of the mane called a “midtstol.” Fjords typically also have darker hair or “halefjaer” in the middle of the tail, which can vary dramatically in the different coat colors, being almost imperceptible in some animals. Some Fjord horses have small brown spots over the eyes, cheeks and thighs, called “Njal marks” named for one of the foundation sires of the contemporary Fjord horse lineage, who exhibited such markings. Norwegian Fjord horses often have lighter hair on the muzzle, belly, inside of legs and over the eyes. The hooves are usually dark although some striping may occur.
The true, two-beat diagonal trot is the natural and most favored gait of this compact and friendly horse. The walk has a four-beat cadence in which the hind hoof print oversteps the front hoof print. The horse’s canter is balanced and relaxed, with good forward movement.
The Norwegian Fjord horse possesses a charming, gentle disposition, intelligent yet unassuming. The horses’ modest stature, along with their agreeable, calm, and “trainable” nature makes them suitable for a wide range of equestrian activities, including riding, all types of driving, draft work, and therapeutic riding.
(Originally published in the November/December 2012 issue of Cowgirl Magazine).