SPOKANE, Wash. (AP) - When Ben Finnoe and his daughter Samantha, 12, first encountered Norwegian fjord horses at a neighbor's barn four years ago, something clicked. Finnoe was not a horse person, but the dun horses with their spiky manes and laid-back attitudes won his heart on the spot.
"My heritage is half Norwegian - maybe that's why I liked them so much?" Ben Finnoe said, glancing at his wife, Holly Finnoe. She shakes her head a little.
"He was all gung-ho about buying the horses - I was a little more careful," Holly Finnoe said.
Today, the couple own nine fjord horses, the oldest being a 31-year-old mare and the youngest being one of two foals born on their property near Mount Spokane. Together with their five children, they have become full-on fjord fans.
And this week they're driving a huge new trailer with two horses, a carriage, tack, horse food and grooming essentials to Pasadena, Calif., where they are going to be in the Tournament of Roses Parade on Jan. 1.
"We have done parades together before, but never something as big as this," Holly Finnoe said. "We are very excited about it."
The Finnoes belong to the Pacific Northwest Fjord Promotional Group, which is part of the national Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry. The national registry applied for the spot in the Rose Parade, got it, and then called the Finnoes and asked if they would like to go.
"We just couldn't say no," Holly Finnoe said. "We had to go."
They've been training extra hard with the two geldings, Deilig, 6, and Indi, 10, to get them ready for the parade.
"When we started doing this we really didn't know what we were doing," Holly Finnoe said. She laughs. "I guess we were two green horse people buying two green horses."
They quickly realized they needed help from trainers as they were learning how to handle the horses, as well as riding and driving them.
Now the whole family rides and drives; Samantha even uses one of the fjord horses for barrel racing.
Fjord horses are one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. Their remains have been found in Viking burial sites, suggesting that they have been bred selectively for more than 2,000 years. Ben Finnoe affectionately called them "the tractor of Norway." On a visit to Norway last year, he said he realized how difficult farming was along the deep fjords, were cliffs plunge straight down and little pieces of farmland are carved out wherever possible.
"The horses lived with the family. People rode them and used them in the fields; they were used for everything," Ben Finnoe said. "Now I know why they are the way they are."
At 13 or 14 hands (about 4 1/2 feet), fjord horses are not tall, but they are strong.
They usually have a pleasant temperament, though a bit of a reputation for being stubborn.
"We say they are determined, not stubborn," Holly Finnoe said, laughing. "They don't spook, they aren't high-strung and our kids are perfectly safe around them."
All five Finnoe children - Ashton, 15, Samantha, 12, Michael, 10, Virginia, 6, and Kristofer, 15 months, - are going on the California trip. The children are lobbying hard for a visit to Disneyland as well, but Holly Finnoe hasn't quite said yes to that.
Ben Finnoe is not too worried about transporting the horses the long distance.
"The trailer has sleeping quarters in it and we figure we need to spend two nights on the way down there," Ben Finnoe said. "They will be fine."
Indi and Deilig don't seem to mind the attention and the training. Before leaving for California, both horses need a thorough haircut as their woolen winter coats are too heavy for Pasadena weather. They will be stabled at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center, where they will also participate in the Tournament of Roses Equestfest.
"The theme of the Rose Bowl parade is `Dreams Come True,'?" Holly Finnoe said. "We never dreamed we'd be doing something like this when we got our first horses."
Information from: The Spokesman-Review, http://www.spokesman.com
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