Last Updated on March 2, 2022 by Allison Price
Your eyes should look like the mountains lakes at midsummer night, bright and big. Boldly bearing the neck, like a mountain boy on his way to his lover. Withers that are as defined as the contours of mountains against the evening sky. “The temperament is as lively as a spring waterfall, but still kind of naive.” – Norwegian description for the Fjord horse.
The Norwegian Fjord is one of the oldest pure horse breeds. They have a striking resemblance with the Asiatic wild horse and Przewalski horses, but they are closer to the European wild horse Tarpan because the Przewalski horse only has 66 chromosomes, while the Fjord and Tarpan each have 64.
The original Fjord horse, believed to have migrated from Norway to Norway over 4000 years ago, was then domesticated. Archeological evidence indicates that the Fjord horse was selectively bred since 2000, when it was first introduced to the world by the Vikings in 1200 BC. Many of the Norway’s fighting stallions are carved with rune stones that depict images of Fjord horses. Fjords were used by the Vikings as war mounts on their journeys to Scotland, Iceland and other countries. These lands were the inspiration for the Highland Pony as well as the Icelandic Horse.
The Fjord was originally a Viking horse of war. It evolved into a farm horse for Norwegian farmers in Vestlandet’s western mountainous district. The Fjord was able to work on hillside farms and became agile, surefooted, thrifty, hardworking, and resourceful — traits they still have today.
In the late 1800s, the Fjord horse almost died when it was crossed with the Dole, another one of Norway’s three breeds. Rimfakse was a Dole stallion brought to the national Stud to make the Fjord stronger, more stable, and better suited for farming. Crossbreeding thrived despite the opposition of western Norwegian farmers who used the state’s Stud.
However, after a few generations, the flaws in the crossbreds started to show: unattractive colours and temperaments. A meeting was held in 1907 to eliminate all Dole blood from the Fjord.
Njal, a pure Fjord stallion who was born in 1891, was sold to Sunnmore during Rimfakse’s time. He was also found with many purebred mares. His descendants were also dedicated to breeding and he was brought back into breeding. Njal lived on Rasmus L Sundres farm for 12 years, and continued to breed until his death from pneumonia.
Njal 166, a Norwegian Fjord registry number, is today considered to be the father of all Fjord horses. All living Fjords will have Njal166 in their pedigrees if you look back enough.
The Mother Country
Norway’s first Fjord horse studbook was established in 1910. The Fjord has been embraced by Norwegians since then. It was named one of their national symbols.
Above/Below Blue Raven Farm, Nova Scotia. This mare and her foal. Photos: Carol Rivoire
The Norges Fjordhestlag, Norway’s national Fjord association (NF), oversees the breeding of Fjord horses. Norway is the Fjord’s mother country and sets the breed standard in accordance with European law. The NF is fully aware of their responsibility to the breed in Norway and internationally.
Only approved and evaluated stock in Europe can be used to breed. This is to preserve the breed standard and quality.
To North America
Although it is not known when the first Norwegian Fjord arrived on North American soils, it could have been a six-month-old gelding purchased by J. Bertram Lippincott in Philadelphia in 1888. Warren Delano, Barrytown, New York, later imported several Fjords.
But, most of North America’s foundationstock was imported only in the 1950s. Importations continue today, with Canadian and American breeders continuing to import top stallions to enhance the North American Fjord stock.
There are currently two organizations that register Fjords for Canada: The Canadian Fjord Horse Association, (CFHA), and the National Fjord Horse Registry, (NFHR). Both registries can only be used for purebred Fjords.
In 1977, the CFHA was established to allow Fjord owners to exchange information. It was incorporated under Animal Pedigree Act in order to create a registry in 1982. The CFHA joined the Fjord Horse International Association in 2005. This association is run by the NF, and is based in Norway. The FHI hosts a conference every year to discuss breeding goals, international interpretations and coordination of studbooks. Fjord evaluators can also take part in FHI’s judging courses. Canadian Fjord lovers can attend both the conference as well as the courses. Canadian Fjord breeders and owners are not required to register their Fjords at the CFHA. This is in contrast with European registries.
In 1980, the USA formed the NFHR. To preserve the genetic purity and integrity of the breed, it follows the European Fjord Registry’s best practices. Fjords registered in the NFHR cannot crossbreed. The NFHR can pull registrations for mares or stallions bred with non-Fjords. Crossbred Fjords will not be registered if DNA testing is done. Brian Jensen is an international evaluator who also breeds Fjords at Trinity Fjords, Lumby, BC. “Often, the untrained eye can’t detect a crossbred,” he says.
Fjords were evaluated in Norway to help ensure the best reproduction. They continue to be evaluated in Norway and elsewhere.
At the moment, there is no CFHA program. Canadian Fjord breeders and owners who wish to have their stock evaluated by the NFHR are encouraged to do so.
Since 1983, the NFHR has conducted evaluations. The evaluations were conducted by an international panel made up of judges who were impressed with the North American stock’s quality. The NFHR has been able to license judges in Canada and America since then. In 1994, Libby in Montana hosted the first evaluation using the NFHR program.
