What to Know About the Norwegian Fjord Horse

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on January 09, 2023
4 min read

The Norwegian Fjord Horse is an ancient breed of horse once used by Viking warriors. Norwegians have selectively bred this horse for over 2,000 years, making it the oldest known horse breed. Today, the Norwegian Fjord (pronounced fee-ORD) is a versatile horse that excels as a children’s pet, driving horse, and equine athlete. Are you interested in learning more about this hardy horse? Discover Norwegian Fjord horse characteristics, origins, and potential health issues.

The Norwegian Fjord is a sturdy horse with big eyes, a flat forehead, and small ears. It has a deep chest, a short back, and sturdy legs with tough feet. Perhaps its most noticeable feature is its short and stiff mane, which draws attention to its thick, arched neck.

Genetically, the Norwegian Fjord is most closely related to the now-extinct Eurasian Tarpan horse. Researchers have also observed the breed's resemblance to the wild Przewalski’s horse and to 30,000-year-old cave paintings of wild horses. 

This horse prefers to live outdoors in frigid climates that resemble its Norwegian homeland.

The Norwegian Fjord Horse personality is docile and easy-going. For centuries, Norwegians have bred this horse for intelligence and high trainability. 

The Norwegian Fjord Horse’s placid personality makes it popular with horse enthusiasts from many disciplines. It’s a naturally people-oriented companion that adults and children can ride safely.

Norwegian Fjord horse colors include: 

  • Brown dun: A yellow-brown body with a cream or white mane and tail. Over 90% of these horses are brown dun. 
  • Red dun: A pale golden body with a cream or white mane and tail.
  • White dun: A cream body with a light cream mane and tail.
  • Grey dun: A silver-to-slate gray body with a gray mane and tail.
  • Yellow dun: A light cream body commonly with white mane and tail.
  • Kvit: A kvit Norwegian Fjord has blue eyes and an off-white coat similar to cremello horses. 

Norwegian Fjord horses of all colors have markings. They have bold dark stripes in the middle of their forehead, mane, and tail hair. A dark stripe runs along the back, and zebra stripes appear on the legs. Breeders consider white markings highly undesirable and are working to eliminate these traits from the gene pool.

The Norwegian Fjord Horse size is small. The breed’s height ranges from 13.2 hands to 15 hands tall, but most horses are 14 to 14.2 hands. 

This horse typically weighs more than 1,100 pounds (500 kilograms).

The ancient Norwegian Fjord horse is the world’s oldest and purest horse breed, with bloodlines tracing back at least 4,000 years.  

Historians believe this breed descends from wild horses that migrated to Norway and the Scandinavian peninsula thousands of years ago. Norwegians domesticated these animals around 2,000 BC. Vikings used the Norwegian Fjord as a war horse. Later, farmers used the sturdy breed to pull loads. 

In the late 1800s, breeders attempted to improve the Norwegian Fjord by crossing it with the Dole, another Norwegian breed. In 1907, enthusiasts decided to end the crossbreeding experiment and restart the breed without Dole blood. They used a purebred stallion named Njål as the foundation sire of their new lines. All modern Norwegian Fjords descend from this horse.  

This breed transported competitors during the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, Norway. 

Today, a Norwegian government agency regulates the breeding and exportation of the Norwegian Fjord. The breed has gained global popularity and now has registries in many countries, including Canada, Great Britain, and the United States.

Many horse enthusiasts use the Norwegian Fjord for activities and sports. Many Norwegian riding schools and equine therapy centers choose this breed as a mount for young children and people with disabilities. 

Other typical uses for the Norwegian Fjord include: 

  • Dressage
  • Driving competitions 
  • Hauling farm equipment 
  • Show jumping
  • Trail riding

The Norwegian Fjord horse is a relatively uncommon breed today. An estimated 5,800 Norwegian Fjords live in Norway, while around 80,000 of these horses exist globally. 

According to Fjord Horse International, only 15% of Norwegian Fjord mares are bred each year. As a result, the breed is considered endangered.

The Norwegian Fjord Horse has an average lifespan of 28 to 30 years. 

The breed can inherit a neurodegenerative disorder called equine neuroaxonal dystrophy/equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy (eNAD/EDM). A horse born with this condition develops ataxia, or poor muscle control, within the first year of life. Other symptoms include: 

Supplementation with D-Alpha Tocopherol (vitamin E) can help protect foals from neurodegeneration.

The Norwegian Fjord’s adaptability, obedience, and short height make it a wonderful pet for many horse owners. Children and beginners can learn to ride on this trustworthy horse. Experienced equestrians can compete with the Norwegian Fjord in many disciplines. No matter your skill level, the Norwegian Fjord can be an excellent companion, mount, and working horse.