The Fjord horse, or Norwegian Fjord Horse, is one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds. Horses were known to exist in Norway at the end of the last ice age. It is believed that the ancestors of the modern Fjord horse migrated to Norway and were domesticated over 4,000 years ago. Archaeological excavations at Viking burial sites indicate that the Fjord horse type has been selectively bred for at least 2,000 years. The Fjord horse and its ancestors have been used for hundreds of years as farm animals in western Norway. Even as late as World War II, they were useful for work in mountainous terrain. The Fjord horse also has a long recorded history of pure breeding without crossbreeding from other sources.
This breed is strong enough for heavy work, such as plowing fields or pulling timber, yet light and agile enough to be a good riding and driving horse. They are also sure-footed in the mountains. 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. They are considered very good driving horses, and are commonly used in everything from competitions to tourist transport in Norway. They are also used as a sport horse, particularly in combined driving.
With a distinct appearance, the breed’s conformation differs from many other breeds in that it is a blend of draught horse muscling and bone, with smaller size and greater agility. It has a strong, arched neck, sturdy legs and good feet, and a compact, muscular body. The head is medium sized and well defined with a broad, flat forehead and a straight or slightly dished face, with small ears and large eyes. Despite its small size, the breed is fully capable of carrying an adult human and pulling heavy loads. The hair coat becomes particularly heavy and thick in the winter.
The natural mane is long, thick, and heavy, but is usually clipped in a distinctive crescent shape to between five to ten centimeters (two to four inches) so that it stands straight up and emphasis the shape of the neck. This roached mane is thought to make for easier grooming. It also accentuates the horse’s strong neck and full-length dorsal stripe. There is some feathering on the lower legs; however, the breed standard discourages profuse feathering.
There is no upper or lower limit for height set for the breed, but heights between 13.1 and 14.3 hands at the withers are recommended. The weight normally ranges from 880 to 1,100 lb. Though some individuals may fall under the traditional cutoff between horses and ponies, the Fjord horse is considered a horse, regardless of height.
Fjord horses have a reputation for a generally good temperament.