A fine day for two very fine horses
Fjord horses proved to be a major attraction at December’s D.C. Christmas Bazaar
Christine Foster Meloni
Fia and Bella, two beautiful fjord horses, were a major attraction at the Washington, D.C., Sons of Norway lodge’s Christmas Festival this year. Fortunately, the weather was perfect on December 5 and the horses were able to spend the day in a lovely open space behind the lodge’s Norway House in Fairfax, Virginia.
Most of the festival-goers had seen fjord horses only in books and did not know very much about them. They were, therefore, thrilled to see Karen Keith’s Fia and Bella and learn something about this native Norwegian breed.
The Norwegian Fjord Horse is one of the oldest and purest breeds in the world. It is thought that the original fjord horse migrated to Norway more than 4,000 years ago. Archaeologists have found evidence that this horse has been selectively bred for at least 2,000 years. It is not certain where the breed came from originally, but most likely it came from Asia as it seems to be related to the wild Przewalski horses.
The Vikings used this horse as their primary war mount. Farmers have long used it to pull loads as it is a strong and durable animal. Because of its thick coat, it can withstand harsh winters. Today it is bred for riding and driving. Because of its pleasant personality, it is frequently used for recreational riding in schools for the disabled. During the Winter Olympics in Lillehammer, many of the athletes and celebrities were driven to different venues in carts pulled by these sturdy horses.
Today approximately 90% of all fjord horses are brown dun in color. The other 10% are red dun, gray, white dun, or yellow dun, which means that horses of these four colors are very rare. These colors are rare because brown dun has been the fashion for many years, and therefore it has been selectively bred to meet the popular demand.
A unique characteristic of the fjord horse is its mane. The hair in the center is dark, usually black, but the outer hair is white. The mane is cut short so that it will stand up straight. The white hair is cut shorter so that the dark hair in the center will stand out.
The fjord horse is smaller than the average horse, usually between 13.2 and 14.2 hands high, and weighs between 900 and 1,200 pounds. It has very powerful legs and good feet. Their feet are always black in color.
Owner Keith presented two of her fjord horses at the festival. She first introduced Fia, a seven-year-old white fjord horse. She told the audience that while whites are rare, they are becoming more popular in the United States and are, therefore, a major focus of current selective breeding. She then introduced Bella, a 13-year-old brown dun horse.
Viewers easily noticed that, as Keith pointed out, both horses were very pleasant and gentle, but they had different personalities. While Bella was as calm as calm could be, Fia was “very busy” and liked to move around.
Keith had each perform two tricks, balancing on a pedestal and bowing to the audience.
It was surprising how both horses were able to mount the pedestal, very carefully, first with their front legs and then their hind legs, and stand perfectly balanced with their feet so close together.
Bowing, on the other hand, seemed to come quite naturally to them.
The audience seemed very impressed when Keith made it clear that she never forced her animals to perform. If they didn’t want to, it was their decision. She considers her horses her pets, her friends, and she would never force a friend to do something against his or her will, so why would she do it to her horses?
Not surprisingly, these special horses were the festival’s most coveted photo op. And much in demand was the lovely Christmas tree ornament depicting a brown dun fjord horse created for the occasion by prize-winning rosemaler Tina Keune. To order an ornament, contact the artist at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This article originally appeared in the Dec. 18, 2015, issue of the Norwegian American Weekly.