Friesian: Breed History
The Friesian horse is the only representative of the original native horse of Western Europe. Throughout time the Friesian has survived under constantly changing circumstances. The armored knights found the Friesian horse very desirable, having the strength to carry great weight and still maneuver precisely. The Hungarian King Louis II used a Friesian stallion on the battlefield on June 15, 1526. The Friesian was used as a war-horse by Friesian soldiers fighting with the Roman Armies, and later was used by knights and traveled all the way to the Middle East with the Crusaders.
Their suppleness and agility made Friesians sought after in the riding schools of Paris and Spain in the 15th and 16th centuries. In the Middle Ages it was mainly used as a knight's horse but in the 18th and 19th century the Friesian was especially famous as a trotting horse on short distances. The Friesian was so well adapted as a fast trotting coach horse that it was, in fact, Friesians who invented trotting races over short distances (320 meters) during the 18th century.
Unfortunately as time progressed, machines took over agricultural duties and automobiles became increasingly available, and the Friesian horse began to disappear. At one time the amount of registered Friesian horses became even less than a thousand and the fate of the breed was uncertain. In fact, the number of Friesian stallions reputedly was reduced to only three prior to World War I. The Friesian has been saved from extinction by a group of dedicated breeders in Friesland, a northern province of Holland. Breeding is done under strict guidelines such as rigorous selection, performance testing and classification to ensure that the quality of the breed remains very high. The "Friesch Paarden-Stamboek" (Friesian Horse Registry, or FPS ) dates back to 1879. Until 1943 both purebred and crossbred Friesian horses were registered.
New possibilities for the use of the Friesian horse were sought. Today the Friesian horse is used for many purposes: carriage driving, pleasure riding, combined driving and for riding in many different disciplines. In recent years the Friesian has excelled in the dressage arena.
Now, at the turn of the 21st century, the future of this ancient breed looks relatively favorable. However, in order to maintain the integrity of the breed, it is important that the FPS rules, regulations and strict guidelines are respected. The Modern Day Friesian has enjoyed its share of publicity, regularly being seen on the big screen in movies such as LadyHawke, Interview with a Vampire, Sense and Sensibility, Emma, Disney's Tall Tales, and The Mask of Zorro.
The FPS registers purebred Friesian horses and also looks after the further interests of this ancient breed. The Friesian Horse Association of North America ( FHANA ) is the North American representative of the Dutch registry. All horses are inspected and graded by qualified judges from the parent registry in the Netherlands. This rigid grading system helps improve breeding quality. Horses are evaluated on their athletic ability, conformation and breed characteristics.
The Friesian is a noble animal, possessing a kind and willing character, intelligence and strength, and has a very specific appearance. The horses are always completely black, with a long wavy mane and tail, and fetlocks (also called feathers) on the legs. No white markings are permitted, except for a small white star on the forehead. Friesians have a small noble head, often an arched neck, and very distinctive movement with accentuated leg action and powerful hindquarters. Their movement is forward and elevated. The average height is 15- l7 hands with an average weight of 1300-1600 pounds. Generally the Friesian has a lively and pleasant disposition.
With only about 4000 Friesians in the United States, they have not been well known here. But the excitement over this breed is catching on.