History of Fjords in Australia
April 2016 marks thirty years since the Van Raalte family imported two Fjord stallions and six mares into South Australia, the start of Fjord breeding in Australia. These horses, which were all specifically selected by Bob van Bonn of the Nederlands Fjord Stamboek, were unrelated for at least four generations. The stallions included the mature “Naustdal” (Breiming x Heidi) who was born and accredited in Norway before spending time at stud in Holland, and a yearling “Ferdinand”, son of Gjest, the well-known Canadian sire. The six mares were of different types, spanning from compact pony type, median type (“middle of the road”), to the larger draft type.
Fjords are now represented in all states of Australia, all along the east coast from tropical North Queensland to Tasmania and also in Western Australia.
Fjord horses in Australia are used for pleasure and competition riding, pony club, dressage, trail riding and trekking, Riding for the Disabled, stock-work, all types of harness activities including showing, Combined Driving and draft work, as well as teaching novice riders and drivers. Although most Australian Fjords are currently between 13.2 and 14.2 hands high, the desire for riding/sport horses is influencing some breeders to aim for a taller horse, while others are looking to maintain the diversity of breed type and utility.
For many years the Fjord numbers in Australia remained static at around 50 to 60 and sales were often to people who came from Scandinavia or Europe and knew Fjords in their childhood. Many Australians saw the Fjords as a curiosity, but failed to take them seriously. Now, however, after thirty years of promotion in many disciplines by the many enthusiastic owners and breeders, the Fjords are being recognised for the tough and sensible small horse they are.
Fjords in Australia have proved that they can cope with heat and hard terrain at least as well as their European humans. Indeed, some Fjord horses were imported to a property in Central outback Queensland in the 1920s and survived the serious drought of that decade. There are no progeny of these hardy horses left. However, Fjords are thriving in the cooler states of Australia and now the greatest number can be found in Victoria . Due to the smaller distances and concentration of equine activities there, Fjords receive more exposure in Victoria than other states, which is helping to drive their increasing popularity. Social Media and internet connection across most of Australia also helps to promote our Fjords’ activities.
In 1995, the Australian Pony Stud Book Society (APSB) was approached to include a section for the Fjord Horse along with the other pure breeds of the Stud Book. This is now the registering body for Fjord Horses in Australia, ensuring that breeding records are correct; enabling breeders to select crossings carefully; and allowing purchasers to verify that they are buying pure-bred Fjords. The Fjord Promotional Group is a formally constituted group within the APSB.
Although the distance and cost of horse transport to Australia is a definite impediment to the growth of numbers, we now have about 145 purebred Fjord horses, including one of the original Dutch mares, now 34 year old, who is still active in harness driving.
To diversify the restricted gene pool in Australia, frozen semen was imported in 2001 and again in 2013 and 2016. Additionally, two new stallions have been imported, Myklejon from Norway and Camel Hills White Knight from USA, further improving the variety of height and colours in Australia. This year also, two pregnant mares arrived from Denmark. We look forward seeing these new bloodlines develop.
A small breeding herd, including the senior stallion Naustdal, was exported to New Zealand some years ago and the numbers of Fjords there are growing steadily. A mare has also been exported to Korea from Australia.
Currently there are eight registered stallions in Australia and three colts who will probably remain entire. These must pass a veterinary check to be stallion registered with the APSB, to rule out any visible genetic or serious conformation defects. To date, selection of colts to become stallions has been done by the breeders only keeping the very best colts entire, with consideration of bloodlines already represented in Australia. Thus the slow increase in numbers here.
Of the 75 females in Australia, there are 47 mares who are still of breeding age, i.e. between 3 and 18 years old. However the vast distances that some horses must travel to stud means that not all these mares will breed during their lifetime.
An evaluation program or test for stallion suitability of colts and for breeding mares, along the lines undertaken in many countries overseas, is presently being discussed by the Fjord Promotional Group.
In 2015, Australia was accepted into Fjord Horse International, the global governing body. We look forward to continuing to develop the breed over the next 30 years and to gaining a more global view of the wonderful horses that we have enjoyed here for the past 30 years.