Norwegian Fjord Horse Origin and Characteristics

Although the Norwegian Fjord Horse might be small, it is one of the strongest equine breeds on the planet. Coming out of the mountains of western Norway, this light draft horse is thought to be one of the oldest breeds in the world. For centuries, it has been used as a Norwegian farm horse.

Today, this breed is highly celebrated because it has a gentle, calm temperament in general. In addition to agricultural work, it is often used under saddle and as a harness horse. 

What Is the Origin of the Norwegian Fjord Horse?

The Norwegian Fjord Horse may have been developed as a breed as early as the 20th century BC. Archeological evidence from ancient civilizations in the region have produced skeletal equine remains that are similar to the modern Fjord horse. From evidence obtained at Viking burial sites, we do know that Fjords have been selective bred since the 1st century AD. 

How the breed originated is not known. There is some thought that the Fjord may be a descendent of the wild Przewalski horses, especially since Fjords are one of the few breeds that have retained their primitive colors and character.

It is believed that the horses were originally used to be a war mount, but would also be used for agricultural and transportation in times of peace. Because of this versatility, there are some who believe that Fjords could be part of the ancestry for the moorland and mountain ponies that developed over the centuries throughout the British Isles.

The first stud book for the Norwegian Fjord Horse was published in 1910, but the overall census for the breed is somewhat low. About 7,000 horses are believed to be living around the world, with breeding programs existing in the United States and Europe.

Although the breed is strong, it provides the rider with a smooth action that feels light in the saddle or harness. It can be a general-purpose horse that can farm rolling hills or be a great family horse that loves social interactions and a good trail ride. 

The Characteristics of the Norwegian Fjord Horse

The Norwegian Fjord Horse is distinct in appearance. Every Fjord horse has a dun coat, but there are 5 variations of shading that are recognized by the breed standard and have been since 1922. White markings are highly discouraged, though a forehead star is permitted. The hooves of the horse are usually darker than the coat, but for some lighter dun shades, the hooves can be a lighter color. 

Virtually all of the Norwegian Fjord horses have a brown dun coat, which is the same color that other breeds would call bay dun. 9 out of every 10 registered Fjords has this coat color. It is a pale yellow shade of brown, ranging from a light chestnut color to an almost cream color. The primitive markings on the coat are dark, going to a black.

The other coat options are red dun, grey dun (which is grulla), yellow dun, and white dun.

Red dun Fjords are golden in color, with their primitive markings being a reddish tone. The mane and tail are usually a cream color, ranging to white.

Gray dun Fjords can appear silver or range to a dark gray that almost appears to be black. Their tail, forelocks, and mane are lighter than the body color.

White dun Fjords usually have black primitive markings and have a cream gene allele which gives them a look that is similar to the Buckskin color breed.

The rarest coat color is the yellow dun. It is the red dun color, but with the cream allele to it, which makes the mane, tail, and forelock be completely white. On these horses, the primitive markings tend to be of the same color as the coat, which makes them appear visually from a distance as having a solid coat appearance.

The primitive markings can appear in any combination. The most common are small m arks over the eyes, cheeks, and thighs. Horizontal stripes on the forelegs are also common. A rare marking is dark striping over the withers. Some individuals may have dark ear tips or outlines, a darker forelock, mane or tail, or a dark hoof color.

There may also be light feathering along the legs. 

Because a heavier winter coat grows in each year for Fjords, there can be a little shading variation between the two. The winter coat can be very thick, especially when the horse is living in a cold winter region, and this can also be seen in the natural length of the mane and tail. The mane is traditionally clipped into a crescent shape so that the shape of the neck is emphasized, which also makes it easier to groom the horse.

Every Fjord horse will follow the same physical conformation standards, no matter what the coat color may be. The neck should be arched, strong, and lead the eye toward legs that are sturdy and supported by good feet. The body of the horse should appear compact, with stallions having a certain visual stoutness about them.

The head of the Norwegian Fjord Horse should be of average size and proportion, but with added definition compared to other horse breeds. The ears are smaller than average, but the eyes are larger than average, and the personality of the horse should be on full display. The shape of the hindquarters is allowed to vary, but there should be conformity to the overall appearance of the horse. Variations in the loins, quarters, croup, or back are not usually permitted under the breed standard. 

There is no minimum or maximum height when considering the characteristics of the Norwegian Fjord Horse. Most Fjords will stand below 14.3 hands high, though the breed isn’t classified as a pony because adults display more horse characteristics than pony characteristics. Most will be at least 13 hands.

Most Fjords will weigh in a range of 900-1,200 pounds, though lighter or heavier individuals have been observed.

The breed has a reputation for having a temperament that is generally good, calm, and willing. They are generally eager to please and can be quite charming – at least when they want to be.

What About Movement Standards for the Norwegian Fjord Horse?

Fjords should have a forward movement that is straight and true. The gait should be balanced, with a regular cadence, and the stride length should have the hind hoof overstepping the front hoof during walking or trotting.

The walk of the Fjord is a 4-beat cadence. It is evaluated based on the efficiency and eagerness that is offered. Trotting is a 2-beat diagonal gait, offered with power, but with comfort matching the speed that can be obtained. The horse should appear athletic, but still possess a natural rhythm to it.

The canter should be balanced, offer solid forward momentum, and be unrestricted.

How Are Norwegian Fjord Horses Evaluated?

The Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry has created an independent evaluation program that it applies to registered horses. Every horse is evaluated in-hand to determine if it meets the conformation standards of the breed. Performance evaluations are included as part of the process. Three different disciplines are currently evaluated: draft, driving, and riding. Introductory and advance levels of evaluation are offered.

Each country may have their own evaluation program and guides that are used to help those involved with Fjords maintain the best qualities of the breed. Some registries require stallions to obtain a license for breeding and that can only be obtained by an official registration.

A Fjord must be at least 3 before it can be scored for conformation. Judging takes place over a 9-part test and a score of 0-100 are awarded. Attention is placed on the body, head, beck, legs, gait movement, and overall impression. Double points are awarded for the breed type. Evaluators are expected to comment during the evaluation about the scores they award each horse.

To qualify for registration in the stud book, a Fjord must reach a total score of 70. To qualify for a Medallion award, a test score of 4 or less cannot be given on a single test. Once a score of 70 is achieved, the horse can then complete advanced performance tests for additional Medallion awards. Bronze, Silver, and Gold are awarded based on the performance achieved during the evaluation. 

Horses are permitted to repeat any of the performance tests or the conformation test. Every test is recorded by the registry and is only considered official when it is approved by the Board of Directors.

Although population numbers are somewhat low compared to other popular horse breeds, the Norwegian Fjord Horse has seen more than 2,000 years come and go. With established breeding protocols in place and a global presence for the breed, future generations will have the same chance as their forefathers to discover what makes this breed special and why it has lasting power in the equine world.