Tuesday, April 13, 2021

A guide to Fjords

Last week, Breyer unveiled the second 2021 Premier Club model. Meet Astrid, an absolutely fjantasic Fjord sculpted by Maggie Jenner-Bennett, with finishwork by Nikki Button.

I fjoresee a lot of fjabulous Fjord customs in the the upcoming year, which makes extra happy to share this wonderful guest post about Fjords by Canadian hobbyist, September Rennie-White. Thank you, September. I know a lot of people are really going to appreciate this information!

A Guide to Fjords

by September Rennie-White

This was originally meant to be a mane guide and then I just couldn’t stop. Apologies in advance for my, uhhh, wordiness. I’m just perpetually excited about Fjords!

Let’s start with the basics! The baseline (pun not intended 😜) for much of the Fjord’s beauty is the dorsal stripe which starts at the base of the forelock, goes down the center of the mane sandwiched between white, down the back and ends at the tip of the tailbone.

Because of that, there will always be some amount of both colours in both the forelock and tail, at least on brown and gray duns. The amount of black in the forelock likely corresponds to the width of the dorsal stripe at the poll. This picture shows several examples of Fjord forelocks, plus some configurations that just won’t happen.

The other end of the stripe runs through the tail. Here's a look at some different Fjord tails, as well as some impossible configurations.
Let's talk about markings! Fjords have a lot of intricacies and quirks to their coats, though these do vary in occurrence, size, colour, etc. Some of my favourites include:
  • Eyebrows: These adorable dark spots over their eyes are super cute and add a lot of expression to their faces. Not every Fjord has them, but every colour Fjord *can* have them - they’ll just be a darker/richer shade of their coat colour (though less contrasted on dilute colours).
  •  Ears: Fjord eartips are pretty cute, too. On the front, the tips are a very dark brown, almost black on black and bay-based horses (brown dun, gray dun and white dun); on red duns they’re typically a deep red-brown and on yellow duns a slightly darker yellow-brown. On the back of the ears, the tips are a rich, medium brown (for red duns, a very similar shade to brown duns, perhaps slightly lighter/redder; for black duns, black or darker brown; for white duns, a dull gray-brown slightly darker than the rest of the ear; and for yellow duns, a faint or even imperceptible yellow-brown). The outside edges of the ears running from the outer base to the very tip are lighter than the body colour, with the flat area at the tips having more of this colour (very visible in the top right photo). On red-based horses, especially yellow duns, this can be hard to make out because of the lack of contrast with the otherwise darker colors on the eartips.
  • Njal’s mark: I love this one! Njal was a stallion at one point credited with saving the breed; all modern Fjords are descended from him! He had a dark mark on each cheek and so his name was given to this little mark. My gelding has it, so I’m super, super biased .
  • Leg patches: These are probably just an extension of leg barring, but I figured I’d point them out anyway, since they can be easily missed on some horses. Many Fjords have a darker patch of hair here, but their edges usually blend into the regular coat colour. I’ve only seen them this sharp-edged on a handful of horses, and I especially like the extra little spot on my gelding’s legs
  • White markings: White markings do rarely occur in Fjords. The most common is a small star, and though it’s not especially desired, I believe it is allowed in breeding mares. I think larger/different facial markings can also happen, but those are not accepted by the registries. Leg markings happen too - usually small ones - and these are also considered unacceptable. That’s why you rarely see Fjords with markings - it’s purposefully avoided in breeding as much as possible.
You’ll notice I don’t illustrate leg barring, and that’s because they vary widely by horse, colour and season. Your best bet for those will always be reference photos. I wanted to focus on some little things that could be easy to miss - and leg barring, I feel, is a pretty obvious one! But, to speak of them briefly: some Fjords have dark knees, fetlocks and/or hocks. You’ll see many with barring on the front legs, but not the hind ones. They may also have stark horizontal and diagonal bars by the knees and hocks. I have a feeling that the darker the shade of brown dun, the more likely there is to be leg barring.
The Fjord mane is traditionally trimmed in an arch meant to flatter the overall horse but especially the neck. Depending on the slope and size of the arch and where you put it, you can trick the eye into thinking the neck is nicer than it is.

There are two styles of traditional trim; the first is most common and almost exclusively used in Scandinavia. In this - let’s call it a level trim - the white hairs in the mane are trimmed at the same level as the darker center color. The second style - let’s call it a raised trim - is more popular in North America. In this one the white hairs are trimmed roughly half an inch shorter than the darker hairs. 

