The Fjord horse or Norwegian Fjord Horse (known in Norway as a Fjording) is a rather short but very strong breed of horse from the mountainous regions of western Norway. It ranges from 135 to 150 centimetres (approximately 13.1 to 14.3 hands) in height and weighs from 400 to 550 kilograms (about 880 to 1210 lb). Though some individuals may fall under the traditional cutoff between horses and ponies, it is always considered a horse, regardless of height.
It is one of the world?s oldest breeds, and has a long recorded history of pure-breeding without crossbreeding from other sources. It is believed that the ancestors of the Fjord horse migrated to Norway and were domesticated over 3,000 years ago. Archeological excavations at Viking burial sites indicate the Fjord horse has been selectively bred for 2,000 years.
The Fjord horse has its own unique conformation, which is a blend of draft horse muscling and bone, with smaller size and greater agility. It has a strong, arched neck, good feet, and a compact, muscular body. Despite its small size, it is fully capable of carrying an adult human and pulling heavy loads. The hair coat is smooth and shiny in summer, but longer and furry in winter. The mane is long, thick, and heavy, but is usually clipped to between five to ten centimeters (two to four inches) so that it stands straight up, making grooming easier and accentuating the horse's strong neck and full-length dorsal stripe. There is some "feathering" on the legs.
All Fjord horses are one of five shade variations of dun in color, having a body color that is a diluted cream, gold or tan shade with a darker shade (usually black or dark brown) on the legs, plus "primitive markings," - a dark dorsal stripe, and, less often, dark horizontal stripes on the legs, especially the forelegs, and rarely, one or more dark transverse stripes over the withers. In addition to traditional dun characteristics, Fjords also have small brown marks over the eyes and on the checks and thighs. The ears have dark outlines and tips. Most have a black or dark stripe in the mane, tail and forelock, with lighter hairs on the outside, giving a two-toned look that is not usually seen in other breeds of horse.
The dun color itself is a dilution gene and is a dominant gene. Because all Fjords are dun, they are homozygous for dun coloration. No equine coat color genetics studies have been done specifically on Fjord coloration, but the two-toned mane is a unique characteristic rarely seen on other horses with dun coloring. In other breeds of horses, a two-toned mane and tail is often considered to be a minimal expression of the rabicano gene.
To a person unfamiliar with the breed, the five dun color variations are subtle and hard to distinguish unless horses of different shades are standing side by side. The color terms are also non-standard compared to English terminology more commonly used to describe horse coat colors in other breeds. This difference appears to be based in part on the Norwegian language terms, which were set in 1922, and their English translations, which were made official in 1980. While these terms were set before equine coat color genetics were fully understood, the variations do match up to modern genetic studies as variations of dun color with the addition of other genetic factors.
The most common is "brown dun," (brunblakk) which is similar to the classic "bay" or "zebra" dun of other breeds. The body color is a pale yellow-brown, and can vary from cream to almost a light chestnut. The primitive markings, as well as the dark stripe of hair in the middle of the mane (called the midtstol), and darker hair in the middle of the tail (called the halefj?r) are black or dark brown. The remainder of the mane and tail is usually cream or white, though may be a bit darker. Approximately 90 percent of Fjord horses today are this color. Like dun horses in other breeds, this shade is created by the dun gene diluting a bay genetic base color.
The red dun (r?dblakk) is a pale gold shade. Midtstol, halefj?r and primitive markings are red or red-brownish, always darker than the color of the body, but never black. The rest of the mane and tail is usually white, and on some individuals the entire mane and tail may be white. Like red duns in other breeds, this shade is produced by the dun gene diluting a chestnut genetic base color.
The grey ("gr?") Fjord is not genetically a true grey. The term is a misnomer, as the Fjord horses do not carry the grey gene. Rather, the color called grey by Fjord aficionados is what geneticists and owners of other breeds call a grulla or blue dun. Some use the term "gray dun" or "gr?blakk" to describe this color, but among Fjord horse owners, that terminology is considered incorrect, even if genetically more precise. Had English-speaking Fjord breeders used the same naming conventions as for their breed's other shades, the color could be called a "black dun," but this did not happen. The body of Fjords with this color is a light silver-tan to dark warm slate shade. Midtstol, halefj?r and primitive markings are dark gray or black. The remainder of the mane, tail and forelock are lighter than the body color. Like grullas in other breeds, this shade is produced by the dun gene diluting a black genetic base color.
The Uls (White) dun (ulsblakk) and Yellow dun (gulblakk) are, respectively, brown duns and red duns with an additional dilution factor, probably the cream gene, that makes the coat even lighter. The color of the Uls or White dun is almost white or yellowish-white. The Midtstol, halefj?r and primitive markings are black or slate-colored. The remainder of the mane, tail and forelock are lighter than the body color. The Yellow dun is the rarest color of all. The horse is a light gold or cream, the forelock, mane and tail can be completely white, and the primitive markings can be indistinct. When two horses with diluted colors are bred to one another, there is a 25% probability of offspring being born with full coat color cream dilution, including blue eyes.
The Fjord horse and its ancestors have been used for hundreds of years as farm animals in western Norway. The horse is strong enough for heavy work, such as plowing the fields or pulling timber, yet light and fast enough to be a good riding and driving horse. Today, the fjord horse is a favorite at Norwegian riding and therapeutic schools, as its generally mild temperament and small size make it suitable for children and disabled individuals. It has also been used as a sport horse. Its ability to handle difficult terrain has led to achievement in show jumping and dressage where they have reached the highest levels. They are considered very good driving horses, and are commonly used in everything from competitions to tourist transport in Norway. Fjord horses were used in mountainous terrain during WWII, and in a tribute to their versatility, also served as food during the food shortages in the Netherlands in 1944-1945.