Both a performance and conformation component are included in evaluations. Horses are given a rating between 0 to 100 for their conformation, movement and riding skills, as well as draft work. A horse of high quality is one that scores 80 or higher in performance and conformation. Scores between 70-80 indicate a horse that is very competent.
The Modern Fjord
Fjords average a height of 13.2 to 14.2 inches and a weight range between 900 and 1200 pounds. Carol Rivoire, who has been breeding Fjords since 1991 at Beaver Dam Farm, Nova Scotia, says that they are a size that isn’t too intimidating for children or smaller adults but strong enough and large enough to be trusted by most adults. Gjest, Rivoire’s stallion, is an example of the breed’s toughness. He is still actively breeding at 32 years old.
The medium-sized head has a flat forehead, a straight profile, or a slight dished. The eyes should be expressive, large, round and well-set on the head. The poll should be long enough for proper flexion. While the throatlatch may be slightly deeper than other breeds, it should be sufficiently refined to allow proper flexing at poll.
Fjords are a true passion for their owners. Laurence Lundgren was once an Arabian breeder and this boy started to raise Fjords. After being diagnosed with bone cancer, he ordered his sister Carol to disperse his Fjord herd. She says, “The only time that I saw my brother cry was when his horses had been taken away and sold.” Carol was transporting Laurence’s Fjords from their old homes when she got the Fjord bug. Carol bought Laurence’s filly Missi’s Lace from him and now runs Red Wing Acres Fjord breeding farm. Carol Boehm. Photo
The natural arch of the neck creates a balance between weight and height. The neck should be placed on the shoulder to create an upward- and outward-flexing image. Traditionally, the mane is cut so that it rests in an upright crest. This accentuates the curve of the neck.
A Fjord should be deep through the girth. It should also have a short to medium length back and well-muscled muscles. A croup should have a long, wide, well-muscled, and sloping croup. Too flat or too slopey are unacceptable. Harmony is key. You should have straight legs with minimal feathering.
The body structure of horses varies from the more athletic, light-muscled performance horse to the more round, heavy-muscled draft type. North American evaluators recognize three types of Fjords. They are all-purpose, athletic, and draft. No matter what type of Fjord it is, it must be consistent with the breed standard in appearance and temperament. The most difficult aspect of the Fjord is the type. It can be hard to explain and communicate in terms. Jensen describes it as “got mote” in Norwegian. Jensen says, “It should look like a Fjord and behave like one.” All body parts must work in harmony. The stallion should be masculine and the mare female, as well as distinct gender characteristics.
Three good gaits are required for the Fjord to be able to perform energy, balance, cadence, and with great coordination. Lori Albrough, who breeds Fjords at Bluebird Lane Fjords, Southern Ontario, says that a well-bred Fjord can have 3 very good gaits and be able to earn very high scores in open (dressage competition).
Rivoire says that Fjords have a very nice gait. They are able to extend strides and can easily trot or canter smoothly. Fjords are known for their beautiful cadenced trot, which is both stunning to look at and exciting to drive.
Fjord Of All Trades
Fjords are not a specific breed. They can be used for many different activities. Albrough says that Fjords are a “jack of all trades” breed. They do whatever is necessary for their Norwegian family and farmer. “The breed’s versatility is a key trait.” Fjords can be used for pleasure riding, Western performance, Western dressage, pleasure riding and Western pleasure driving. They also have the ability to pack, jump, vault, light draft work, games and therapeutic riding.
They are versatile. Rivoire says to bring the Christmas tree and firewood. Then go for a drive or ride. Rivoire says that Fjords can also compete in higher-level sports competitions.
Fjords are often perceived as slow draft horses. This perception is not true. Fjords have won international dressage, combined driving at the American Driving Society (ADS), elite carriage driving, reining and many other events. Fjords may not be the best in every horse sport, but their versatility and athleticism make them suitable for most riders.
Dun Five Ways
One of the most distinctive characteristics of Fjord horses is their primitive markings and dun colouration. Fjords can be found in five different dun colours: brown, red, grey, white, and yellow dun. Primitive markings include the “midstol” and “halefjaes” dorsal stripes, which are dark stripes down the middle of the tail and mane, as well horizontal stripes along the legs (zebra stripes). Others may have stripes on their withers or dark spots on their cheeks or thighs, also known as “Njal’s mark”, after Njal 166, who had such spots on his cheeks.
Ninety percent today’s Fjords consist of brown dun (or “brunblakk”, in Norwegian). The body’s colour is pale yellow-brown with the dorsal and midstol markings of dark brown to black. It can also be found in darker and lighter shades, as with all dun colours.
The body of the red dun (“rodblakk”) horse is pale reddish-yellow. The body is always darker than the dorsal and midstol markings, but they are never black. They are usually either red or red-brown. Red duns may have white hooves when foaled but will darken with age.
Grey (“gra”) isn’t a true gray like other breeds. It is a black dun. The body colour can vary from a silvery-grey to dark slate gray, while the primitive markings may be lighter than the body color. Contrary to other colours where the muzzle is darker than the body colour of the Fjord, the muzzle in a grey Fjord is usually darker.
