Breed evolution: One of the oldest and purest equine breeds, the Norwegian Fjord Horse was domesticated more than 4,000 years ago, and has been selectively bred for half of that time. Ancient Viking burial sites reveal remains of these horses.
The Norwegian people consider the Fjord a national treasure, inextricably connected to their country's pride. At an international conference in 1996, the Norges Fjordhestlag (the Norwegian Fjord Horse Association) released this poetic tribute to the breed: "The eyes should be like the mountain lakes on a midsummer evening, big and bright. A bold bearing of the neck like a lad from the mountains on the way to his beloved. Well-defined withers like the contours of the mountains set against an evening sky. The temperament as lively as a waterfall in spring, and still good natured."
The Fjords small but powerfully built bodies exude substance and strength; their movement is elegant and collected. Owners extol their charming, kind personalities. Fjords are well muscled, with broad backs, deep girths, clean legs, and flat, substantive bone.
Their gaits are straight, true, and well-balanced at the walk, trot, and canter; the Fjord's hind hoof oversteps his front foot print at the walk and trot. Generally, Fjords stand 13.2 to 14.2-hands high and weigh 900 to 1,000 pounds.
The Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry reports 5,078 registered horses in the United States.
Owners tell us: Mike May, registrar of the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry, says the breed is known for an "upright mane" and primitive dun coloration. The Fjord's eye-catching markings include a dorsal strip that begins at the forelock and runs down the back and through the tail, leg stripes, a dark ear outline with tips, some leg feathers, and dark hoof color, sometimes with stripes. Most common is the brown dun: a pale yellow-brown coat and black or brown dorsal stripe. But Fjords also come in red, white, yellow dun, and gray.
On the trail: Pat and Gayle Ware have been involved with Fjords for 25 years, and have owned them for 18. Today, the breeders have a herd of seven at their Field of Dreams Norwegian Fjords in Oregon's Willamette Valley.
"They respond calmly to challenges," Gayle says. "I've never seen them in fright/flight mode. I've learned to ask them politely, and they just don't refuse. Fjords are especially good horses for beginning riders, because they take care of you. A client who was new to horses bought a Fjord Horse from me. Later, he called to tell me that if he becomes unbalanced, his horse literally scooches under him to keep him onboard."
Gayle also helps to maintain the breed's purity. "To preserve the uniquely special qualities of the Fjord, outcrossing with other equine breeds is not allowed," she says. "I tell people they'll just have to ride the real thing!"