Horse Breeds Young Rider

All About the Norwegian Fjord Horse

When people talk about the fjords of Norway, they’re likely referring to the narrow, cliff-hugged inlets that are found along the western coast of Norway. The fjords are iconic and breathtaking, carved by glaciers in long-ago times. But when you hear horse people talk about Norwegian Fjords, they’re definitely not talking about the beauty and majesty of Norwegian geography: They’re talking about the beloved horses that were domesticated in Norway many centuries ago.

A Norwegian Fjord horse
Photo by Svetlanistaya/Adobe Stock

Easy to Identify

The Fjord Horse is one of the most identifiable breeds of horse out there, thanks to its coloring and distinctive characteristics. Their eye-catching color is always a shade of dun. According to the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry (NFHR), 90 percent of Fjord Horses are a color called brown dun.

A herd in the snow
Originating in the cold climate of Norway, Fjords grow a thick winter coat and handle frigid, icy winters like champs! Photo by Lisa Sherrodd

The Fjord Horse also exhibits so-called “primitive” markings, including a dorsal stripe down its back and zebra-like barring on the legs. The mane is traditionally kept trimmed to reveal the dark stripe down the middle that’s such a signature of the breed.

One thing you won’t find in Fjord Horses? White markings. Only a small star is allowed for registered animals, and only in mares and geldings.

Some Fjord owners cut fun designs into their manes, which have a black stripe down the middle and light hair on either side. Photo by Isabel/Adobe Stock

While foundation sires like Justin Morgan or the Darley Arabian may be more famous, the foundation sire of the modern Fjord Horse has had incredible influence on the breed. It’s been said that every Fjord Horse today descends from a stallion named Njål 166, born in 1891. In fact, the term Njåls-merke, which refers to small brown spots on the body of a Fjord Horse, is named for Njål 166, who had brown cheek spots.

Fun With Fjord Horses

OK, so Fjord Horses are obviously unique, but are they gentle and trainable? You bet!

Two young girls pose with their ponies
Due to their small size and gentle temperaments, Fjords make an excellent breed for young horse enthusiasts. Photo courtesy Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry

Fjord Horses are immensely versatile and excel in quite a range of sports and disciplines, including dressage, hunter/jumpers, gymkhana, eventing, combined driving, and more. The breed is a standout choice thanks to its abundance of athleticism and other wonderful qualities.

What is it that makes the Fjord Horse so versatile? The breed’s disposition—kind, easy-going, intelligent—is a key factor. Their strong, hardworking spirit and rugged hardiness also play a part. And of course, Fjord Horses have been superstar farm and draft horses throughout their history.

Today’s Fjord Horses are more than ready for any adventure you have in mind. The NFHR has several awards programs that recognize hard work, excellence, and versatility. The Versatility Award recognizes Fjord Horses who have demonstrated exceptional performance in three categories: riding, driving, and agricultural work. If you have a Fjord Horse that excels in areas like dressage, obstacle driving, or log pulling, be sure to check out this program.

A Norwegian Fjord Horse in driving gear
Fjords today are often used in harness and make an athletic driving horse or small draft for agricultural work. Photo courtesy Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry

The NFHR also offers a variety of Year End, High Point, and lifetime awards based on participation at qualifying shows, as well as an FEI award for Fjord Horses that have shown at the FEI level.

Maybe you’re not at the FEI level just yet, but you’re interested in driving a Fjord Horse at American Driving Society events, fun shows or trail drives. The NFHR Driving Participation Award recognizes participants who have been involved with at least 10 organized driving activities.

If you like to win prizes, try the Hours of Fun with Fjords program. Participants track hours spent working with their horse in various activities like riding, driving, going to clinics, trail riding, showing, or doing agricultural work. Prizes are awarded at various points from 100 hours all the way up to 2,500 hours, and can include certificates, bumper stickers, hats, window decals, and more.

A hunter/jumper show
You may see Fjords in western open shows, the dressage arena, or the hunter/jumper rings. Photo courtesy Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry

If you love Fjord Horses, a world of opportunities await! Why not join the fun?

Fast Fjord Facts

◆ Fjord Horses range in size from 13.2 to 14.2 hands and weigh 900 to 1,200 pounds.
◆ Fjord Horses are always a shade of dun, and there are five accepted colors: brown dun, white dun, gray dun, red dun, and the rare yellow dun.
◆ You can learn lots more about Fjord Horses at the National Fjord Horse Registry website

This article about Norwegian Fjord Horses appeared in the January/February 2023 issue of Young Rider magazine. Click here to subscribe!

Samantha Johnson

Samantha Johnson is a freelance writer and the author of several books, including The Field Guide to Horses, (Voyageur Press, 2009). She raises Welsh Mountain Ponies in northern Wisconsin and is a certified horse show judge. She loves Corgis and shares her home with her Pembroke Welsh Corgi, Peaches.


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