Of all the modern equine breeds, the Norwegian Fjord horse bears the most striking resemblance to the Przewalski horse, also known as the Asiatic wild horse of the Ice Age, which has a very strong resemblance to primitive cave drawings that have been found in a number of places around the world. Existing in the wild only in the western area of the Gobi Desert, it was generally thought to be extinct, until a herd was discovered by a Russian explorer, Colonel N. M. Prezwalski (1839-1888), in the latter part of the nineteenth century.
A notable feature is the coarse, erect mane, which is characteristic of primitive equines. Were it left alone, the mane would grow as long as that of any other breed, but by ancient tradition it is hogged so that the black hairs at the centre stand above the rest. It is cut in a crescent shape from poll to withers, giving a pronounced crest to the neck. Horses with their manes clipped in this way appear on the runestone carvings of the Vikings, which may still be seen in Norway. The Fjord was the Viking horse, and was used in the popular sport of horse fighting, when horses were pitted against each other, and sometimes fought to the death.
The modern Fjord horse stands at 13-14.2hh. It is compact and strongly muscled, and has short limbs with plenty of bone. The head is wide, with small ears and is of pony type. Despite the overall similarity to the Przewalski horse, there is no sign of the primitive, convex profile in modern stock.
It is known that the first raiders to reach the Western Isles of Scotland came from Hordaland in Norway around eight hundred years ago, bringing with them their Fjord horses. However, the first documented Fjords to come into Great Britain were imported from Norway in 1890, and not 1910 as previously claimed. The two Fjord stallions were brought to the Scottish Hebrides by Sir Reginald Gordon Cathcart for his Askernish Estate in South Uist, and the incidence of ponies with silver manes and tails is often attributed to their influence. The stallions were introduced to upgrade Highland Pony stock there, but sadly were never used in order to establish a Fjord herd. They were well suited for the stormy wet climate of the islands, but did not improve the native breed in any way, although they maintained its hardiness. As time moves on, so do society rules. These days, the FHRS will withdraw from the Fjord Horse National Stud Book of Scotland any mare or stallion which is used for crossbreeding!
It wasn't until 1929 when His Grace, the 2nd Duke of Westminster and Lord Glentanar imported one stallion and six mares from the mother country as part of a breeding initiative set-up to establish the first ever Fjord herd in the United Kingdom. The 2nd Duke, whilst on holiday in Stryn in the summer of 1928, became very fond of the Fjord horses he saw there. So impressed was he, that in the autumn of that year, through is agent, Mr. L.O. Tenden, His Grace purchased a stallion and three mares for his Reay Forest Estate in Sutherland. The Fjord horses purchased were of: "Good sort and quality". The stallion bought was Helmar, a three year old son of Foss N-755 and a rosette winner at the 1927 Nordfjordeid stallion show. He was of medium size, deep and wide (of the chest) with very good character. The mares were Bergina by Bergfast N-635, Soria by Svein N-786 and Rosa by Molnesblakken N-792.
Rosa, Bergina and Soria
Also in the same year, Lord Glentanar, who was a great friend of His Grace, the Duke of Westminster, decided to import three mares from Norway. The mares, Loen, Stryn and Eide went on to successfully produce foals sired by Helmar. So, in the spring of 1929, Scotland had secured a stable of six fine mares and a quality stallion all waiting for the breeding season to commence. It would be a further forty years before another similar Norwegian Fjord Stud was established in Great Britain, when The Hon. Mrs. Janet Kidd decided to introduce Fjords to her Maple Stud in England. This time, however, the breeding stock would be imported from Denmark and not Norway.
In November 1937, Lord Glentanar imported a further six Fjords for his Glen Tanar Estate in Aberdeenshire. The red dun stallion chosen was Gullhov N-962, a son of Per Gynt N-765, who was also red dun. The five mares carefully selected were Freia N-4612, Dagmar N-4607, Astrid N-4938, Berit N-4238 and Eva N-4266. These Norwegian Fjords, along with the ones introduced in 1929, are the direct ancestors of many of Scotland's current breeding stock.
Millennium foal, Glen Tanar Eide, is a direct descendent of Helmar and Eide, who were imported to Scotland in 1929 from Norway.
Apart from Lord Glentanar and The Hon Mrs Jean Bruce, the only other serious breeder of Norwegian Fjord horses in Great Britain was The Hon Mrs Janet Kidd, daughter of Lord Beaverbrook, and owner of the now defunct Maple Stud in England. It was whilst visiting Copenhagen to watch her son, Johnny, jump with the British Team, that Mrs Kidd saw an amazing site - a pair of cream colour horses winding their way between traffic, hauling a large wagon with at least twenty students on it, waving and shouting with happiness. Janet Kidd shouted out: "They are the ones for me!" She learned that the horses she had seen were indeed Fjords, and spent the next few days travelling around the various islands of Denmark in order to buy four matching Fjord mares.
The Hon Mrs Janet Kidd at the reins of a ream of Fjords, Goldie, Champagne, Porgy and Franca at the now defunct Maple Stud
Mrs Kidd's first combined driving event was at Hickstead in 1974. Rachael Carpenter, her navigator and time keeper, did a marvellous job, and at the end of the three days they came first, winning the championship against all others. Lincoln followed closely, then an unbeaten record with her pony pairs during that season. These wins included the National Championship, Pitney Bowes at the Royal International and the British Driving Derby. Mrs Kidd retired in 1985, with her famous Fjords being sold at the Maple Stud dispersal sale in May of that year. Her imported Danish stallion, Maple Viking (Jacob) by Torgul EFJH 339 had already been sold to Jean Bruce at Glen Tanar three years earlier. Janet Kidd's only other imported Danish stallion, Maple Klaus FJH 575, a son of Lynbrix FJH 449, was sold at the dispersal sale to a small stud in Wales before finally being sold to David Stewart of Asgard Stud in Aberdeenshire several years later. So, destiny stepped in to ensure that both of Janet Kidd's marvellous stallions ended up in Scotland where they made a great impact on the Scottish herd, as they had already done on the Fjord horse population in England and Wales. Today, there are three sons of Maple Klaus standing in the UK - Ffinlo in Scotland, Froy in England and Krous in Wales. Not bad when you realise that there are only ten Fjord stallions in Great Britain!
Jemma Cox & Oslo
Article and photos courtesy of The Fjord Horse Registry of Scotland.
To learn more about the Fjord Horse, please visit the Fjord Horse Registry of Scotland at: http://www.norwegian-fjord-horse.com
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Updated: October 2005.