Norwegian Fjord horses: pure blood lines and much versatility

It might be a little known fact, but a horse living near Moorefield is the top mare of Norwegian Fjord horses in North America.

Bluebird Lane Kestrel, born in 2000, won the Grand Champion Mare title at the Norwegian Fjord Horse Reg­istry’s 25th anniversary nation­al show held in Winona, Min­nesota.

Her owners are Lori Albrough and Stefan Vorkoet­ter, the husband and wife team that runs Bluebird Lane Fjords, a 50-acre spread outside of Moorefield.

Albrough explained in an interview that the Fjord Reg­istry gets together for a National Show only once every five years, so her horse “is the reigning queen” until the next meeting, which is in 2011.

Kestrel is in dressage train­ing, and at the horse’s first show ever, the National Spring into Dres­sage at Palgrave, she won a championship at Training Lev­el, scoring as high as 71.36%.

Insiders in the horse world are aware of Fjord horses, and that knowledge has been grow­ing as the qualities of the horse become apparent at all kinds of shows and competitions.

For one thing, the breed has existed for centuries in rela­tively isolated Norway, so it is nearly pure, something Al­brough is hoping to maintain. The horse is striking for a number of reasons. First, it has distinct colouring traits. All Fjords have a mane that starts white, and then turns to black in a distinct line. That black colour continues as a stripe right down the horse’s back and it merges into a white tail that has black stripes.

Fjords are so pure in their bloodlines that they come in only one colour, known in the horse world as “dun.” That colour has up to five shades from dull grey to a nearly tan hue.

Albrough has been involved with horses since she was 14 and taking part in the Pony Club. “When we started out, we had other horses, but gradu­ally, there was no other breed of horses for us,” she said.

Albrough first heard about Norwegian Fjords back in the late 1980s. She noted there was no World Wide Web with pictures in those days, but some people in horse circles would talk about them on an Internet discussion group. Then, in 1990, she was travelling and picked up a magazine that had three Fjord horses on the cover.

“That was the first time I’d ever seen one and I thought they were just beautiful.”

And, she noted, they were perfect for her. The horses are not only handsome, but sure­footed, docile and they stand about 14 hands high. “They are short but strong,” Albrough said. “I don’t need a horse 17 hands high.”

She also noted that she kept hearing stories on the dis­cussion group about a woman in Oregon who was new to horses who bought a Fjord.

“She kept doing these stupid things, but the horse has such a good temperament” that she avoided serious injury.

The couple started with three Fjord mares from Holland in 1997, with one of them pregnant. “She had a filly.”

Albrough noted, “We start­ed with three very good quality mares – good representatives of the breed.”

She and three other breeders used to share ownership of Fel­ix, a well respected stallion and father of Kestrel. He was born in Norway and was rated an excellent sire.

Currently, Mogly is the farm’s stud, and they share his ownership with another breed­er, Marg Kerr.

“Marg sends the mares here, or I ship the semen,” she said. Albrough added they also ship Mogly’s semen all over North America.

She occasionally gets re­quests to crossbreed her Fjord hor­ses, something she adam­antly refuses to do. Albrough loves the breed and char­ac­teristics as they are, and said she has found that crossbred off-spring tend to look like Fjords, and she wants to main­tain the horse’s pure bloodlines.

Further, she noted, cross­bred offspring do not seem to have the good temperament of purebred Fjords.

Other than maintaining the breed’s bloodlines, Albrough tries for the very best blood­lines, and her current herd of 11 has many storied sires and dams among it.

Her philosophy on breeding is “What’s the point of trying to breed an average horse?” The number of excellent horses at the farm are proof of her philosophy.

Mogly was born in Ger­many and stood at stud there for six years before coming to Canada. Breeders there care­fully evaluate the stallions, and Mogly achieved a “star,” a top accolade.

National cultural icons

Horses might be loved in Canada, but the Fjords are practically worshiped in Nor­way. Albrough said she visited the country and learned that it seems to consist of a lot of rock, with pockets of green around the coasts. That is why the breed stayed pure. There was little stock coming in from elsewhere.

She attended a festival for the Fjords and, at one point, heard a dissertation on the Fjord horse in a strange lan­guage. When she asked another visitor what was being said, she learned that the language was “old Norse,” and hardly any­body in the crowd could understand it. But, like music, the paean to the Fjord seemed like a universal language that Albrough said she was able to understand.

In the old days in Norway, a Fjord help­ed with the farm work, pulled carriages and car­ried crops and riders where they needed to go over a rocky land where there were very few roads, and certainly very few good ones.

Not only that, most of those horses were mares, and they bore a foal each year that could be sold to keep the farm profitable.

“They would really rely on their animal,” Albrough said. “Their horses are beloved be­cause they helped people to sur­vive. When we went to Nor­way, we could appreciate their effect on that culture.”

Born and bred to work

The bloodlines of the Nor­we­gian Fjord seem to include a strong willingness to work, and Albrough does exactly that with all of them.

She has had as many as 15 horses at the farm, but that has proved challenging when she works them in the farm’s ring every day. A chalk blackboard shows which horse is scheduled next for the ring.

She said she could simply leave them to run outdoors but prefers to work and train with each horse as an individual.

“Primarily, I have these hor­ses to use,” Albrough said. “He has to have a purpose,” other than just breeding, she added of her stallion.

Albrough is a competitor in dressage, one of the more dif­ficult horse disciplines. She has won bronze and silver medal achievement awards from Dres­sage Canada for scores earned in competitions, and she said, “People were pleasantly surprised. In the last ten years, there’s been a huge change. The breed is becoming much more well known.”

She said it can also pull a carriage as well as be ridden. “It’s a very good driving horse – a jack of all trades.”

She noted in the U.S. and Canada there are compe­titions every year for various breeds called Combined Driv­ing Events which include dres­s­age, pulling a carriage cross country over two days, and on the third day, there is a final event where the horse has to pull a carriage through a nar­row lane of cones “to see if they are fit. Fjords are doing quite well in the Combined Driving Events.”

Equine presence in county

Like many horse operations in Wellington County, Bluebird Lane Fjords uses specialized flooring, clean, bright stalls, with a premium on cleanliness, and modern technology.

Albrough said her husband bought, rewired and placed the cameras in the birthing stalls so that from the house they can determine at a glance if a mare about to foal is having prob­lems.

She is aware, too, that Well­ington County seems to be a place that is becoming more and more attractive to people who love horses, and noted that it has more horses per capita than anywhere else in Ontario.

She said a great deal of that credit must go to local opera­tions. “The University of Guelph is invaluable,” she said.

Albrough, like many horse owners, is eager to spread her knowledge about them to the next generations.

She has attended clinics put on by the Canadian Dressage Owners and Riders Associ­ation, taking her Fjords, also known for being gentle and good around people, to clinics for kids. She did one in Stouffville for three days.

In another way to attract kids, some of her horse work there was placed on video and posted to YouTube.

Albrough knows her horses will not only be re­mem­bered by those kids, but the horse could well be around for the kids to see well down the road. Fjords have a very long and useful life cycle. She starts training them with a saddle when they are four, a relatively late age in the horse world.

But the Fjords more than compensate with their long working life. She cited one of her original mares, Cindy, who was a top breeding horse until the age of 23, when she was retired to a busy life as a riding and driving horse for a farrier’s family.

“They mature slowly; we let them develop,” she said.