Norway’s distinctive and adaptable workhorse

  • With its creamy golden color and spiky two-tone mane, the distinctive Fjord horse is a unique and ancient breed. It combines echoes of wild, primitive horses with a friendly, willful temperament that has proven popular for use in equine therapy, riding schools, and general all-rounders for riding and driving.

    In this article: History in a jar | Conformation | Uses | Coming

    History in a jar

    One of the oldest and purest breeds in the world, herds of wild Fjord horses existed in Norway after the Ice Age. According to archaeological findings, the Fjord horse has been selectively bred over the past 2,000 years and domesticated over the past four millennia. The modern Fjord originated in the fjord areas of western Norway, where its sturdy and confident attributes are well suited for moving through the rough and rugged terrain of this region characterized by steep mountains and fjords.

    Although the Fjord shares many similarities with Przewalski’s horse – such as primitive markings and colors – the Fjord’s genetic material shows that they are not closely related. However, the fjord may share some heritage with the now extinct Tarpan. It is likely to have some influence from the Icelandic and British races as there was contact between the maritime nations of Norway, Iceland and Great Britain at this time.

    Around 1840, the breeding of Fjord horses was formalized, with a stud farm established in the mountains of Dovre (Dovrefjell) in central Norway at an altitude of 1,000 m. At that time, the Fjord horse was used on farms, for forestry work, harvesting, as a pack horse and to pull a cart.

    Until 1947, the breed was called the Vestlandhest – the horse of the West, because it was the breeding center of the Fjord. This sure-footed, sturdy and charming breed is considered part of Norway’s national heritage and some consider the fjord a Norwegian national symbol.

    Fjord mare and foal, showing distinctive mane coloring

    Appearance and conformation

    According to the studbook, the type and character of the breed are paramount.

    Height: there is no maximum or minimum but the desired height is between 135cm and 150cm (13.1hh to 14.3hh).

    Color: the vast majority (90%) of Fjords are dark brown (varying from creamy yellow to almost brown). The remaining 10% are also dun, but red, uls (white) or yellow. Being dun colored means they have a basecoat of any color, with a dun dilution gene. The base layer determines what variation of dun they are.

    In keeping with their brown color, they bear primitive markings including zebra stripes on the legs and a dorsal stripe running from the forelock down the neck, down to the tail. Darker stripes can also be seen on the withers.

    Mane: it is characteristic of the breed, the central coat being black or dark, while the outer coat is white. The mane is traditionally cut to be straight, with a convex shape following the topline of the horse. This erect mane is believed to date back to Viking times, to give the impression of a taller and stronger horse in battle.

    Head: this is the main characteristic as far as type and character are concerned. It should be short and well-defined with a broad, flat forehead. The bridge of the nose should be short and preferably concave. The nostrils should be large and open, with a square snout. The lower jaw and cheekbone should be strong without being heavy. The ears should be small, set apart and pointed. The eyes should be large, dark and friendly.

    Body: the general impression should be strong and well muscled. The neck should have a convex topline and be muscular. Originally, as the breed was primarily a working horse, the neck was short and heavy and the shoulder straight, but nowadays the preference is for a slightly longer neck and more sloping shoulder.

    In the 19th century, when formalizing the breed, the typical Fjord was described as having “a head in the shape of a [a Norwegian sprat], the neck like a spinning wheel, the body like a turnip and the limbs like steel springs”. This may not shed much light on its appearance, but the breed has since evolved over time and a more athletic build is preferred.

    Fjords are as adept at pulling a carriage as they are carrying a rider


    The Fjord was originally prized for its strength and sure-footed abilities as a working animal – in forestry, pulling carts and as a pack horse – thus perfectly suited to small, hilly farms in Norway. At first, ranchers tried to produce a heavier draft animal for agricultural needs, but since machinery has replaced the horse, a more athletic build is now preferred. The objective is to breed a flexible horse with a good riding and harnessing temperament, which is at ease both on the ring and in the mountains.

    Fjords are popular in riding schools and are also quite capable of taking part in basic competitions. They can be an ideal horse for beginners, as they are generally calm in temperament, hardy, strong and gentle. They are often used in programs for disabled riders and in equine therapy due to their easy-going nature.

    Fjord horse

    A Fjord horse competing in a grassroots cross country competition

    The future of the Fjord horse

    The Fjord is now an endangered breed in Norway because the number of foals born there each year is insufficient. There are around 5,000 registered Fjords in his home country. However, there are larger populations of this friendly breed in other countries, such as Denmark, Germany, and the United States.

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