Information about Norwegian Fjord Horses

Anyone can google the basic facts about Fjords — the breed standard, history, and so forth (and there are links at the bottom of this page if you'd appreciate a starting point).

Below are some important things to know before seeking a Norwegian Fjord horse — things that don't appear on breed information pages, and that many people don't even realize they'd want (or need) to ask.


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.  :-)

    Another important facet to understand is — because Fjords prioritize food over flight — an seemingly calm demeanor punctuated by dive-bombing for grass is one indication that individual horse is actually insecure.  A novice horse handler or equestrian CAN learn to spot stress, offer more acceptable stress reduction, and eventually eliminate the root cause (we can't recommend Horse Speak® enough for learning those skills).  Unfortunately for Fjords, most experienced horse handlers and equestrians assume that ALL grass-diving is opportunistic and results from past over-permissive handling.  Their ongoing corrections only lead to more anxiety in those Fjords who are grass-diving as a reflex to alleviate their inner stress.  Ongoing correction without resolving the root issue also makes those particular Fjords prone to developing ulcers, and Fjords' stoicism already puts them at risk for ulcers to go undetected much longer than in other breeds.

  • 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 during the rainy season.  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.  When it's not too muddy, we also use Equi-Essentials Slow-Feed Hay Balls to change up habitual eating postures.

    Finally, Fjords are probably 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 Fjords want something, they usually just go for it — and most Fjords' motto seems to be, "If at first you don’t succeed, push harder."   It's difficult for an adult without solid basic riding skills and horse savvy to handle a determined Fjord, and a young child simply isn't going to have the knowledge or physical strength necessary to counter a Fjord who decides to pursue its own agenda.

    Even those of us with adequate riding and equine-handling skills can become exasperated by a Fjord who was allowed to graze under tack with no clear boundaries by a previous owner or trainer.  To that end ...

    •  In hand, a rope halter is virtually essential tack for handling most Fjords near anything that looks remotely like food ... which is just about everywhere and just about all of the time. (Translation: Just! Do! It!)  We successfully use 1/4" soft rope halters, but some people find they need to resort to thinner and/or firm materials.

    •  Under saddle, a Fjord with a serious snack-snatching issue can be addressed with traditional anti-grazing reins or the much-less-cumbersome and infinitely safer Munch-N-Done (we recommend the "deep muzzle" model).  With a Munch-n-Done, a child may be able to ride a Fjord without significant issues on a family outing, 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, often both left-brained and introverted to some degree, might seem to be just the answer for those people exasperated by (or nervous of) the typical right-brained extravert domestic riding horse, whose go-to spook response is flight.   Fjords tend to freeze when they are unconfident or scared or too much pressure has been applied.  This looks like refusal, laziness, even stubbornness ... but it's not; it's Fjord fear.  Freezing is infinitely safer than spooking or bolting ... as long as it stays at "freeze".  BUT!  Adding more pressure can cause the spring to overwind and explode ... and then the flight (and sometimes "fight") response kicks in.  Success with Fjords requires patience to wait out those Fjord freezes without using force, and without using additional pressure as the Fjord considers whether it can emotionally manage the "ask".

    Besides "fight, flight or freeze", nervous horses may also "flock" or "fidget".  When humans do not set and hold consistent physical boundaries, Fjords are more likely than other breeds to "flock" to a human, and that means naive humans can get squished.  Notoriously, Fjords channel even minor anxiety through fidgeting.  They put something, anything, in their mouths and work it to death.  Or paw.  Or dance.  Whatever isn't "allowed" causes a different manifestation of fidget to arise.  Acknowledging and addressing the source of the anxiety itself is really the only safe way to stop Fjord fidgeting.  That doesn't stop some people from using force anyway ... and a Fjord who has experienced force is likely to have added "fight" to his or her repertoire, making them potentially dangerous to a typical horse owner or rider.

    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 round pen techniques 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.  We also know of a number of Fjords who were "trained" with an "out-stubborning" approach; those Fjords are shut down and "hide inside" (safer for humans, perhaps, but rather bad for the horse ... and extremely bad for any chance at a relationship). 

