Information about Norwegian Fjord Horses

Anyone can google the basic facts about Fjords, what the breed standard is, breed history, and so forth.
Below are some important things to know before seeking a Norwegian Fjord horse ... that don't appear on breeding information pages, and that most people wouldn't even realize they'd want (or need) to know.


Fjord owners know ...

  • Fjords are exceptionally food-centered
    Maslow's hierarchy of needs applies to the animal kingdom as well.  Self-preservation is king; self-maintenance is queen.  Because Fjords have more confidence and less fear, they don't have to focus on being alert so they can run away at the drop of a hat.  That means they can afford to focus on the next need ... FOOD.

    The nice thing about that food focus is ... if you should fall off your Fjord (or accidentally drop the reins), s/he will just graze until you get your act together.  :-)

  • Idle Fjord minds are the devil's workshop
    If Fjords aren't busy eating or sleeping, they're going to be busy looking for entertainment ... some more that others!  A buddy (or herd) and room to interact can address much of that drive, but if the humans don't provide adequate natural stimulation, it's common for a Fjord to observe how latches work, and then let itself out to visit friends, take itself for a trail "ride" ... or pop into the feed room.

    If you own Fjords, triple latch everything, especially the feed room.  Just. Do. It.  (Most panel gates have both a latch and a safety; we add a heavy chain and a bull snap or boat snap.)

    Also, effective slow feeders give Fjords more time to enjoy what they prefer to do in the first place — eat!  We use NibbleNets exclusively.  They are tough enough to stand up to any impatient paw-paw-paw-ers, and there's no small cords to get caught between teeth.

    Finally, Fjords are probably be the breed of horse most likely to untie themselves ... at home, at the trailer, IN the trailer ...

  • Fjords are extremely strong ... and they use that strength in ways you may not anticipate
    As calm as Fjords generally are, people understandably assume they will make great kids' horses.  Um, no!  When a Fjord wants something, he just goes for it; it's hard even for an adult without good basic riding skills and horse savvy to handle a determined Fjord.

    The "I'd rather graze than listen to you" issue can be addressed with traditional anti-grazing reins or the much-less-cumbersome Munch-N-Done.

    The "I think I'll go home [or visit those other horses] now" move isn't something a young child is going to have the physical strength to counter.  A child may be able to ride a Fjord without issue on a family outing, where the instinct to stick with the other horses typically wins out for the Fjord ... but parental guidance still needs to be part of the overall picture.

  • Fjords are still horses, and the Fjord temperament presents its own challenges
    A stoic Fjord, left-brained and often introverted to some degree, might seem to be just the answer for those people exasperated by the typical right-brained extravert domestic riding horse.  Fjords tend to freeze when they are unconfident or scared.  This looks like refusal, laziness, even stubbornness ... but it's not; it's Fjord fear.  Adding more pressure can cause the spring to overwind and explode, or in other situations, it can cause the horse to shut down and "hide inside".   The horsepeople who have succeeded in the past with right-brained extraverts and continue to use those previously successful techniques are likely to hit a big dun-colored brick wall in a Fjord horse ... and can quickly drive a wedge between horse and human.  We've personally had multiple Fjords trained in typical (running laps) round corral technique that ever afterwards have a really hard time being calm or executing any medium to slow gait in any round pen, and that experience is not unique to us.

    So while Fjords give the human a welcome break from some of the most instinctive and dangerous horse behaviors, Fjords are not plug-and-play.  Fjord training needs to undertaken with as much or more patience as with other breeds; unless the human in question is also a mule trainer, learning new skills will be in order.  And finally, understand that all Fjords are physically capable of bucking, rearing, and bolting.  The odd one actually will do one or more of those things.   Every Fjord needs to be screened for unwanted habits before purchase, just like other horses.

  • Although the Fjord is traditionally called a horse, it has the metabolism of a pony                Ponies are more prone to founder, laminitis, metabolic syndrome (Cushings), and other dis-eases of chronic overeating and/or too rich pastures ... and once a victim, always at greater risk for a repeat and a shorter life.  Read up on these issues before buying a Fjord.  We use a bare-ground track paddock to restrict pasture while still keeping Fjords entertained and active, but there are other natural strategies that work, too.

  • Fjords are a long-lived breed
    It's not uncommon for well-cared for Fjords to live into their early to mid 30s, and many of those horses are active, spunky and — yes — ridden until their last year or so.  It's reasonable to limit a purchase search to 5-15 year old horses when you are shopping for one of the more common horse breeds.  As long as you avoid the previously foundered, fat, and metabolic syndrome individuals, a 15-25 year old Fjord is statistically likely to give you just as many years under saddle as that typical-breed 5-15 year old horse (remember "struck by lightning" and "colic" don't look at the calendar).

    Between Fjords' longevity, slow maturation (below), and strength (see above), a healthy older Fjord (20+) is an outstanding choice for young children, beginning adult riders, and returning-to-horses mature riders.

  • Fjords are slow to mature
    Longevity and slow maturation go hand-in-hand in every species; Fjords are no exception.  A Fjord foal is not going to be physically ready for regular riding for five years.  And it's also not likely to be mentally ready, either.  The extravert Fjords in particular just don't calm down at three or four; they need more time ... often a lot more!