The yellow dun (“gulblakk”), which is also known as palomino, is the rarest of all colours. It has a red base colour and both the cream gene and the dun gene are involved. The body is yellowish-white. The body may have a yellowish-white dorsal stripe and midstol.
The “uls” or white dun (“ulsblakk”), a brown dun that has an additional cream gene which dilutes its pigment, is called the “uls”. In other breeds, it would be called a buckskin dun. The body of an uls dun Fjord has a cream color with a pale mane and tail. The midstol and dorsal stripes, as well as the halefjaer, are either grey or black. The uls den was once the dominant colour of the breed in the early 1900s. However, it lost popularity as the offspring from uls dens (cremello and perlino dun) are pale with blue eyes or wall eyes. The NF does not recognize “kvit Fjords” as one of the Fjord colors.
Fjords should have a medium-sized head, with a flat forehead and a profile that is straight or slightly dished. The eyes of the Fjord should be expressive, large, expressive, and well-set on the head. Shown here is Mogly, a stallion from Bluebird Lane Fjords Ontario. Photo by Lori Albrough
The breed is not known for its flesh-coloured or white markings. Only a small star is permitted on the forehead, while other markings are not allowed. 1982 saw the NF decide that stallions and colts with other white markings than a small star could not be licensed to breed or given a rosette.
The Mind of a Fjord
Fjords are a beautiful sight with their expressive eyes and quality movement. But their temperament is what makes them so beloved by people. Albrough says that Fjords are people-oriented and seek attention from humans. They are charming and intelligent. Jensen considers their kind and gentle nature, hardiness and willingness to work the best part of the Fjord horse. He says they are “very smart and tractable.”
Fjords can be very expressive and friendly. Bluebird Lane Fjelljo is a cute foal that has already shown the charm of the Fjord personality. He’s only eight hours old. Photo by Lori Albrough
Fjords can be cooperative, reliable, and calm. Albrough says that he likes the Fjords’ ability to think more than react to “scary stuff”.
A Fjord’s gentle nature makes them ideal for therapeutic riding or as a beginner mount. Rivoire says that Fjords are one of the best horses for therapeutic riding programs.
Albrough and Jensen both stress that Fjords don’t “born broke”, as some believe. Jensen says that while people often view Fjords as gentle and non-threatening, they are still horses with the same instincts.
Albrough says, “Don’t let buyers convince you that anyone can train Fjords or that they’re ‘born broke’.” Fjords can be trained like horses. They require the same professional, competent and consistent training as any horse to be a safe and responsible citizen and a reliable partner in work. Maybe they even need it more, because they are so smart that they can quickly spot the loopholes left by a non-skilled handler!
The Fjord horse is an easy-going, friendly partner that can be trained consistently and who is willing to learn.
“The Fjord character and temperament has not changed.” Rivoire says that this goal is being guarded with ferocious determination by all Fjord breeding countries around the globe. “Above all, a Fjord must be friendly and an excellent worker.”
Fjords in Canada
Canadians who are well-versed in the breed have taken to it and now have the opportunity to import, train, and breed some of the best horses in Canada.
Albrough competes in dressage with her Fjords. She has been awarded Dressage Canada’s Bronze Medal Achievement Awards and Silver Medal Achievement Awards for outstanding scores on two Fjord horses. Bluebird Lane Kestrel, her homebred mare, was Training Level Champion at her debut show. Albrough’s gelding Prisco earned both Reserve Champion and Champion in Third Level at large national shows. Mogly, her imported stallion from China, will allow her to take her ambitions even further.
Jensen and Ursula have been breeding Fjords 26 years. They compete in combined driving and won Reserve Champion at Spruce Valleys in Calgary, Alberta, in High Country Driving Events. They have won numerous dressage tests at both sanctioned and unsanctioned CDEs.
NovaFjords is an association of four Fjord breeders, whose goal it is to promote Nova Scotia’s Fjord. Sandy Sommer and Janie Sommer, McKinnon’s Neck Farm members, stand with Jazzy, a seven-year-old mare. Carol Rivoire. Photo
Fjords can be bred all over Canada, but Nova Scotia seems to be home to the most Fjord-loving horse owners. Nova Fjords was formed in 2008 by four Nova Scotia Fjord breeders. They commission Fjord-themed artwork to promote the Fjord. Rivoire, who owns Beaver Dam Farm and is part of Nova Fjords’ founding members, says that the Fjord Horse is a “masterpiece of the equine realm” for all of them.
The future of the Norwegian Fjord is secure with such passionate fans in Canada and around the world. Fjord owners know how special these Norwegian horses truly are and would do anything for them to stay true to their roots, the striking, hardworking dun horse that has been a friend throughout the ages.
I’m Allison, born and raised in San Diego California, the earliest memory I have with horses was at my grandfather’s farm. I used to sit at the stable as a kid and hang out with my Papa while he was training the horses. When I was invited to watch a horse riding competition, I got so fascinated with riding!