Ponies of the Vikings

Horses find home in ranch west of Craig

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Tom Soos was looking for the right horses to breed on his ranch west of Craig when his wife, Brenda, suggested they check out Norwegian Fjords.

"It's a hearty winter breed," Soos said. "They drive, pack, ride and jump. They are very versatile."

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Five years ago, the couple bought their first pair of horses at the Adams County Fairgrounds. The brood mares they acquired were classic examples of the breed -- strong, durable and pleasant natured, sporting a bristly mane with a dorsal stripe running from forelock to tail.

Soos said the breed produces a "horse-sized draft horse" that pound for pound can out pull Clydesdales.

"They have hard feet, and you don't need to shoe them much," he said. "They're a calm breed, and good with young children. The kids never get dragged or pulled around."

The breed is believed to have migrated from Asia to Norway more than 4,000 years ago. Viking burial sites indicate Fjord horses have been selectively bred for at least 2,000 years.

Vikings used the breed as their primary war mount, and it has continued for centuries as a general-purpose pony for Norway farmers.

The breed flourished in colder climates such as Canada and in Wisconsin, where a large Norwegian population used them for logging and hauling firewood through dense forests.

The horses eat "quite a bit," Soos said, consuming a semi and a half load of hay each winter.

"They prefer to live outside, even in the winter," Soos said. "They really don't like staying in the barn."

Due to their Canadian breeding, most of their young are born in October or November, allowing the horses to work through the summer, with babies dropping in the fall.

Soos said today cross breeding is frowned upon, and once a mare or stud is crossbred, none of its future offspring can be registered.

The six Fjords owned by Soos have Canadian registrations, including his stud Ranger.

Ranger is a 9-year-old that carries a long mane falling about his face, a trademark of males of the breed and useful for keeping flies out of the eyes.

He is friendly and easy to catch, Soos said, although he doesn't care much for the electric clippers.

This time of year Soos begins "spring cleaning," of the horses. Brushing the coats and clipping the manes short helps them through warm summers. The standard for the breed is long tails and shaved manes, he said.

"It distinguishes them from other breeds, showing off their solid, muscular necks," Soos said. "In the summertime they really slick-up. Looking all shiny and clean."

Soos said the horses like to lie down like a dog with their heads on their front legs, and it is not uncommon for the horses to live to be 30 years old.

Soos began his horse operations with the intent of breeding and driving the animals. He purchased his stud two years ago and hopes to breed the horses this summer.

Soos has had inquires from Grand Junction people interested in using them as packhorses.

He has a sleigh, wagon and cart for the horses, and enough harness for a four-horse hitch.

Soos made his first horse purchase when he was 18 years old in New Jersey, where he had to board his mount.

Spending 31 years as an Emergency Medical Technician and 25 as a paramedic, Soos appreciates the peace and quiet of coming home to the ranch and spending time with the horses.

"They are really great to have around the place," he said. "I'm a winter person, and it doesn't get better than winters around here."

Dan Olsen can be reached at 824-7031, ext. 207, or dolsen@craigdailypress.com.

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