Horse of the Norse

COLVILL, MINN. -- Some of the finest examples of an ancient breed of horse once favored by Vikings live at North Coast Norwegian Fjords, a 47-acre farm eight miles north of Grand Marais.

COLVILL, MINN. -- Some of the finest examples of an ancient breed of horse once favored by Vikings live at North Coast Norwegian Fjords, a 47-acre farm eight miles north of Grand Marais.

Jon and Mary Ofjord brought their first Norwegian Fjord to their farm in 1994.

Though it's a small operation -- there are only three Norwegian Fjords at the farm now -- North Coast is home to some of the best examples of the breed, which originated centuries ago as surefooted plow- and cart-driving horses in the mountainous region of Vestlandet, Norway.

Rokida's Draugen, the Ofjord's 11-year-old gelding, was featured in a "Horse Illustrated" magazine article in December 2001. Vedas, a mare in her mid-teens, was once judged at the Midwest Fjord Horse Club's annual show and determined to be in the top 4 percent of Fjords ever evaluated. And Gyllen Aften, a mare whose Norwegian name means "Golden Evening," now serves as a representative of her breed at Kentucky Horse Park, a horse showplace in Lexington, Ky.

"All the horses that come into the Kentucky Horse Park have to be good representatives of the breed, not a so-so or kind-of-looks-the-part," said Lisa Jackson, a spokeswoman for the park. "We would never have accepted Golden Evening if [she] were not a good representative."


The Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry has records for only about 5,000 Norwegian Fjords in America, but the Ofjords are raising theirs in an area with a rare concentration of the breed.

"You are in the heart of Norwegian Fjord country," said Marsha Korose, who raises Norwegian Fjords on a farm in West Virginia. "Minnesota and Wisconsin and that area is a hotbed because you're so Norwegian."

Philis Anderson, a neighbor of the Ofjords, has four Norwegian Fjords on her 160-acre farm on the Gunflint Trail. Her mares Katina and Karina are of the same bloodline as Draugen and Vedas, who are brother and sister. "They're very authentic" Anderson said of the four horses. "It's partly their conformation and partly their temperament."

Mary Ofjord said she and her husband got off to a good start raising Norwegian Fjords when they bought Sylvie, a 13-year-old mare, in 1994.

"We were lucky in the fact that she was very well-bred," Ofjord said.

Since then, they've been careful to breed their horses only with others of good stock.

The Ofjords once took a mare to Colorado to breed her with a suitable stallion.

"You don't want to pick a stallion because, as people say, he's cheap and close," Mary Ofjord said.


The Ofjords look for horses that exhibit an even temperament, powerful musculature and distinctive markings like zebra bars at the knees and a black stripe running across the spine -- traits Norwegian Fjords are known for. Because Vedas is on the stockier side of the breed standard, for instance, the Ofjords would probably select a stallion with a slighter build to ensure the offspring wouldn't be too heavy.

Norwegian Fjords are easily recognizable by their spiky white-and-black manes, which have the texture of toothbrush bristles. In the cold months, their coats grow shaggy.

"In the winter they look like dandelions gone to seed," Mary Ofjord said.

The Ofjords chose Norwegian Fjords because they wanted a breed that could thrive in a cold climate. They've taken a shine to the horses for their warm demeanor.

Draugen, for instance, has proved himself to be an excellent mount for beginning riders.

"He's taught a lot of people how to ride because he's very patient, a very good teacher," Ofjord said.

"They're so gentle and so willing," said Vicki Geretschlaeger, a friend of Mary's who boards her horses at North Coast. "They're such a nice breed."

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