Part of Horse Previews Magazine website. Posted on 9/4/98; 2:00:00PM.

Getting to Know the Fjord Horse

by Becky Vorpagel

It may come as a surprise to some people, but there are two kinds of "Fjords" in Norway. One is the well-known series of deep, jagged inlets in the mountainous coastal regions of the country, the other is the Norwegian Fjord Horse -- a horse tough enough to survive in such a rugged environment. Although today Fjord Horses do not run wild on the Norwegian coast, they are regularly found on many of Norway's small farms, where the steep countryside is better suited for horse-drawn equipment than for tractors. And, as their sturdiness and steadiness are making them more and more popular, Fjord Horses are also found increasingly in the United States.

The Norwegian Fjord Horse is an ancient breed thought to be closely related to Prezewalski's horse, the wild horse of the Asian steppes. This relationship is indicated by their similar coloration -- the Fjords are typically dun in color and often sport primitive markings. Over 90 percent of Fjords are brown dun, with a black or dark dorsal stripe running from the mane over the back and through the tail; in addition, many also have zebra stripes on the legs, especially around the knees and hocks. The dorsal stripe is so striking that most Fjord owners roach the mane so that it will stand erect, and trim the white outer part slightly lower than the dark inner stripe to accentuate it.

Fjords are a small, stocky breed of horse, ranging between 13 & 15 hands and typically weighing between 850 and 1500 pounds. They have an intelligent face with a broad, flat forehead and large, gentle eyes. The neck is short and well-muscled, with more crest than seen in most riding horses. The body is short-coupled, with a large heart girth and excellent spring of ribs. The haunches are well-rounded, with heavy muscling that extends down into the thigh and gaskin. Legs are short but powerful, with a lot of bone. Feet are good-sized, hooves are black and hard. The harshness of the Norwegian environment naturally selected for hardiness in these horses. Fjords tend to be very healthy, and fairly impervious to inclement weather. They also grow heavy winter coats, so that they look almost like stuffed animals during the winter months. No need to blanket these horses or worry about shelter during a snowstorm -- they're likely to be out rolling and playing in the stuff! Natural selection has also created in the Fjord an extremely easy keeper. Low quality hay or forage still keeps weight on Fjords, with little or no grain -- perhaps just a handful a day as a treat. And, when the grass is grazed down, Fjords will turn to thistles, blackberry leaves, and just about any other non toxic edibles they can find.

Perhaps the most remarkable feature about Fjords is their steady temperament. Most are extremely steady and unexcitable, rarely spooking or shying, even at unfamiliar objects. They tend to be extremely gentle, and, when properly trained, provide excellent mounts in situations requiring a great deal of steadiness -- in the sport of vaulting, in handicapped riding programs, and in packing. Many breeders insist the Fjords retain their training better than most breeds and don't instantly revert to bad habits when they haven't been worked for a few days.

Many breed books characterize Fjord Horses as "draft ponies," and the horses certainly are well suited for draft work. Fjords are popular with draft horse people who are tired of hoisting pounds of harness onto 17+ hand Belgians or Percherons. Their steady nature makes them easy to work with in farming and logging situations, and they have a remarkable amount of strength for their size -- at a Fjord breed show last year, the horse which won the pulling contest pulled 2,200 pounds of dead weight on a stone boat!

Fjord Horses are by no means limited to draft work, however. They work and compete in almost every equine activity -- cutting, reining, pleasure riding and driving, dressage, and even jumping. They make excellent driving horses and have become quite popular with combined driving enthusiasts. In addition, most Fjords make wonderful riding or pack horses. Their Norwegian roots have provided them with sure footing, which along with their steadiness, makes them well suited for trail riding and packing. Many Fjords exhibit an extremely strong, smooth trot which makes for a comfortable ride -- in Norway, they are used in trotting races, a popular sport.

Today, Fjord Horses are bred in Denmark, France, Germany, Sweden, and the Netherlands, as well as in their native Norway. The first Norwegian Fjord Horse was imported into the United States by Philadelphia publisher, J.B. Lippencott, who brought over a weanling colt named "Danny" in 1888. A few years later, Warren Delano, an uncle of Franklin Delano Roosevelt, imported several Fjord Horses for a breeding operation at his estate in Barrytown, New York. It was not until the 1960s that Fjord Horses were again imported and the breed began to establish itself in the U.S. Now, there are over 1,500 Fjord Horses in the U.S., with more in Canada, and some top rate horses are being bred in this country. There are several active Fjord owners and breeders in the Pacific Northwest, and probably a dozen Fjords right here in the Willamette Valley.

For a list of Fjord owners & breeders in OR/WA, contact Becky Vorpagel and Robert Thilsted, Jont Creek Acres, 16080 Storey Road, Monmouth, Oregon 97361, 503-838-0861.

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