The History of the Friesian Horse
As one of the world's oldest equine breeds, the Friesian is native to the northern province of Friesland in The Netherlands, where it is deemed a national treasure. With powerful muscles beneath its lustrous black lacquered coat, and a gentle disposition that endears the animal to those of the two-legged kind, the Friesian has enchanted Europeans for centuries. Experts suspect that the Friesian's most influential ancestor was the prehistoric Equus robustus, an enormous horse that once roamed the region now known as the Netherlands.
The monks were well known for their horse breeding in the middle ages, and reputedly crossed the draft-type Equus robustus descendant's with lighter horse breeds. The result was the Friesian, a horse with incredible strength and agility, coupled with a willing, kind, yet lively disposition. These skillful monks created not only one of Europe's first pure horse breeds but also one of the world's first warmbloods.
The Romans were among the first to acknowledge the Friesian as a powerful working horse. Despite being ugly in their eyes, the strength, docility and endurance was proved when carrying the German knights to the Crusades. Later, the Friesian became better looking; contact with the eastern horses improved the Friesian, as did the infusion of the Andalusian blood when the Spanish occupied the Netherlands during the Eighty Years' War. The descendents of this heavy horse were valued as saddle horses by the medieval nobility and are portrayed by many of the Old Dutch Master-Painters.
In turn, the Friesian was used to improve other breeds, such as the Oldenburg that was mainly founded on Friesian blood (and in later years, Oldenburg blood was used to re-establish the Friesian breed). The New Forest, Dale, Fell Ponies, the Morgan Horse and from there the Standard bred, Orlov Trotter, Swedish Warmblood, Kladruber and the Norwegian Dole Gudbrandsdal were all influenced by the Friesian. Through its derivative, the Old English Black, the Friesian also influenced England's Great Horse, now known as the Shire.
The Friesian is always jet-black with a long flowing mane and tail, often to the ground. His action is flamboyant and eye-catching. He can be driven, ridden, jumped, likes working on the land or performing in the circus, and is one of the most versatile breeds of the world. The Friesian is a harmoniously and evenly built horse with a noble head and bright intelligent eyes, and small attentive ears that are slightly inclining towards each other. He carries his noble head on a crested neck that is not too short and slightly bent, continuing on to a strong back, ending in a croup that is not too short and should not be too slanted. His shoulders are powerful and slanted, and has long ribs that are well-arched. The arm is well-developed, and ends with strong legs and feet, accented by a sufficient growth of hair on the lower foot, a nice crest and a long tail. In short, this is a horse with a luxuriant and proud appearance, full of temperament, willing to work and is honest. The height at the shoulder at three years of age of 1.60 meters is considered ideal. The Friesian has smooth, square, elegant and grand gaits; the walk should be straight, strong and supple from the powerful hindquarters swinging forward. The trot should have a roomy forward action, feet lifted highly, with good power from the hindquarters; the trot should be light footed with a floating movement and enough flexion in the hock. The canter is cheerful and sustained with power from the hindquarters and flexion in the hock.
The Friesian Around The World
The Friesian Horse used to appear in all of Western Europe, but from about 1900 only in Friesland. Friesland is still the center of breeding, but at present their popularity is increasing every year; there are now Friesians in Scotland, France, Germany, America, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, South Africa, Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria and Australia. Nowadays, the Friesian is popular in harness and in the show ring. The Friesian can be found in the circus, because of its striking carriage and willingness to adapt itself, is also found under saddle, competing in dressage up to international levels, but its first function remains supreme. It is a cheerful, loyal, very sensitive all-rounder with a unique and pleasant character.
Since 1879, the Friesian Horse has been registered by the Royal Society "Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek" (FPS). It is the oldest horse studbook of The Netherlands; at present a total of some 5000 Friesian horses are registered in it. Separate registers are kept for fillies and colts, for mares, stallions and geldings. Fillies and colts are micro-chipped to prevent confusion. When full grown at the age of three, it can be entered in the Studbook if there is sufficient quality. On approval, the horses are then branded with the FPS brands.
In short, the primary aim of the FPS is to promote the Friesian Horse and to breed horses with fine exteriors yet maintain the typical racial features that are capable of high performances in both sports (show driving, driving, dressage under saddle, mixed) and recreation. This should be done by careful selection within the breed. Firstly, "breeding horses with fine exteriors" is not the only purpose of the FPS, as Friesians are not only bought especially for show and driving; there are many breeders, horse lovers and leisure sports people who take to the Friesian horse. It is remarkable that even in years when in many studbooks the number of members and horses dropped, the FPS showed an increase and still does. The breeding of Friesian horses has a relative narrow basis with only three lines: the Tetman line, the Age line and the Ritske line.
The Friesian Horse Association
The question what the original Friesian horse looked like and how it developed is difficult to answer. During the Middle Ages, they were found from Norway to Spain and Western Europe; the knights used these indigenous horses. These heavy baroque horses can be seen on old pictures and paintings. This image changed when many Friesian horses were used for trotting races. After 1920, hard times began for the Friesian horses (there were only three stallions in 1917) when they were mainly used in agriculture. Its relatively short legs and high weight (650-700kg) were two fundamental changes that were bred into the breed. After 1970, the tractor superseded the horse almost entirely in farm labor. From this time onwards, the horse was increasingly used as is described in sports and recreation. Some members who like to see the Friesian as a farm horse and want to continue breeding it are of course free to do so, especially if the breeder aims to improve the weak points of the breed. The breeding purpose is to breed a "Modern Friesian" horse, which still has the typical characteristics of the breed, but at an improved length of leg; forearm, and neck, and more animation at all three gaits.
* The pictures of the horse rolling, horse running, and the group of hourses are from the Friesian Horses Book.