The fabled Norwegian Fjord! We are celebrating these horses as our October Breed of the Month on YourDressage! We will be sharing stories and galleries all month long from folks who love this breed.
Did you know that dressage riders who choose a Norwegian Fjord as their dressage mount are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry is a participating organization?
Here, a USDF Region 2 rider shares the story of the Fjord she met at the Horse Power Healing Center who stole her heart, and whose gentle nature gave her back her love of riding.
By Cecelia Conway
I met KeJaCo’s Herger when he was 21 years old, and just starting what would be his fourth career as a horse at the therapeutic riding center where I volunteer, Horse Power Healing Center (HPHC), in Eagle, Wisconsin. Although I didn’t know his whole story at that time, Herger had done and seen more equestrian things than I could ever hope to match. So, perhaps it’s easier if we start at the beginning of his story.
Herger was born on a family farm in the mountains of British Columbia, Canada, in 1997, and learned all about being a horse from a herd of fellow Fjords. The Unraus were dedicated to breeding Fjords that would highlight the incredible versatility and caring personality of the breed.
At three, he began his education in riding, ground driving, and eventually, paired and single driving. Before long, he was competing in combined driving events in both Canada and the United States.
Even as a young horse, his calm, steady, and willing temperament showed through in everything he did. He stayed with his breeders until he was five years old, when he was sold to a South Carolina family looking for a horse for their son to ride and drive.
Unfortunately, that wasn’t his forever home and, less than a year later, he was purchased by a trainer in Wisconsin, Phil Odden, who was very experienced in training Fjord horses and also competed in combined driving.
Herger stayed with Phil for many years as a competition horse, personal riding horse, and a reliable partner Phil could use to help teach other horses how to drive.
While he was with the Oddens, Herger went on hunting and packing trips out West, in Wyoming, Montana, and Colorado. They hunted, packed, and camped, and Herger even helped carry out an elk or two from their adventures.
In addition to his western adventures and traveling for shows, Herger made the trip to Lexington, Kentucky. He had been chosen as a combined driving demonstration horse for the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games.
When Herger was ready to retire from full-time competition and training, he made the short trip from northern to southern Wisconsin, where he was purchased by the Barr family.
Herger lived with them for two years before they realized he still loved to have a job, and maybe full-time retirement wasn’t the best option for him. They started looking for a lighter-duty job, where Herger could still do some work and keep himself in shape, mentally and physically.
It was then that he arrived at HPHC.
Herger quickly distinguished himself as an excellent Equine Assisted Services horse, also known as a therapy horse.
Soon after arriving, Herger was helping students learn how to groom and ride; he visited retirement homes and took over the unofficial role of Farm Ambassador. Throughout all of his new experiences, his gentle nature and willing personality made him a favorite of volunteers and riders alike. Everybody loved the little horse with the mohawk and stripe.
It’s now that I should admit that I hadn’t ridden in nearly three years at that time. I had a bad accident at a barn where I had previously ridden and shown, and I developed a lot of mental hurdles that I was still working on overcoming. My confidence in the saddle had taken a huge hit, and I was convinced that maybe I should walk away from riding altogether.
Thankfully, HPHC’s owner, Wendy Konichek, convinced me that I should give Herger a shot, if I ever wanted to give riding another try. It took a few months of her gentle encouragement but, eventually, I bit the bullet and asked for a lesson with Herger.
I think he knew I was a mental wreck because he took care of me like he takes care of his therapeutic riding students. He was quiet, listened to everything I asked, and gave me time to rediscover my confidence in the saddle.
It wasn’t something that happened overnight. In fact, it took almost a year of lessons at home, nearly all of them at a walk, before I finally decided to try my hand at showing again. I wasn’t ready to travel to a show, but luckily, now that there are so many virtual options, I could find one we could enter from home.
Because of his natural talent and versatility, Herger and I entered both traditional and western dressage classes, as well as ground work classes.
To my surprise and delight, we earned respectable scores in all of them!
We continued to enter two or three shows a year and, during COVID-19, we were able to compete in the Virtual Western Dressage World Championships show, alongside several of our therapeutic riding students, who entered the Exceptional Rider divisions.
During my journey back to riding, Wendy started telling me all about the amazing things that Herger had done in his life, and it only became more and more apparent what a special horse he was. In 2022, I nominated him for the Professional Association of Therapy Horsemanship International’s (PATH Intl.) Regional Therapy Horse of the Year award… and he won!
As more people heard Herger’s story, one of our center’s volunteers, Jill, suggested making a book about his life. So, in 2023, I helped HPHC write and illustrate a children’s book called Herger: The Fantastic Fjord. Now, kids can read all about Herger’s life and the Norwegian Fjord breed, in a fully illustrated children’s book. This year, he even got to go to his own book signing, and he loves to listen to kids read to him!
Today, Herger is still loving his life as everyone’s favorite therapy horse. He’s probably waiting by the pasture gate to see if he’ll get to work today or hoping you’ll share some treats with him.
Herger is truly an exemplary horse and a perfect example of just how many things the Norwegian Fjord is capable of not only doing, but doing well. And, on a personal note, I will forever be grateful to him for helping me fall back in love with riding again.