History of the Friesian Horse
The Friesian horse is an ancient breed, originated in Friesland around 500 B.C.. Friesland was one of the twelve provinces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands in northwest Europe around that period. The Friesian horse is known as the only surviving native breed to this area which is now the Netherlands.
Throughout history, Friesians were a favored breed for use in battle. Friesian calvaries were noted by the Romans as early as 150 A.D.. The horses seen in historic battle illustrations have significant similarities to today’s breed. One of the first recordings specifically mentioning the Friesian horse was in 1544 when German official Johan Fredrik van Saksen rode a Friesian to the Reichstag in Spiers.
In the 17th century, it was common to see Friesians alongside Spanish breeds in European riding schools, primarily in those with a focus on classical dressage. This was also about when the breed was recognized for its talents as a carriage horse.
Arabian and Andalusian blood was introduced to the original Friesians in the 16th and 17th centuries during the crusades and the 80-year war with Spain. Their high knee-action, small head, and arched neck are generally attributed to the addition of Arabian and Andalusian bloodlines.
Throughout the 18th century, the use of Friesians became more limited to Friesland. Many historians believe this is due to the decline of European nobility after the French Revolution. The presence of the Friesian horse became a status symbol for wealthy landowners. During this period, Friesians were primarily used to pull carriages or for short-track trotting races.
At the end of the 19th century, the breed almost went completely extinct on a few occasions. By 1913, only three breeding stallions were remaining. The introduction of heavier, more practical breeds, such as the Bovenlander, was a significant cause of the breed’s almost demise. Farmers needed a draft breed suited to grueling work in the fields rather than an elegant carriage or riding horse. Thankfully, Friesians were kept alive during this dire time by the breeding programs of those who loved these horses. And, the demand for this breed was again revived in WWII when fuel shortages once again required more horsepower.
While the first records of imported Friesian horses into the United States were in 1625, the breed was eventually lost across North America because of crossbreeding. Friesians were reintroduced to the United States in 1974 by Tom Hannon of Canton, Ohio. By 1983, the breed became popular enough to warrant a national breed association and a national show in the United States.
Friesians have heavily influenced the development of many other breeds. Breeds such as Oldenburgers, Orlov Trotters, Norfolk Trotters, Shires, and some ponies, like the Fell and Dales ponies, all have the influence of Friesian bloodlines. Many horse owners believe Morgan horses also have roots in Friesian bloodlines, but there is no documentation proving the association.
Breed Characteristics of Friesians
Friesians should have a lot of presence, with an impressive full mane and tail, abundant feathers, a jet-black coat, and elevated gaits. Overall, Frisians should have a majestic and commanding presence. Think fairy tale horse!
Friesians should have an upward build that is functional and elegant, with a well-developed top line. Friesians have small, expressive, noble heads. The neck leaves the shoulder high and is long and arched.
Friesians can range in height from 14 hands to 17.1 hands. The preferred height under the KFPS is 16.1 hands. For a stallion to be registered in the studbook, they must be at least 15.3 hands by age four, and mares must be at least 15 hands. Horses under 15 hands cannot be registered in the adult studbook under the Dutch registry.
Friesians should have a solid black coat. A small white star on the forehead is allowable under the KFPS rules but is not ideal. The KFPS does not allow other colors to be registered, though some horses carry a red gene that occasionally produces chestnut foals.
Friesians are known for their willing-to-please attitude. This is a significant characteristic of the breed. These horses are honest, level-headed, and reliable on all fronts. Friesians are very intelligent, and when paired with their cooperative nature, they make a very trainable horse. Friesian horses also have the endurance and work ethic of a sport horse.
Common Uses of the Friesian Horse
Friesians make a great dressage horse because of their willingness, personality, and conformation. Their conformation is ideal for this discipline with their uphill build and proportionate in the length of the front end, back, and hindquarters. In addition, the horse’s long foreleg and shoulder allow for a lot of front-end suspension required in dressage.
