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?
In this story, a horse-husband in Region 3 shares about his wife’s equestrian struggles, which all changed when a rescue Fjord with an unforgettable attitude unexpectedly came into their lives and gave the whole family a reason to smile again.
By Jason Webb
My wife, Melissa, and I own and operate Paradigm Farms, Inc., which is one of the longest established and perhaps among the largest retirement boarding facilities in the United States. Virtually all of the horses boarded here came to us from either the dressage world or from the hunter/jumper world. We have a significant number of upper level dressage horses retired here with us, many from well-known programs in the dressage world. When combined with the hunter/jumpers we have a farm full of big, hot, showy Thoroughbreds and warmbloods, which is exactly the sort of horse my wife loves.
Having a farm full of exactly the sort of horses she used to ride made Melissa extremely anxious to get back in the saddle again, and when our time and finances finally permitted her to re-enter the show world, she thought she’d pick up exactly where she left off. We stretched our finances to the limit, and we bought her a nice horse that was well capable of competing at the levels Melissa had shown at prior to her riding hiatus. She worked really hard at developing this horse, but she just didn’t find her previous joy in high level hunters. This was devastating to her and did absolutely nothing to improve marital harmony at our house. To make matters worse, this horse developed serious neurological symptoms about a year after her purchase, and we very quickly ended up having to euthanize her.
Over the next few years, Melissa bought and developed a couple more warmbloods for the hunter/jumper rings, but she found it hard to find the time to keep the hotter horses she was buying in consistent work, and thus to make consistent progress. At one point, she paid a trainer to board, train, and ride one of her majestic horses in competition while she sat in the stands watching instead of riding. The situation was absolutely ridiculous for us. We both recognized it, but although in many ways we think we are smart and successful people, we couldn’t seem to figure out how to change it.
In her youth, my wife rode hunter/jumpers at the national level. After she finished college, she started and ran a corporate recruiting company in Nashville. She was very successful financially, but she found no fulfillment in her high pressure, corporate career. Horse showing at a high level became her escape. She eventually realized the corporate world was not for her, and she ended up selling her company. During this time period, she met and married me, we started Paradigm Farms, and then we started a family. Melissa ended up taking a break from riding for almost eight years while we worked seemingly non-stop caring for all of the retirees boarded with us and parenting our young child.
My wife’s personal horse life wasn’t working out for her as she had hoped, but fortunately our horse boarding business continued to succeed and grow. We decided to diversify our income by partnering with a local trainer who wanted to buy, rehab, and sell horses. This venture quickly turned into a real win-win scenario for everyone. We and the trainer won financially, and the horses we bought won by getting a big upgrade in their circumstances, which in turn made us feel good about what we were doing.
About four years ago our buy/rehab/sell partner ended up with a Norwegian Fjord mare that had found herself in the auction cycle before being pulled by a rescue group. The trainer named the mare Tinkerbelle. Tink ended up at our farm temporarily when the trainer had too many horses to work with and not enough time. I have never in my life seen a horse with worse manners than Tink exhibited. She was pushy and was so food aggressive that she was unsafe. She was equally pushy under saddle. There was no meanness in her, but Tink made it clear that she was the boss and that she was going to do what she was going to do. I called the trainer and asked her just what the hell she had been thinking when she bought this horse. Tink went back to the trainer, but a few weeks later, my wife wanted to bring Tink back to our farm. I made it known that I was strongly against this plan, but in spite of my well applied efforts, Tink came back to our farm anyway. I worked with her in the field while Melissa worked with her in the ring.
It took a tremendous amount of work and patience to bring Tink around. It turns out that underneath all the atrocious behavior, Tink was a very soft and sensitive horse who had a surprising amount of athletic ability. Tink was the only horse Melissa was riding at that time. We had finally stopped buying warmbloods for other people to ride while my wife watched, which was proof positive that the first thing you need to do when digging yourself into a hole is to STOP DIGGING.
Slowly, Melissa realized that riding Tink never failed to improve her day. We ended up keeping the horse that I had vehemently not wanted to come back to my farm. Melissa decided to focus on dressage with Tink. We both fell in love with Tink’s innate personality…she was gentle, kind-hearted, people oriented, OPINIONATED, and she was very fun to be around and interact with. She was also fun to ride, and for the first time in literally a decade, I saw my wife smile every time she was on a horse. After watching Melissa put so much money and time into horses that didn’t work out, seeing her consistently smile was an awesome sight to behold.
Melissa and I had lost sight of the fact that goals change over time. When Melissa was in her 20’s, she had a high-powered corporate career and riding was her escape. Her riding goals involved focusing and winning at high level hunter jumper shows. To do this she needed to breed, buy, and/or train huge, majestic, hot horses. Since (arguably) being married to me and running a horse farm was much less stressful than hustling in corporate America, she wasn’t looking to escape her life any more. She certainly wanted to own horses that had the ability to compete at a reasonably high level, but she also wanted horses that were safe for our young son to ride and handle, and that she might enjoy doing things with, beyond high level horse showing.
Tink the Fjord Horse could seamlessly do so many things. Melissa could take dressage lessons on her and take her out hacking. Our son could dress her up and ride her around in a subdivision to go trick or treating, and then take Tink out fox hunting. We had found the perfect horse for our family!
