Fjord horses good fit for low-impact lifestyle

Bev Sluss talks with one of the Norwegian Fjord horses she and her husband, John, raise in Brooten. Fjords are small draft horses capable of pulling three times their weight.
Bev Sluss talks with one of the Norwegian Fjord horses she and her husband, John, raise in Brooten. Fjords are small draft horses capable of pulling three times their weight.08

By Jennie Zeitler
Staff Writer
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John and Bev Sluss (rhymes with “juice”) brought home their first Norwegian Fjord horses in 1992.

John counsels horse buyers not to take a four-horse trailer when horse shopping, however. Four horses came home that day. A colt was born before sunrise the next day.

Bev was from Hibbing and John from southern Minnesota when they met in the Twin Cities. They moved to southern Pope County in 1975 and to their farm in the city limits of Brooten in 1986. Their daughter, Colleen, was a high school sophomore.

While visiting friends in Wyoming, they looked at Fjords and knew they had found the small draft breed they were looking for. What sold them on Fjords was watching five-year-old Colleen walking under and around a stallion who didn’t even blink an eye.

“The stallion was as calm as could be,” John said. “We didn’t want a great big draft horse.”

The couple tells story after story about the calm demeanor and easy temperament of the Fjord horses.

“John’s dad walked out with his cane to see the horses one day,” Bev said. “Pa called them and they came running in toward him; I had to hold back John’s sister from running to help Pa. The horses made a big circle around him so he could pet a couple at a time. They just knew to be gentle.”

Fjord horses are said to be one of the world’s oldest and purest breeds, dating back more than 4,000 years.

Archaeological excavations at Viking burial sites indicate that the Fjord horse has been selectively bred for at least 2,000 years.

Fjords generally range in size from 13.2 to 14.2 hands at maturity. They are hardy horses, adaptable to any temperature.

Fjords are pretty clever. One Sluss gelding in particular loved the grass around the Brooten airport, next to the farm.

“He would get out of the pasture and go eat that grass,” John said. “I sat for hours with binoculars watching, and he’d be out within 15 minutes of when I quit. We never figured out where he got out.”

The same horse opened barn doors. With the top of a split door open, he could unhook the bottom. It wasn’t long before a sturdier hook was installed.

Although the horses are patient most of the time, “Don’t get in the way when it’s time to eat,” said John.

“They’re smart and inquisitive and very forgiving,” Bev said.

“They’re easy keepers,” John said. “They have a fast trot and they’re good with buggies.”

“And they have a long stride,” said Bev. “Our daughter passed up quarter horses at a show.”

At one time Bev and John had 29 head, when the horse market was good.

“Now, most of the horses we sell go to older farmers who want to downsize their horse farming or start up horse farming,” John said. “The small horses are easier to harness.”

There are 13 head now at the Sluss farm, including three foals born this year.

The horses often pick out their new owners. When someone comes to look at the herd, a horse or two will come up to them.

“One of the geldings bonded with a woman whose mind was set on a mare,” said Bev.

“Three months later she was back and took the gelding,” John said. “When I asked if she wanted to return the mare, she said no because the mare had bonded with her husband.”

A vet has visited the farm only two times in 21 years for health problems, both tick-related.

John and Bev also raise small grains, hay and vegetables for market. They were part of the group that established the Sustainable Farming Association of Minnesota.

“The very first meeting was at our house,” John said. “We believe in a low-impact lifestyle and the horses are part of that,” John said. “It’s the connection to the land with the horses and farming sustainably.”

For more information, call (320) 346-2538.