  • Fjord mares are NOT "mare-ish"
    Fjords were selected by the Norwegians to be easy to handle in close quarters (it was common for a home to be built above the stable ... and nobody can sleep if the horses are restless or noisy).  That means stallions, typically used as riding and draught horses, were selected to be level-headed ... and mares are typically so even-tempered that it can actually be challenging to determine their cycles without a stallion around.  Of course there are exceptions — not everyone making more Fjords is breeding from (or for) good ones — and due diligence is still important.  But don't limit a search to just geldings; give Fjord mares a chance (you'll be pleasantly surprised).

  • Fjords may be short, but they actually take up a lot of leg
    Many people look for that elusive 15+hh Fjord horse (which is taller than the breed standard in the first place) based on their riding experience with typical horses (or a trainer recommendation), and that doesn't translate to Fjords at all.  If you are used to riding on a 14.2 Arabian or Quarter horse, you will actually look and feel about the same on a 13.2 Fjord.  People used to riding a 15.2 horse usually find they look and feel just fine on a 14.0-14.2 Fjord.  The few people who persist in seeking out 15+hh Fjords and actually manage to find them typically end up selling those horses fairly quickly ... at that height, Fjords are just. too. darn. wide.  Be sure to try before you buy.  If you still want a much taller horse after riding some Fjords, we suggest that you seek out a draft or draft cross instead, which will give you a similar build and temperament but with greater height.

  • Fjords can be difficult to fit for bridles and saddles
    Fjord heads are often broad but short.  Many people use horse (even oversize horse) browbands, nosebands, etc ... with cob cheekpieces, for instance.  Halters can even be challenging if you are after a fitted look.  We personally prefer rope halters (see "Fjords are extremely strong ... " above).  The horse size typically works for Fjords, but some people have to go a size larger, or learn to re-tie (or just tie) their own.

    Fjords have low, broad withers ... some are lower and broader than others!  Most Fjord backs come in two sizes ... short and shorter still.  Many western riders end up ordering expensive custom saddles.  English and Aussie riders fortunately can utilize something from the substantial selection of adjustable-gullet Wintec (and Bates) saddles; Fjords sometimes use the "wide" (red) gullet, but more often they'll start with the "extra wide" (white) gullet, and some require even wider.

    If you aren't stuck needing particular type of traditional saddle and you're not too heavy yourself, a treeless saddle may be the answer.  We (and our horses) particularly like the Ghost treeless saddles.  Even though we have a selection of Wintecs (AP, dressage, and Aussie), unless we need a discipline-specific saddle style, we're most likely to grab a Ghost.

  • When people say Fjords are versatile, they're not kidding
    Fjords can be found doing well in open competition at eventing ... dressage ... endurance ... mountain trail ... working equitation ... reining ... cutting ... barrel racing ... drill teams ... pulling competitions ... and combined driving events, from singles to four-in-hand!  Fjords are especially popular in competitions that separate horses from ponies — most Fjords will qualify at the upper limit of the pony classes.

    Not every Fjord can do everything to the same level, of course.  But that sure covers a lot of ground.  The primary reason you don't see more Fjords in competition is the very real scarcity of Fjords ... compounded by the fact that quite a few Fjords are busy with noncompetitive pursuits such as being lesson horses, equine assisted therapy mounts, trail riding, mounted patrol, horse logging, and ranch work.  (How's that for some more versatility?)

Resources for Norwegian Fjord Horse enthusiasts

Tongue-in cheek FAQ

Crazy questions all Fjord owners get asked ...
and our exasperated answers!

No, it's much easier to bleach the outsides of the manes white instead..

Who would waste time doing either???  Geez!!!

Nope.  And a good thing, because I can't ride a wild horse.

Fjords do resemble Przewalski's horses; both have retained many of the wild color traits such as dun coloration, the pangare gene and primitive markings (notably some leg striping)  ... but the Przewalski's horse has 66 (33 pair) of chromosomes; domestic horses have 64 (32 pair).  No relation!  Przewalski's horses have a naturally short, upright mane (Fjord manes must be kept trimmed short; the natural length is rather long) and Przewalski's horses have a correspondingly short tail (unlike the Fjord horse, which has a full-length tail).

Nope.  I definitely can't ride a zebra.

Yes, people really have asked this.

Well, no, that one right there is a red [or grey or white] dun ... 

That answer invariably gets the "deer in headlights" look. ... people new to Fjords really don't see the difference!  What's funny is ... once they see do the differences, quite a few people only want one of the rare colors..  Silly.

Don't we wish!!!

Fjord manes need to be trimmed every 1-2 months (depending on the individual) or they begin to flop over.  If even part of the manes starts to lean, the hair shafts get a permanent bend at the bases that can't be overcome with a re-trim.  The only way to get the mane to stand up straight again is to hog /roach (clip to the skin) and wait for regrowth.

If a Fjord mane is completely grown out — especially if the Fjord is overweight or has very thick and heavy hair — the crest muscles can be weakened and pulled over to one side, creating a perma-flop mane.  For this reason, most Fjord owners trim manes religiously.

OMG.  Wow.

People crusading against riding immature horses (which we certainly agree shouldn't be done) totally blow their credibility with this one ...

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