Veering off into horse color again…
Model horse folks will probably recognize this picture as the infamous “skjevet” Fjord. The picture comes from Dutch book De Haarkleur bij Het Paard, written by Reiner Geurts and published in 1973. Geurts refers to this as a “unique form of spotting with large white marks” that was “found in Norway, among certain strains of Fjord horses”.
I have long suspected that this “unique form of spotting” was in fact tobiano. The description given in the book sounds like tobiano, especially when you factor in how the pattern behaves in other Nordic breeds like the Shetland and the Icelandic. The pattern has a “white oblong patch, running diagonally from the neck over the wither and the shoulder downwards” that is sometimes linked to “spots on the back and ribs”. “Not infrequently” there is “white on the legs”. The Norse term skjevet even sounds similar to the Icelandic term for tobiano, skjottur. And older texts on Shetland Ponies often refer to the pattern as coming from ancient “Norse ponies”. With the pattern appearing in related breeds, it seemed more likely than a completely new pattern.
But it was hard to know for sure, with just one photo to go on. (And with the horse in knee-high grass no less!) So I was especially happy to learn of this thread on one of the Fjord forums. If you scroll down, you’ll see a historical photo of a skjevet Fjord. This horse is completely visible, though, and obviously a tobiano. Now that we know that tobiano was once part of the Fjord gene pool, I think its safe to assume that the horse from the Geurts book was also a tobiano. And since he mentions that white legs were “not infrequent” (rather than uniformly present), it’s probably likely that the expression was often minimal like it is in present-day Shetlands and Icelandics.
There are also non-dun Fjords pictured in that thread. Unfortunately a lot of inaccurate information has been spread, often in popular general-market horse books, that the uniform dun color was proof of the “ancient” nature of the breed. The truth is that the breed varied in color much like any other until the 1920s, when the influence of a few popular sire lines changed that.
What I do find interesting is that the thread appears to have started with someone mentioning that their horse had a white foot. If there are, indeed, white feet in the breed then it is likely that some type of pinto pattern remains – or has entered the gene pool. Much has been written about lower lips as markers for sabino, but what I have seen is that in breeds where no form of sabino is thought to exist (primarily the primitive ponies) what you do not see is leg white. In breeds with just tobiano, any leg white at all is indicative of the tobiano pattern. In breeds with just splash overo, any white on the feet indicates the horse is a (heterozygous) splash. Which leads me to wonder if the tobiano pattern has truly been lost in the breed.
For a look at just how minimal the pattern can be in the Shetland, here is a good example. We tend to think of tobiano as a pattern that, unlike the overos, cannot “hide” across generations. But in breeds where tobiano can look like this, perhaps it is possible.