- HEIGHT: 13.2–14.2 hands
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: Norway
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: Good disposition, sure-footedness, extremely comfortable gaits, and excellent endurance
- BEST SUITED FOR: Riding, driving, packing, farmwork; excellent children’s mounts and all-around family horses; successful at the lower levels of dressage, jumping, and eventing
Primitive wild horses, very similar in type and color to those seen in cave paintings, migrated into Norway at least four thousand years ago and probably even earlier than that. There is some archaeological evidence that they were domesticated around 2000 BCE. Archaeological excavations from Viking burial sites document that the Fjord Horse has been selectively bred since about the time of Christ.
The Vikings were excellent horsemen and used the Fjord Horses as war mounts. Their horses went where they went, so the Norwegian Fjord inevitably left its genetic mark on many other breeds, notably the “mountain and moorland” breeds of Great Britain, the Icelandic Pony, and the Swedish Gotland.
The Vikings were also the first western Europeans to use horses for farmwork. As they invaded neighboring lands, plowing with horses spread. It is thought that all present-day draft breeds in western Europe descend in some part from this ancient breed.
The first organized breeding program for the Fjord began in the mid-1880s. Prior to this time the horses were somewhat smaller than they are today, averaging about 12.1 hands. At the end of the 1800s, all crossing with other breeds was stopped and since then the breed has remained pure. The first Fjordhorse Studbook was established in 1910. Today a considerable number of Fjord Horses are bred outside of Norway in Europe and in North America.
In the mid-1950s, twenty-one registered Fjords, all champions, were imported into the United States. The distinctive looks, all-around usefulness, and pleasant disposition of the horses have made them increasingly popular.
History of the Registry
The Norwegian Fjordhorse Association is the international governing body for the breed. Its goal is to unite all those interested in the breed and to encourage them to work for the common good. The organization was founded in 1949, and is divided into national, district, and local groups. The Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry maintains the registry guidelines and statistics and keeps the studbooks, including one for Fjords in North America, to trace accurate records of bloodlines and preserve genetic purity and type.
Fjords have an excellent disposition, and they are quite sure-footed in rugged terrain. They are used in Norway for farming, forest work, packing, riding, and driving. They make fine children’s mounts and fine versatile family horses. They are quite capable of succeeding at the lower levels of dressage and jumping. They are also noted for having extremely comfortable gaits and excellent endurance.
Fjords generally range in height from about 13.2 to 15 hands, with most animals measuring between 14 and 14.2 hands and weighing between 900 and 1,200 pounds. They have a nicely proportioned, mediumsized head with a concave profile, pronounced jaw, and width between the eyes. The eyes are large and kind, the ears small and set well apart. The nostrils are flared and open. The neck is short and well muscled. The withers are low, flat, and well muscled. The shoulders are laid back and muscular. The body is compact but deep, with well-sprung ribs. The back is short to medium length and often slightly hollow. The loin is broad and strong. The croup is rounded, sloping, and well muscled. The legs are sturdy, short, and powerful with broad, strong joints; clearly defined tendons; and light feathering at the fetlocks. The pasterns are long and sloped. The hooves are black, hard, and well shaped.
Norwegian Fjord Horses are always dun with a dorsal stripe. They have a sturdy, muscular appearance.
The most distinctive features of the Fjord today are its color and markings. The horses are always some shade of dun—the color of true wild horses, such as the Przewalski and the Tarpan, and the color of horses in cave paintings. In addition, Fjords always have a dorsal stripe and some sort of zebra markings on the legs. The dorsal stripe runs from the forelock down the neck through the middle of the mane, across the back, and into the tail. Dark stripes may also be seen over the withers.
The hardy Fjords can withstand extremely low winter temperatures.
At the present time, approximately 90 percent of all Fjord Horses are brown duns. The remaining 10 percent are either red, gray, pale gold, or yellow dun. The shade of the dorsal stripe and leg markings varies with the shade of dun. Red duns have dark reddish brown stripes and leg markings. Gray duns have dark gray or black stripes and leg markings. Yellow dun is a very rare color within the breed. Yellow duns may be distinguished by the very light or white forelock and mane and a darker yellow dorsal stripe and markings. Although current Fjord Horses are all some shade of dun, historians note that in earlier times, the color varied.
With their calm, willing temperament, strength, and easily matched colors, Fjords make ideal driving teams.
BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES
According to the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry (founded in 1949):
• About 5,120 horses are in the registry.
• In 2005, 390 foals were registered.
• The highest population density of Fjord Horses in North America is in Minnesota and Wisconsin.
The mane of the Fjord is very coarse and tends to stand straight up for a few inches. For many centuries the tradition has been to trim it short and in such a way as to emphasize both the nicely arched shape of the neck and the color of the mane, which is lighter on the outsides and darker in the center. The light outer hair is trimmed slightly shorter in order to clearly display the distinctive inner stripe.
The upright mane is pale on the outsides with a dark stripe running through the center.