Dancing Dressage Fjords Take Root
by CH Staff with Elvia Gignoux and Renee Albaugh

Dancing Dressage Fjords Take Root

Fjords have been successfully dancing their way around the dressage ring for years. The iconic horse breed of Norway, is known for its versatility and intelligence. The Norwegian Fjord Registry cites, “The Norwegian Fjord Horse is one of the world's oldest and purest breeds. It is believed that the original Fjord Horse migrated to Norway and was domesticated over 4,000 years ago. Herds of wild Fjord Horses existed in Norway after the last ice age. Archaeological excavations at Viking burial sites indicate that the Fjord Horse has been selectively bred for at least 2,000 years.”

Dancing Dressage Fjords Take Root

The Fjord is an easily recognizable breed with its sturdy structure, typical dun color, dorsal stripe and unique mane of dark center hair with white outer hair. Their strong physique and calm nature make them perfect for farm work and driving in general, and their sure-footedness make them a perfect trail horse. During World War II they were put into service for military use in Denmark and Norway. Today the breed is highly valued as a therapeutic riding horse. Their smaller height makes them easier for mentally or physically challenged riders to mount and for assistance from the ground to be easily provided. Norwegians proudly showcase them as driving horses for tourist transport. Their use as a riding horse has risen in popularity in the U.S.A. and they can be seen jumping fences in the ring or cross-country as well as in the dressage ring.

Dancing Dressage Fjords Take Root

Dancing Dressage Fjords Take RootA recent fun event that showcased their wonderful prowess in the sports arena was reported by Elvia Gignoux, who created “The Dancing Norse Horse Team” to compete, and while it was a team put together at the 11th hour, it offered a great opportunity for folks new, as well as seasoned competitors, to participate in the sport of dressage.

“The Dancing Norse Horse Team took third out of twelve teams in the Weatogue Stables Team Challenge on August 11th, 2019, at Salisbury, CT. The team was made up of Amy Wood on Ymir from VT, Renee Albaugh on Harwin Royal from NY, Ali Borgert on Tuukka from MA and myself on Sjamma from CT. Lots of fun was had as we competed our Fjord horses. Two of them were in their first Dressage show ever. Ymir ended up as High Point winner at Intro Level and Sjamma was high point at Training Level.  We can’t wait for next year!,” explained Gignoux.

Dancing Dressage Fjords Take Root

If you’ve ever wondered about the experience of owning and riding a horse can entail, here’s some insight from a neophyte dressage competitor Renee Albaugh {RA}. As a rider returning to horse ownership after a necessary hiatus from her childhood horse adventures with sister Alexis, due to college and work commitments, the Fjord she purchased was the perfect mount to lead her charge back into the equestrian world.

CH: Can you give us some background on your Fjord, Loki?

RA: Loki is 24 year old Fjord horse. I got him in 2015 as an adult “re-rider” to get back in the saddle after more than ten years without riding. Loki was ideal because he was an easy keeper, safe, but also a fun horse to ride. He was trained in jumping when I got him. He had some training in lateral work and very basics of dressage for helping him with conditioning and balance, but that was the extent of his dressage work until we started taking dressage lessons in 2016. 

Challenges are with him are that he is extremely smart and willful. It always feels like he is ten steps ahead of me. He is also willful and while he is a tremendous amount of fun and works his heart out for me, when he is ready to be done working, he makes it REALLY challenging to disagree with him. But, at his age, and with how well behaved he is in so many situations where other horses would be scared, dangerous, and just downright difficult, I try to ensure that I stop work before he decides we are done. He has been such a saint that I forgive a lot of naughtiness in him.

CH: I understand this was your first ever dressage show. Kudos on that! How did you feel your rides went?

RA: Our first ride went great. We could have done better, of course, but it felt really good and we had a lot of fun. Our second ride was another story. I am not sure if it because I schooled him too much in between classes, or did not untack him and give him a “break” after our first class, but he definitely had decided we were done working for the day for our second test. He fought me at every point during our second ride and we almost went out of the ring. It felt like a disaster, but watching a video it was not as bad as it felt. I never ride him at home multiple times in the day, so this was a learning experience since he clearly did not think it was part of the contract. He was not dangerous or terribly behaved, he just did not want to do any work and let me (and our judge) know it!

Going to Weatogue was a lot of fun. Everything was very pleasant, comfortable, and professional. I think having a Fjord team challenge both took away the anxiety of showing, while also motivating us to do the very best we could. It was really cool in that respect and hopefully we can find more events like that in the future.

CH: What is the most challenging thing you find about riding a Fjord? And in particular, your Fjord, Loki.

RA: They are super intelligent! Of course that is both good and bad, and more good than bad. It is also physically a lot of work to ride a Fjord for horse and rider. Loki is not a lazy horse, but he does think we should do things ways that take the least effort and time. I think that is part of his intelligence though and not laziness. He does not understand why if our destination is “e”, for example, we ride all the way around the arena instead of going straight through the arena. Loki also gets very willful, and that is challenging.  For some horses, saying “no” has never occurred to them. Loki is NOT that kind of horse!  I do think there are a lot of misconceptions about Fjords, too.

CH: Do you plan to enter more competitions with Loki?

RA: I would like to do that for sure, depending on time and other obligations. I know we can do better and I would like to make that happen. Loki is a lot of fun to take to events because he is zero drama.  I can load him alone, he trailers well, travels alone fine, and does not get worried about being in new places, or being away from friends, or around strange horses or other stimulants. Fjords also always get wonderful reactions from people, wherever you take them so that is always fun.  We always have a fan base, which is really cool.  One thing that was so nice about being part of the Fjord team at Weatogue stables was having a community of likeminded people to ride with and have fun. At the end of the day, the more we can do that, whether it is at shows, hunter paces, trails, etc., the better, because that is the best way to ride. I bought Loki thinking we would maybe take a few lessons, but primarily we would just trail-ride in the backyard. I thought that I would never consider myself a “serious” rider again when I got him. I was happily surprised to learn we could do a whole lot more than just hacking out though, and I never want to stop improving as a rider. So while I do not compete a lot, I am always trying to become a better rider so I consider myself serious in that respect.  And going to shows feels like it could be a fun way to keep motivated to try new things, work harder, stay on schedule and continue growing.

Dancing Dressage Fjords Take Root

If you are looking for a good, all around horse for a family home that can do double and triple duty across many disciplines and with riders across many ages and abilities the Fjord can be a great option. Of course with their notably thick coats and coarse manes there will be plenty of grooming needed, but their loyal nature and hardiness can deliver on an equine partnership of a lifetime, the perfect ‘heart’ horse!

Renee and Loki