    So while Fjords give the human a welcome break from some of the most instinct-driven and dangerous horse behaviors, Fjords are not born safe nor 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 successful mule trainer, learning some 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 a metabolism closer to a pony
    Fjords, like ponies, are more prone to founder, laminitis, metabolic syndrome (EMS), Cushings (PPID), and other dis-eases of chronic overeating or too much pasture ... and once a victim, always at greater risk for recurrence 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.  When shopping for one of the more common horse breeds, it's reasonable to limit a purchase search to 5-15 year old horses .  However, 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" and "freak accident" don't care how young or old a horse is; many causes of equine death are not age related).

    Between Fjords' longevity, slow maturation (below), and strength (see above), a healthy older Fjord (20+) with extensive time under saddle is much the better 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 at least 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).  One of us (Gwen) only "did" geldings, and couldn't seem to bond with (or even get along with) mares ... well, that was before Fjords.  Not anymore!

  • Fjords may be short, but they actually take up a lot of leg
    Many people start out looking for that elusive 15+hh Fjord horse (which, if accurate, is taller than the breed standard in the first place) based on their riding experience with typical horses (or a trainer recommendation), which 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 (or better) 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.  But!  All Fjords are individuals; be sure to try before you buy.  If you still want a much taller horse after riding some larger Fjords, we suggest that you seek out a draft or draft cross instead, which will give you a similar build and temperament but with the greater height.

    If your reason for seeking a taller Fjord is to be able to keep up with current riding companions, we strongly recommend test-riding any Fjord you are considering, and don't make height your first bar for elimination.  Our fastest and longest-strided Fjord is 13.2hh (er, shorter than that with a recent trim!).  Our pokiest Fjord was 14.0hh, and constantly "toggling" between her pokey-walk and sewing-machine-trot to catch up (not a fun ride at all); her 14.1-1/2" full brother was a bit quicker, but he also struggled to keep up with Ms. 13.2hh.

    And finally, caveat emptor!  The height for most Fjords, especially when listed for sale (or at stud), is all too often "rounded up" ... sometimes by a lot.  There is also the adrenaline factor — measuring any horse while amped up results in a taller measurement.  That might represent not just an inaccurate height, but it could also be a sign of disposition characteristics that you may not want.  Obviously measuring horses does present challenges, and minor discrepancies are to be expected, but there are many Fjords out there that have been advertised as much as two inches taller than their NFHR-recorded, mature-adult evaluation measurements.  Speaking from personal experience, we have purchased several Fjords that "shrunk" significantly the moment they stepped under our measuring stick.   Bottom line:  If size really does matter to you, make sure you do the measuring yourself.

  • 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 example, the cavesson we put together for our typiest mare has a "horse" noseband, a "cob" jowl strap, and the remainder is "large pony" size.   Halters can be challenging if you are after a fitted look.  We personally prefer rope halters (see "Fjords are extremely strong ... " above).  The "horse" or "full" size typically works for adult Fjords, but some Fjords (even mares) may need a size larger ("warmblood" or "mule").

    Fjords have low, broad withers ... some are lower and broader than others!  Most Fjord backs come in two sizes ... short and shorter still.  Those short-backed, sporty, and "horsey-looking" Fjords have their place, but western riding and average-or-larger-size riders are definitely not for them.  Even for the majority of Fjords, many (if not most) 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.  Colin Dangaard frequently recommends and builds his Australian-inspired "Bareback Saddles" for Fjords.

    If you aren't stuck needing a 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 Ghost treeless saddles.  Even though we have a selection of Wintecs (AP, dressage, and Aussie), unless we need a discipline-specific saddle style, we always grab a Ghost. 

    For bareback pads, we appreciate the various designs from Trailmaster, all of which are made with contoured withers.  Ordering a wither contour a bit higher than the actual wither allows our pads to clear the lowest portion of the upright-trimmed Fjord mane, and our horses appreciate that!  Trailmaster bareback pads come in several models from basic through "soft saddle".  They are well-made from high-quality materials, take regular girths (dressage or Western), and are made by a one-person shop right in the USA.

  • 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, giving them a competitive advantage.

    Not every Fjord has the potential to do everything to the highest levels, of course.  But that sure covers a lot of ground within the breed.  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 one???  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.  NOOOOOO!!!!!

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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