THE HISTORY OF THE NORWEGIAN FJORD HORSE REGISTRY
By Phil Prichard
No one can be entirely sure when the first Norwegian Fjord horse arrived in America, but the six month old horse purchased by the noted publisher, J. Bertram Lippincott of Philadelphia, from a drover, Henry Harvinger in Lancaster, Pennsylvania in 1888, could well have been it. Describing the gelding he called Dandy, Lippincott may have been the first among many of us to have been struck by the character of this horse.
The first documentation of the importation of Fjord horses from Norway came about through the discovery of a small booklet that had remained in the Tunbridge, Vermont Public Library. The booklet had been produced by the prominent industrialist, Warren Delano of Barrytown, New York, and uncle of President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Renowned as a breeder of fine horses in the Hudson Valley, Delano had discovered the horse upon his travels in Norway in 1900. With the assistance of Norwegian officials, he imported some of the finest examples of the breed to Steen Valentje, a magnificent estate overlooking the Hudson.
It was not until the 1950’s and early 1960’s that much of America’s original foundation stock was imported, many bloodlines of which may be found in the pedigrees of many of our current registrations.
The early pages of the history of the Norwegian Fjord horse in America might never have been written had it not been for the efforts of one determined person, Gene Bauer. Gene’s passion for the breed was apparent through his efforts to consolidate bloodlines from throughout the country. King Harald from western breeding, Gjestarson from the east, and Hjalmar from King Harald and Bente formed the foundation of his breeding stallions to mares from throughout North America. His determination was to see the organization he founded, the Norwegian Fjord Association of North America, become instrumental to the success and preservation of the pure Norwegian Fjord horse in America.
Harold Jacobson, of Norwegian birth, purchased a number of the horses from Alex Thompson’s TO Ranch and immediately recognized the gene pool of the American stock to be dangerously shallow. Traveling to Norway in the mid 1970’s, Jacobson began selecting a number of fine mares and the stallion Dragtind for improving his herd. More importantly, it was Jacobson, through his friendship with Jon Hegdal, Foreman of the Norges Fjordhestlag, who established and cemented the relationship the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry has to this day.
One needed to be only casually acquainted with both Gene Bauer and Harold Jacobson to realize these two gentlemen, self made, determined and proud, would eventually necessitate the need for two separate organizations. It would take many years for the Norwegian Fjord Association of North America and the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry to consolidate.
Harold had sold a number of horses to people throughout America. Among those were Sven Huseby and Phil Prichard who lived in Vermont and Jacque Lasseau of Massachusetts. The three met in the fall of 1980 at Sven’s home to discuss the possible formation of a new organization for the Fjord horse, an action they felt necessary due to the fact that some of them, having purchased horses from Jacobson, had run afoul of the dispute between Jacobson and Bauer. There were several others who had purchased horses from Harold who were unable to register their horses with the NFA of NA, despite the fact that all horses sold were of imported, Norwegian registered stock or American foundation stock registered with the NFA of NA.
Sven, Phil and Jacque set about to form the foundation of the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry. Sven penned the first writing of the By-Laws of the NFHR, the initial requirements for registration, and the breeding rules of our proposed new organization. Unique for the breed registries at the time would be Sven’s eye to the future as he recognized that crossbreeding of the Fjord horse to other breeds could prove to be detrimental to the breed and he wrote the rule that the NFHR does not permit crossbreeding.
A substantial financial contribution by Harold Jacobson provided the necessary funds for incorporation in the state of Vermont and the Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry, Inc. became an official breed organization with Sven Huseby becoming its first president until 1983.
Over the next few years Sven began to learn more about the Fjord horse world in Norway, Holland and Denmark. He spent hours at the offices of the Norges Fjordhestlag Office in Aas, Norway, and visited the Fjordenpaarden Stamboek in Hoenderloo, Holland. He quickly came to believe that we needed to move forward with building a registry in the U.S. that incorporated many of the best guidelines of those countries. The strong encouragement and financial support from Harold Jacobsen provided Sven the incentive to set a course that would bring those of us who had an interest in the breed, together.
It was at a presentation in Nordfjordeid, Norway that Phil met Jon Hegdal for the first time, a man whose love of his job as Foreman of the Norges Fjordhestlag and of the Fjord horse was inseparable. The friendship of these two people would provide direction for the NFHR for many years.
In the spring of 1988 Phil Prichard traveled to Norway and he and a veterinarian assigned to help Phil by the Norges Fjordhestlag, found and assembled forty young horses suitable to augment the American gene pool. When the horses gathered at the Gardermoen airport near Oslo, Jon Hegdal declared the assembly to be “The Big Lift”. As the years went by, more and more American breeders began importing Fjords from Norway, as well as other countries, and this has helped to build our gene pool.
The first NFHR show and evaluation was held in Woodstock, Vermont in 1983. People came from all over and between 20 and 30 horses were paraded before an international panel of judges. The comments of the judges indicated that they found the horses of American stock to be of exceptionally good quality.
About the same time as the NFHR show in Woodstock, there was a gathering of Fjords and owners in Hood River, Oregon. Jon Hegdal remarked that the horses he saw there were of such good quality that perhaps Norway should look to America should it ever need bloodlines.
Over the years, Fjord owners and enthusiasts began coming together for fellowship, competition, and information, and regional clubs were formed and are still active in a variety of places throughout the U.S.
The first official Fjord Herald was published in 1986. It has grown to be the large, beautiful, professional magazine that NFHR members receive and enjoy quarterly.
In the 1980’s, the NFHR Evaluation committee began to pen the process for evaluations of our horses through the training of qualified judges (evaluators). Those first qualified evaluators went to the Fjord show in Norway in 1990. The first evaluation to use the new American rules was held in Libby, Montana in 1994.
Another accomplishment was the work on artificial insemination and development of the NFHR rules for shipment of semen that would be emulated by many other breed organizations.
Talks began between the NFHR and the NFA of NA in the 1990’s, in the belief that if we could merge, the result would be a much stronger and more effective organization that would directly benefit the future and well being of the Fjord horse. Finally in 2003, the merger papers were officially signed, the two groups bringing the best ideas of each together, resulting in the growing, vibrant organization we have today. This organization’s main focus continues to be the preservation of the purity of our awesome breed.
Now retired, Executive Director & Registrar, Mike May handled the reins of the NFHR from 1991 through 2010. The first 5-6 of those years on a completely volunteer basis. Mike handled many details of the merger and worked hard keeping up with the constant growth of the NFHR.
The future looks bright for this organization that started humbly with just a small group of people who recognized that they had a responsibility to preserve and protect this beautiful horse that was so unique, pure and gentle. They did a good job getting it all started. Now it is up to us to preserve it and grow it, always with the first priority being those wonderful Fjords we love and enjoy so much.
NOTE: The NFHR thanks Phil Prichard for his excellent article, which is of great historical value.