California Riding Magazine • August, 2008

Now For Something
Completely Different

Fjord Horses make inroads in dressage.

by Sarah Clarke

When you go to any dressage show you will see lots of large bay horses, maybe a grey Andalusian or a black Friesian, but generally they are big and powerful, yet elegant creatures. But the chances are getting better and better that you may see something completely different—a Norwegian Fjord horse.

Norwegian Fjord horses are small, usually stocky and always dun. They are characterized by a distinctive upright mane which is traditionally trimmed to show off the contrasting black
center stripe.

Why are more people discovering the Fjord for dressage? Size and temperament are two main reasons. Many adult amateurs are not really suited for a 17 hand dynamo! Although Fjords are short, ranging in size from 13.2 to 15.2 hands, they are broad across the back and feel like a “real” horse. They can carry proportionally more weight than their more slender brethren, yet are far easier to mount and dismount. Although a range of temperaments exists in Fjords, as in other breeds, the word used to describe Fjords most often
is “unflappable.”

Showing her Fjord, Aron, in southeast Wisconsin, Dianne Watson reports that “Aron was a complete trooper throughout the show and wasn’t bothered by anything! Believe me, we were the envy of my Warmblood owner friends. I rode him on the buckle all over the show grounds and he was not one bit phased by all the activity in the warm-up arena. We had the high point score for the entire show.”
Fjords in general have a very people-oriented personality, and will be quick to come and check out their family members when they arrive. Around the ranch they are very helpful, often supervising any construction or repair activity or offering advice on how best to shovel the corral.

Additional Fjord virtues are their hardy feet and food efficient metabolism. Most Fjords do not need shoeing. And while Fjord owners in parts of the country that sport lush pasture bemoan the difficulty of keeping their Fjords trim, in dry California, these fuel efficient creatures can thrive on grass hay with maybe a handful of alfalfa pellets or rice bran. These two characteristics make for a low maintenance, low budget horse. Initial cost of ownership is also reasonable. Of course, to get a proven dressage performer you will have to pay for the experience and training, but, you will find that to invest in a Fjord is much more economical than a comparable Warmblood or an imported riding pony.

I am a pretty typical Fjord owner. I bought Hviske to be a trail horse for my semi-riding husband Jay. But as I put training into Hviske, I found that her gaits were correct and she could work hard and stay focused. Soon I decided to try her out at a dressage show. In 2007 Hviske earned 60 percent at First Level and is now competing at Second Level. There is a saying among Fjord owners that Fjords are like potato chips, nobody gets just one. And indeed, Jay and I have expanded our Fjord enterprise to include the stallion Malcom Locke and two additional mares Nika and Valka. Hviske, Nika and Valka are good dressage lesson horses for beginners as they are forgiving of less than perfect hands and seats, yet have been correctly trained.

Valka’s dressage skills are not a surprise; she was started by Barry Sheinbaum of Nuevo California, who has earned the USDF Vintage Cup on his Fjord mare Signe. Signe also won a year end award in Western Pleasure the same year, demonstrating another Fjord trait, versatility.

Wez is probably the best known Fjord in dressage. Owned by Ann Appleby of Olympia, WA, Wez has been shown at Grand Prix level, refuting those critics who say that Fjords will always remain at the lower levels.

Robin Churchill of Sanibel, FL, owns Ooruk, who competes in dressage at Open shows earning scores in the 63-69 percent range. Robin, who also owns a 17 hand Hanoverian wanted a Fjord, hoping for a smaller and more bombproof mount. However Robin cautions that although they tend to be more tolerant of things than some other breeds, they are still horses and do all the things that horses do and need proper, consistent training to turn into good riding partners.
Fjords are eligible to earn U.S. Dressage Federation all-breed awards if they are registered with the Norwegian Fjord Horse registry and the USDF.

Author Sarah Clarke gives private dressage lessons on Norwegian Fjord horses. She is based in San Diego County’s El Cajon and can be reached at 619-669-1577 or through the website,