In the spring of 2021, I decided to start an Instagram page for Tink (@tinkthefjordhorse). Although my wife was enjoying her riding, the pandemic did a pretty good job of wiping the smile from everyone’s faces. I didn’t want to lose my wife’s smiles again, and I thought reading about Tink’s many opinions would help keep the smiles coming. Tink’s IG page was designed to be tongue in cheek funny; a view of how Tink saw the world as interpreted through me. I never thought anyone would follow Tink’s IG page; I was (and am) writing for an audience of one. Since I wasn’t seeking either followers or publicity, I decided to use a pseudonym. Tink affectionately refers to me as Fat Man in her posts. She refers to Melissa as her mom, our son as “the kid”, and to everyone else by their actual names. I actively avoided promoting Tink’s IG account. In spite of that, Fjord enthusiasts from all over the world started to like her page.
Just as misery begets misery, so too do smiles beget smiles. We liked the direction our lives were moving in well enough that we purchased a second Fjord, this time a registered horse with a known pedigree that we could research. We bought Bregne in the fall of 2021 from Nancy Newport who was, at the time, Executive Director of the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry (NFHR). Bregne was six years old, and she had been started under saddle but was very green. Her fantastic temperament and her lighter build made us want to take a chance on her, with her work focus being dressage.
Melissa is, by nature, extremely competitive. She quickly put Bregne and Tink into a regimented dressage training program with the goal of taking them to Pony Cup in the summer of 2022. Mongrel Fjord Tink placed 6th in her division and the very green Bregne was Reserve Champion in her division. Not only could our horses be fun, they could be competitive! That’s when we both got competitive.
Since that time, we have imported two dressage Fjords from Denmark; a beautiful Second Level 6-year-old that we sold, and a 3-year-old (now 4-year-old) with an amazing canter that we are developing and who is soon to be for sale. Every single one of my Fjord horse contacts abroad came from Tink’s IG page! We have studied pedigrees, watched thousands of videos, and we have visited in person with Fjord horse breeders across Denmark, Sweden, and France. Late this winter, we purchased our first broodmare, a dressage-type young Fjord mare from Dan Watanabe and Denise Vogel, who own DDungard in Valley, WA . Valia arrived in July of this year, and she is due to foal in late April of next year. We cannot wait to meet our first Fjord foal in the spring!
We also purchased Curious George, a registered Fjord gelding with an underbite, an unfortunate head, beautiful gaits, and the most fantastic temperament you could hope for in a horse. Curious George was born and raised in Alaska. He arrived at our farm this spring as a mostly unhandled 4-year-old. Five months post arrival, he is Melissa’s second flight fox hunting horse with the Mells Foxhounds in Lynnville, Tennessee. Because of his beautiful Fjord temperament, she had no reservations about starting him under saddle herself. Our hunt country is no joke. It’s steep and heavily wooded. The coops are 3’3” to 3’6”, and the takeoffs and landings are challenging. We have every faith that in a couple of seasons Curious George will eventually be able to go in first flight and jump in the challenging terrain. There is no amount of money that would induce Melissa to sell Curious George.
Fjords have been stereotyped by most people as cute, tractable, friendly small horses that might be good for trail riding or therapeutic riding but probably not much else. You may never see a Fjord jumping 1.5 meters, and if you like horses that are fire breathing dragons, Fjords will never be your breed.
Fjord horses have the temperament and ability to inspire confidence and bravery in timid or older riders. They are FUN to ride and FUN to be around. Sport-bred Fjord horses have a particular affinity for dressage. Breeders and riders in Europe and in the United States have developed Fjords that ride at FEI Level in dressage, up to and including Grand Prix. We have been to various Fjord horse championship shows in Europe, and we have watched large classes of Fjords competing at the equivalent of USDF Second and Third Level with plenty of scope to do more.
As we grow our Fjord horse buying and breeding programs, it’s our goal to always have something in development that is for sale to the right buyer. We aim to represent and to breed Fjord horses with excellent temperaments and exceptional abilities…the kind of horse that a competitive rider could win at a dressage show one day and which could safely be used to pull a cart or teach grandma or a small child to ride the next day. Our love affair with Fjord horses continues.
Fjord horses have completely changed my outlook on horses. I went from the grumpy horse husband who whined incessantly about ALL the money and the time my wife put in to her show horses, to volunteering to travel to Europe to meet breeders and pick out Fjord horses to purchase and import. I am an active participant in starting our Fjord breeding program. I have become a huge advocate for the breed and I promote them in every way I can think of. Developing Fjords into very capable dressage horses has allowed Melissa to find her love in starting, training, and showing her horses once again. Breeding, riding, promoting, training, showing and just enjoying Fjord horses has been a real marriage and family building exercise. We ALL love our Fjords for a laundry list of good reasons, and we are delighted that we can share our story with you. We hope we’ve managed to shine some light onto why we think Fjord horses make excellent dressage prospects, and why they deserve more recognition for their diverse talents and abilities.
Jason and Melissa Webb own Paradigm Farms, Inc. in Lynnville, Tennessee. Enquiries for retired horse boarding can please view their website, www.retiredhorses.com. Enquiries for Fjord horse dressage horses and foals for sale can be directed to firstname.lastname@example.org. And you can follow Tink’s adventures on her Instagram page at @tinkthefjordhorse.