The Norwegian Fjord is a hardy and doughty little animal which is one of the most versatile and generally handy breeds in the world. It has served its country well in a variety of roles, from general riding to farm work and now it is increasingly recognized in other countries.
Like many of the world's ancient breeds, the origins of the Norwegian Fjord are largely a matter of educated guesswork. There is evidence that there were horses present in Norway as the last ice age was coming to a close. It is assumed that these were the ancestors of the modern Fjord horse, which is one of the few domesticated breeds which still has a strong resemblance to Przwalski's Wild Horse. Evidence from Viking burial sites suggests that the horses were probably domesticated some 4000 years ago and that a selective breeding program has been in place for at least 2000 years. The Vikings were obviously well aware of the merits of the breed and they appear regularly in the art and literature of the period. Norwegian Fjords were also taken by the Vikings on their many raids and it is highly probable that some of them found new homes in the lands they visited. There is certainly speculation that Norwegian Fjord interbred with native ponies in the highlands and islands of Scotland.
Apart from this time, Norway's relative isolation and inaccessibility meant that there was very limited interbreeding between the Norwegian Fjords and other breeds until humans took an active interest in the matter. It is known that in the late 19th and early 20th centuries the breed was imported into the UK and in particular to Scotland where the intention was to use Norwegian Fjord stallions to improve the Highland Ponies. Although the stallions were mated with local mares, they made no noticeable improvement to the breed. Indeed it's hard to see what it was hoped to achieve with this pairing since the Highland and the Fjord already had a lot of similarities. Nevertheless this experiment was a step in bringing the breed to the attention of people outside of its native homeland and ultimately led to a small breeding population in the UK, mostly in Scotland where the climate is largely similar to that of Norway.
From the early 20th Century, breeders have focused on maintaining the purity of the Fjord breed with cross-breeding currently being strongly discouraged. While other native breeds were decimated by World Wars One and Two, the Norwegian Fjord was relatively unscathed. There are many reasons for this. One was the fact that Norway was technically neutral in WWI and although it was occupied in WW2, the Nazis did not loot horses the way other armies had done nor did the Norwegians feel the same need to use horses for food. Additionally the geography of Norway means that the horse still has a much more important role to play as a work animal than it does in many other places.
Although the Norwegian Fjord is generally of pony size, they are always referred to as Fjord horses. This reflects the fact that it looks far more like a cut-down draught horse than like a typical pony. Admirers of the breed have been known to claim that the Norwegian Fjord can do two-thirds of the work of the large draught breeds with only a fraction of their care requirements. The strength of the Norwegian Fjord is obvious in every way from its well-muscled neck to its thick legs and powerful quarters. Norwegian Fjords are always dun and the vast majority of them are brown dun, essentially a tan colour. Although their manes and tails are naturally thick and full, their manes are traditionally trimmed into a crescent shape, which shows off the black hairs in their otherwise white manes.
Norwegian Fjords are, quite simply, some of the most beautiful personalities in the horse world. They are affectionate, docile and highly intelligent with plenty of common sense as well. Whereas other horses may spook, Fjords will simply take a few steps away from the cause of concern and have a think about it before deciding what to do next. In rural areas of Norway they are often thought of and treated as part of the family in the same way as a dog.
Although there has been relatively little interbreeding between Norwegian Fjords and other types of horses, the gene pool is still big enough to keep the Norwegian Fjord free of hereditary genetic defects. Norwegians are hugely proud of this breed and the stud book is carefully managed so that only top-quality animals are allowed to breed. Owners of these animals should expect minimal vets' bills unless they overfeed their animals. As with many breeds which are used to getting by on poor grazing need to be watched carefully for any signs of obesity or laminitis. As the first signs of laminitis are often stiffness or lameness a vet should be called out promptly at any sign of these, even in older animals.
Caring for a Fjord
In terms of what they offer for what they cost to keep, there are few horses provide better value for money. It's worth remembering that Norway hosted the Winter Olympics and these ponies have spent thousands of years wintering out of doors in that kind of climate. They are more than capable of wintering out of doors in the UK, although having access to a stable certainly increases an owners options. Their food requirements are minimal, even when working hard. Access to a field is important as is regular worming and foot care. Their other major needs are companionship and stimulation, which are often closely linked. These horses thrive on affection even more so than most breeds and their high intelligence means that unless they have a really large field in which to roam and plenty of companions with whom to share it, they may well become bored and frustrated without regular human contact.
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