Kleng, an 18-year-old Norwegian Fjord horse who has carried hundreds of disabled riders on his strong back over the years at the NorthWest Therapeutic Riding Center (NWTRC) outside Bellingham, Washington, won the "2009 Equine of the Year Award," presented in Fort Worth, Texas, by the NARHA, a national association of equine assisted activity and therapy.
Kleng has "a strong steady walk, a tireless trot and a ‘rocking horse’ canter," according to Julia Bozzo, his owner and executive director of NWTRC. A gentleman and a dandy horse, Kleng jumps, trail rides, longes well with a rider and is trained to pull a cart.
Dozens of horses from therapeutic riding programs around the United States and Canada compete each year, first in their respective regions and then among the regional winners for the national Equine of the Year. Kleng was chosen as the winner for Region 9 before the national conference held November 15-21 in Fort Worth. "When his name was announced at the conference gala as the winner, I thrilled beyond belief," said Bozzo. "Of course, anybody who has worked with or ridden Kleng knows that his smooth gait and friendly calm personality make him very special, but it’s just so gratifying to have him recognized nationally."
Kleng’s personality is so steady, according to Bozzo, that early in his therapeutic riding career he responded to the bouquet of purple balloons that arrived at the ring by leading his handler and rider over to get a better look and a sniff of the new purple arrivals. Norwegian Fjord horses are said to have been in evidence during the time of the Vikings, but Kleng originally hailed from Vancouver Island, where he was related to most of the other Fjords on the island. Trained since the age of four to work in equine-assisted activities, Kleng has worked as a therapy horse at NWTRC for 13 years. Kleng performs in many disciplines, in many environments and for many ability levels. "He thrives from lots of riding and handling and always seems to look forward to the next challenge," Julia Bozzo commented. "Especially at the end of the session when he gets a carrot," she adds.