The raised trim is known as a “mourning stripe” in Scandinavian countries and is typically only used for funeral processions. When I was a kid learning how to ride on Fjords, all I saw was the raised trim. My eyes and my heart got attached to it long before I learned of its meaning overseas. I find it super striking, and very pleasing to my eye. For that reason, I almost exclusively trim my gelding this way.
There are lots of other possible, fun trims. Here are some spiky trims we put on two broodmares for a fun show  and a weird dinosaur-thing I did to my gelding when I knew it would take me two sessions to roach him! 
If the mane is allowed to grow out, it will eventually fall over, sometimes to both sides, as many Fjord manes are very thick. Sometimes they’re so thick and heavy that the weight of the mane can cause what’s called a fallen crest, where the crest of the neck sort of flops over. This is irreversible. If you prefer a loose mane and are worried about this, thinning the mane can help cut down on some of the weight. If you choose to paint a loose mane, remember that there should be white sandwiching the black (or other stripe colour), except when the mane lies to both sides; then, assuming it is split down the middle, there will be black on top of each side, and white underneath.
Whichever style of trim you choose, the arch should begin at the top of the forelock and end at the withers. It should be a smooth arch shape, giving a round appearance, and not flat across the top of the neck. The latter is not generally an appealing shape.

There are a couple of ways to determine where to put the peak of the arch. From the poll, some people put the peak around 40-50% of the way down the neck. I read that others put it directly above where the neck meets the shoulder, but the location of that point would change depending on the position of the horse’s neck, so I’m unclear on how they keep this consistent. Finally, you could just start with a trim slightly longer than you intend your final product to be, putting the peak around the halfway point, and then judge how it looks on the horse. Does he look unbalanced? Does his neck look bulgy? Adjust your trim to move the peak where it best compliments him.

If you choose to cut a bridle path (I *have* to on my gelding because his mane is extremely thick at the poll!), that does not mean you move the arch back! The bridle path should be cut *from* the arch, so that it doesn’t affect the shape.
Mane arches can be big or small! A high arch can compliment a thin neck, while a low one could be better for a Fjord with a thick, cresty neck.

Photo 1 is the highest arch I've trimmed on my gelding, and photo 2 is one of the lowest. Photo 3 is what his mane looked like immediately before the trim in photo 2 - this is only 5 weeks of growth post-roaching! Here I’ve just trimmed the very tips of the white and black and slightly shaped the arch (his neck is very thick at the base, so I try to move the arch forward). The black grows higher because the center of the neck is also the highest point of the neck, so I don’t have a ton of work to do to clean him up at this stage of growth.

Photo 4 is a mane that has grown out and is probably due for a trim. The shape of the arch is great, so it’s easy to just go in and trim off an equal amount across the entire mane. You can even use something like a ruler or mane comb to help you keep it even (though you do get a knack for freehanding it over time!)

I wanted to also focus a bit on the end of the mane at the withers. Here, the mane tapers in width until it’s very thin (photo 5). On most brown dun Fjords, the hair also starts lightening over the last few inches to blend into the lighter brown dorsal stripe (photo 6). It can be hard to trim this - especially in a raised trim, because it’s not so much a white/black sandwich as it is an assortment of various shades of brown. In photo 7, I have trimmed the top of the mane to clean it up (this would be where you’d stop for a level trim). At this part of the arch, it’s pretty straight. And finally in photo 8 I have also trimmed the “white”. What I try to do is wiggle the tips of the scissors in behind the outer few hairs and keep the distance between this cut and the one in photo 7 the same distance as it is across the entire mane. I operate slowly here, just taking off the very lightest hairs while constantly being aware of how much width I have left to work with, and the fact that I still have to do the other side. It’s never very pretty, but no one ever really zooms into this area like I have! This is also just the way *I* do it - no idea if that’s standard. While I had a basic education in mane trimming, there are some quirky things like this that I just had to figure out on my own!

Sorry for the mismatched angles and wet/dirty horse.. I ran outside and grabbed these just before making this 😂 I might have to redo these in the summer! 
Thank you again, September. This is really helpful and will be a great resource for everyone who wants to create their own custom Fjord!


  1. Wow! Thank you for all the details. I am going to have to get Astrid.

  2. Thank you so much for this information! At a horse therapy barn that I volunteer at there are three fjords. I love to sketch them and admire their unique markings and personalities!