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Historical Fjords

Old stud books show that the breed wasn't always exclusively dun.

a conformation shot of the Fjord stallion GVF Sjokolade 

a close-up of a typical Fjord face with a pronounced mealy muzzle

Norwegian Fjords do not vary much in color. It says something that I thought GVF Sjokolade (pictured above) was unusual. In any other breed, he would appear to be an ordinary bay dun, but in the Fjord, he is special because he does not have the mealy pattern. Compare the area around his muzzle to a more typical Fjord dun (pictured to the right.)

The deeper red patch on his cheek is called Mark of Njål. It is named for Njål 166, considered the foundation stallion for modern Fjords. His influence is often credited with making the breed uniformly dun, but that took time. 

Images of non-dun Fjords from the early years of the studbook have been floating around the internet for some time. Some readers may have seen a tobiano mare (Fjelda) and a chestnut mare (Lydia). This strange "bay roan" Fjord also appeared in the first volume of the Døle studbook. 

A historic image of a Fjord with an unusual patchy, roaning coat

When it was published in 1902, the line between the two breeds was less distinct; there was overlap in both directions. Published accounts of the variation in early Fjord colors attribute non-duns to Døle influence. That makes sense since dun has always been rare in Døles, but it doesn't tell the whole story. It doesn't explain the tobianos ("skjevet") or the Fjord in the picture above since neither of those colors was part of the Døle breed. 

That was why I was so excited when I found an early Fjord studbook on AbeBooks. Data in studbooks—especially the first few volumes—gives a more accurate picture of the history of a particular breed. I always wondered how common non-duns were and how long they persisted. It was the second stallion volume, published in 1923, so it would only give a partial picture. Its publication date placed it on the other side of what Fjord breeders call the "Rimfakse Dispute," where outcrossing to the non-dun Døles was abandoned. Still, I hoped it would hold some clues. 

a hand holding the second volume of the Fjord stallion book from 1923
Stambok over Vestlandshesten, published in 1923.

I was not disappointed! As you can see from the number of blue Post-It-Note tabs, there were a lot of non-duns. The total was 45 of 477 stallions (9%). 

There were no skjevets (tobianos) among the entries, but seven stallions were listed as skimlet, which translates to grey or roan. The odd Fjord from the Døle studbook pictured above was described as brunskimlet (bay roan). These entries were not grulla, which in Fjords is called grey (grå). That means that at least until 1914, grey or roan stallions were granted premiums, which was the requirement for inclusion in the book.

The entries were interesting, but the real surprise was at the back of the book. Older stud books rarely include pictures. When they do, they often have just one or two images—often a representative stallion and mare—on the front pages. The Fjord book contained a whole section of photos. Sadly, there weren't any obvious greys or roans, but there were some non-duns. Since the images have passed out of copyright, I scanned them to share here. 

The non-duns

the chestnut Fjord stallion Rimfakse 146

Rimfakse 146

It seems appropriate to start with Rimfakse, since the controversy surrounding outcrossing takes his name. His entry appears in the first volume of the stud book, so I could not look him up directly. However, he was included among the photos in the back. There was also more information on the pedigree of his sire, Odin 16, in the "Additions and Corrections" section. The sire of Odin, Haugebrun, is listed as bay with a blaze. Haugebrun's dam is listed as Lina, a bay pinto. Here is what breed historian Inger Grønntun wrote about Lina:

Some horses came from far away, and one of them was the beautiful mare Lina ... She was known as one of the two most beautiful mares than the old horse guys at Voss knew about, and Lindeqvist must have agreed, because he gave her first prize. Incidentally, this mare was brunbroket or skjevet. This means that the horse had the white spot pattern we call today "tobiano".

Old stud books often have hints that in the time leading up to the formalization of modern breeds, white patterns were more common. Rimfakse's grandsire didn't inherit his dam's tobiano pattern, and Rimfakse didn't inherit his blaze. He was chestnut, though, and that color was thought—accurately, we now know!—to be prone to white on the face and legs.

the dark chestnut Fjord stallion Kong Sverre 66

Kong Sverre 66

Like Rimfakse, I had seen pictures of this horse online. It was interesting to see him in better detail. He was registered as a dark chestnut and I wondered about his very pale tailhead and whether or not he might have been a rabicano. If he had flank roaning, it was not visible in the picture. It was possible to see the sooty shading around his fetlocks which reminded me of some of the draft horses from a recent Friday Inspirations post.

the buckskin Fjord stallion Kong Ring 219

Kong Ring 219

This stallion is described as mørk borket, or dark buckskin. The cream dilution was a two-edged sword during the standardization of the breed. What we now consider the characteristic "primitive" dun in Fjords is the dun on a light, clear bay with a mealy pattern. Once the decision was made to prioritize this look, selection would favor anything that made a dun paler and clearer. Adding the cream dilution does this, but it also adds the possibility of producing blue-eyed creams. In the early 20th century, the presence of albinism in a family (of animals or people) was heavily stigmatized.

the dark bay Fjord stallion Trygg 400

Trygg 400

According to his studbook entry, this bay stallion was awarded a premium in 1900 and again in 1901. His sire, Erling Skjalgsøn 90, was registered as chestnut with a white mane and tail. He is also the sire of the next non-dun Fjord.

the dark bay Fjord stallion Fram Djoseland 615

Fram Djøseland 615

The entry for this stallion describes him as a bay with a mixed mane and tail. It's hard to tell from the picture, but it seems likely that they were sun-faded. He was awarded a premium in 1920, which is later than I expected for a non-dun stallion.

Atypical duns

The other images that stood out were the horses which might still be duns, but were not typical "Fjord dun."

the dark dun or grulla stallion Lord 135

Lord 135

This stallion is a paternal half-brother of the bay stallion Trygg 400. Analyzing old black-and-white photos is always tricky, but I would guess this horse is a dark dun. Black horses do not show pangare, so there is a chance that his lack of a mealy muzzle comes from being grulla. It's also possible that he is a dark bay dun. He does not have a bicolor mane, though there does appear to be some frosting on the sides in other photos of him

Kong Magnus 232, a dun Fjord stallion with a black mane

Kong Magnus 232

This is a son of Rimfakse. He is listed as dun but lacks the bicolored mane. This is unusual because he does look like a light, clear bay and he has a mealy nose. His dark mane is visible in the other known picture of him.

Frimann 276, a dark dun Fjord stallion with a black mane

Frimann 276

In color this stallion looks very similar to the previous horse, Kong Magnus. He lacks the bicolor mane and has more black on his lower legs. I suspect he is a dark dun (by Fjord standards) and not a bay, but I could not find information on his studbook entry to be sure.

a bookcase with studbooks for Welsh Ponies, Quarter Horses, Walking Horses and Tarpans

Nordic breeds are a gap in my otherwise extensive studbook collection. I hope to someday find more of the early Fjord books or at least get copies of them. I am especially curious about the mares because that is often where the older colors persist. If I do, I'll share what I find in a future post.


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