While no one is certain of the exact original location of the Fjord, it is likely that the wild herds migrated from southern Sweden and Denmark. They are now commonly recognized as Norway’s earliest equines. The remains of Norwegian Fjords have been excavated from Viking burial grounds, indicating that domestication and selective breeding has been taking place for over 2000 years. Known also as “Vestlandshesten” (translating to west land horse), the breeding of the Fjord primarily took place in the western part of Norway.
The versatility, work ethic, and strength of these small horses made them highly sought after, as they were highly suitable for farm work, and useful as a mode of transportation. The Fjord breed has come to be known as easy keepers and for their tough but docile attitudes, and kind nature, which has kept them in demand as equine partners, despite the mechanization of farming.
Physically, the Norwegian Fjord is a hardy, strongly built equine, with a well-proportioned body and athletic appearance. In adhering to the breed standard, they should be versatile enough for riding, driving, and draft work, and suitable as a family horse. While there is no lower limit to a Fjord’s size, the ideal size is between 13.1 and 14.3 hands tall. The breed sports a short, strong neck tying into a gently sloping shoulder, and well-defined but not prominent withers. The length of the back and hindquarters should be equal to that of the forehand. A long, broad, well-muscled and sloped croup should tie into well-muscled gaskins, topping short cannons and sloping pasterns, ending in a well-balanced, large hoof. The strength, durability, and soundness of the Fjord is paramount, so attention should be given to the feet – as the saying goes, “no hoof, no horse”.
Selectively bred to maintain the dun color and markings that have become the trademark of the breed, approximately 90% of Fjord horses are brown dun, while the remaining 10% are red dun, grey, white, or yellow dun. The trademark markings of the breed include a dorsal stripe running from the forelock to the tail, and zebra stripes on the legs. The dorsal stripe also causes the trademark dual-color mane that is unique to the Fjord breed. To make this unique trait stand out, the mane is usually trimmed short enough to stand upright and display the dark center and light outer coloring pattern. Atypical coloring is not acceptable by the breed standards, and a small white star (the size of US quarter or smaller) is accepted, but only on a mare or gelding. Blue eyes are also not acceptable, by the Breed Standards.
The most influential stallion within the Fjord breed is Njål 166. Foaled in 1891 in Stryn, Njål 166 appears in every Fjord pedigree worldwide today. He stood at stud in Sogn og Fjordane from 1896 until his death in 1910. He sported what is now known as “Njåls-merke” (Mark of Njål), which are small brown spots on the body of a Fjord (usually the gaskins or cheeks), a mark which still appears on a Fjord occasionally, and is an acceptable marking according to the Registry.
Fjords are not specialty bred, as with some other breeds, and because of their sought after versatility, tend to fall somewhere between a sport pony and a light draft horse. So, while they may be built to excel slightly more at one or the other, they are still versatile enough for multi-discipline use. Universal type Fjords, according to the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry’s (NFHR) Breed Standard documents, should be “well suited and comfortable doing trail riding, as pack horses in rough terrain, driving, jumping, in equine-facilitated therapy, and as an all-around family horse”.
The Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry, Inc. accepts only purebred Fjords into their registry, in keeping with the tradition of selective breeding to maintain conformation and color expectations. The registry requires documentation of lineage for foal registration, which may include DNA typing of the parents. The Registry does permit artificial insemination and embryo transfer, within specific parameters.
Breed Evaluations are overseen by the NFHR, to provide owners and breeders an opportunity to gain information about the strengths and weaknesses of individual horses. These Evaluation Programs consist of three parts: an evaluation of conformation and movement, an evaluation of performance in three disciplines (riding, driving, and draft), and the Family Fjord Tests. These Breed Evaluations are judged by Evaluators who have completed the NFHR’s Evaluator Training Program.
Are you interested in learning more about the Norwegian Fjord? Visit the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry, Inc’s website! Dressage riders who choose registered Norwegian Fjords as their dancing partners are eligible for Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards, as NFHR is a Participating Organization!