Historically, the Friesian horse was used as a traditional carriage horse. Their fluid gaits and strong hindquarters make them wonderful driving horses. Carriage horses must be calm and sensible but physically strong and hardy—these attributes make Friesians great at this discipline. This breed also creates a beautiful picture of a carriage horse with its flowing mane and tail and high knee action.
The same characteristics that enable Friesians to excel at driving make them a perfect choice for exhibitions. The elegant look and majestic presences make them stand out in most events. They are commonly seen in events like renaissance festivals and circuses because of their noble presence and stunning features.
Friesian horses are incredibly popular in films because their elegant presence captivates the audience’s attention. The stunning jet-black coat, flowing mane and tail, long feathers, and high knee action create a stunning visual on camera. These horses are often seen as noble, which makes them perfect in historical films as a “knight in shining armor” horse. Some famous movies that feature Friesians include: “The Mask of Zorro,” “Sense and Sensibility,” “Alexander,” and “The Chronicles of Narnia.”
Friesian Horse Breed Registries
There are two primary Friesian breed registries: the Dutch KFPS and the German KPZV
The Dutch Friesian breed registry has been registering Friesian horses since 1879. They provide both registration and assessment of Friesians. They also serve as a resource for general questions regarding the breeding of these horses. More than 60,0000 horses are currently registered with this organization, and the studbook contains 15,000 official stallions.
Founded in 1879, the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA) was the first Friesian horse studbook in the United States. FHANA is overseen by the KFPS and was put in place to strictly regulate the registration of Friesian horses in the United States through years of careful evaluation and selection of breeding stock.
The German chapter of the Friesian breed registry was founded in 1979. The organization’s goals are to maintain the purebred breeding of Friesian horses, continue cooperating with the parent registry KFPS, and increase the exposure of the breed throughout Germany. The popularity of the FPZV has grown over the years, and it has now expanded to breeders across many nations.
Can you crossbreed Friesian horses?
No, you cannot crossbreed Friesians according to the KFPS registry rules. Crossbreeding a KFPS registered Friesian can result in the registration papers being pulled for that horse. While this may seem very restrictive, the breed registry is designed to preserve the breed after near extinction several times.
What is an approved stallion?
Under the KFPS rules, registered Friesian stallions must undergo extensive approval before breeding. Stallions are initially approved provisionally. Their offspring are then judged at a Keuring. If the judges believe the stallion is adding or improving the breed, they will give permanent breeding approval for the stallion.
What is the most famous Friesian horse?
Fredrik the Great is the most famous Friesian living today. Fredrik is a stallion that was born in The Netherlands but imported as a 6-year-old to the United States. He currently lives on a farm in Arkansas’ Ozark Mountains. He was named after the 18th-century Prussian monarch Fredrick the Great, and he is known for his long mane that reaches his fetlocks. In 2016, he was given the title of “The World’s Most Handsome Horse.”
What movies are Friesian horses in?
Friesians have been used in Hollywood in a wide variety of films. The following are some of the most famous ones:
- Ladyhawke (1985)
- The Mask of Zorro (1998)
- The Legend of Zorro (2005)
- The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (2005)
- 300 (2006)
- Game of Thrones (2011)
Are all Friesians black?
The only recognized color by KFPS is black. However, there is a chestnut color that can appear on rare occasions. These horses can’t be registered with the KFPS.
Can Friesian horses have a white star?
Yes, very small white markings are permitted. However, the KFSP prefers pure black.
What is a Keuring?
Keuring is the Dutch word for inspection. It’s a breed judging event where Friesian horses are judged based on the breed standard, similar to warmblood breed evaluations. The horses are judged in-hand for both movement and conformation. The judges at Keurings are certified in the Netherlands to judge the Friesians against a specific standard.
Ashton Kirkeide – Starlit Ridge Friesians
I’ve been around horses my entire life, but my Friesian journey started over 20 years ago. Our horses have always been a part of our family. They have traveled with us as we relocated from Vermont to New York to Iowa and finally, to Arizona. I can’t wait to share our story with you! You can find me on my website, Pinterest, or Instagram.