Information about Friesian Horses

The Friesian horse is a rare and noble breed of horse. Friesians are native to the province of Friesland in the northern Netherlands. The breed faced extinction on several occasions, but was saved in 1913 by a dedicated group of breeders in Friesland. At that time there was only three studbook stallions left in the world. Today there are over 80 fps-approved stallions in the world.
The breed standard is pure black with the possibility of a small white star on its forehead. Typically Friesian horses have a long heavy mane, tail and fetlocks. The Friesian horse is very strong and muscular it stands between 15 and 16 hands. Friesians are known for their excellent disposition. They are extremely friendly and intelligent horses.

This summary is more background information then a true history of Friesian horses. To get more detailed information on Friesian history, please try the links below. You will find many great pages with excellent information. So go ahead and enjoy.
The Friesian (also Frisian) horse is a breed of horse from Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. Although the breed's conformation resembles that of a light draft horse, Friesians are graceful and nimble for their size. During the Middle Ages, the ancestors of Friesian horses were in great demand as war horses throughout continental Europe. Through the Early Middle Ages and High Middle Ages, their size enabled them to carry a knight in armor. In the Late Middle Ages, heavier, draft type animals were needed. Though the breed nearly became extinct on more than one occasion, the modern day Friesian horse is growing in numbers and popularity, used both in harness and under saddle. Most recently, the breed is being introduced to the field of dressage.

Breed characteristics
A Friesian stallion in show stanceThe Friesian is most often recognized by its black coat color, though color alone is not their only distinguishing characteristic. Friesians also have a long, thick mane and tail, and "feather"--long, silky hair on the lower legs, deliberately left untrimmed. The official breed rarely has white markings of any kind; most registries allow only a small star on the forehead for purebred registration. Though extremely rare, and not accepted for registration in most cases, Friesians are occasionally chestnut. The Friesian's average height is about 15.3 hands (1.60 m), although it may vary from 14.2 to 17 hands (between 1.5 m and 1.7 m) tall at the withers, and mares must be at least 15.2 hands (1.57 m) tall to qualify for a special 'star-designation' pedigree. The breed is known for a fast, high-stepping trot. The Friesian is considered a willing, active, and energetic horse that is also gentle and docile. A Friesian tends to have great presence and to carry itself very proudly.
The breed has powerful overall conformation and good bone structure, with what is sometimes called a Baroque body type. Friesians have long, arched necks and well-chiseled, short-eared, "Spanish type" heads. Their sloping shoulders are quite powerful. They have compact, muscular bodies with strong sloping hindquarters and a low-set tail. Their limbs are comparatively short and strong.

History of the Friesian
The breed was developed in the province of Friesland in the northern Netherlands, where there is evidence of thousands of years of horse populations, and this breed is said to have descended from the primitive Forest Horse. It is also said that Romans obtained ancestors of the Friesian horse for riding and also took them to England, where the breed type may have influenced the Shire horse, Clydesdale, Fell Pony and Dales Pony.
Ancestors of the modern Friesians were used in medieval times to carry knights to battle. In the 12th and 13th centuries, some eastern horses of crusaders were mated with Friesian stock. During the 16th and 17th centuries, when there was less demand for heavy war horses as battle arms changed and especially when Spanish forces occupied The Netherlands during the Eighty Years' War, Andalusian blood was added to lighten the breed in order to lighten its weight and thereby render it more suitable (in terms of less food intake and waste output) for work as a more urban carriage horse. Friesians were also used by riding schools in France and Spain for high-school dressage, and they remain popular today for their gentle temperaments and proud appearance.

The historian Ann Hyland wrote of the Friesian breed:
The Emperor Charles (reigned 1516-56) continued Spanish expansion into the Netherlands, which had its Frisian warhorse, noted by Vegetius and used on the continent and in Britain in Roman times. Like the Andalusian, the Frisian bred true to type. Even with infusions of Spanish blood during the sixteenth century occupation, it retained its indigenous characteristics, taking the best from both breeds. The Frisian is mentioned in 16th and 17th century works... a courageous horse eminently suitable for war, lacking the volatility of some breeds or the phlegm of very heavy ones. Generally black, the Frisian was around 15hh with strong, cobby conformation, but with a deal more elegance and quality. The noted gait was a smooth trot coming from powerful quarters. Nowadays, though breed definition is retained, the size has markedly increased, as has that of most breeds due to improved rearing and dietary methods.

The breed was especially popular in the 18th and 19th centuries, when they were not only in demand as harness horses and for agricultural work, but also for the trotting races then so popular. The Friesian was used as foundation stock for breeds such as the Orlov Trotter, the Norfolk Trotter (ancestor of the Hackney), and the Morgan. In the 1800s the Friesian was bred to be lighter and faster for trotting, however this led to what some owners and breeders regarded as inferior stock, so a movement to return to pureblood stock took place by the end of the century.
The Friesian stud registry book, Friesch Paarden Stamboek (FPS) was founded in 1879 by a group of Dutch farmers dedicated to preserving the breed. Friesians had become popular for crossbreeding due to their excellent trot, presence, and color, and as a result, Friesian "purity" was severely threatened. The "Royal Society Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek" was founded to protect and promote the breed's bloodline.

In spite of the creation of the Society, Friesian horse populations continued to dwindle into the early 20th century partly due to displacement by petroleum-powered farm equipment and passenger vehicles. Due to fuel rationing during World War II the Freisian's farm and carriage use was revived, saving the breed long enough for both its population and popularity to rebound.
The Friesian also influenced the "Old Black Horse" of the U.S. farm belt (especially the Midwest, where unpredictable and unseasonal weather often paddocked less robust breeds), influenced the Dole Gudbrandsdal of Norway, and formed the stock base for Germany's Marbach stud, contributing to the development of both the Oldenburg and the W├╝rttemberger breeds.
Today, there are two distinct conformation types. The baroque type has the more robust build of the classical Friesian. The modern, sport horse type is finer-boned. Conformation type is judged less important than correct movement, and both types are common today.

The Friesian today
A Friesian in surcingle, showing at the trotFrom the latter part of the 20th century until the present, demand for purebreds, particularly the finer-boned, taller, more agile version of the Friesian increased, so breeders began to produce both purebreds and a lighter-weight crossbred horse with valued characteristics.
Friesian horses are popular in both Europe and the United States, and are often used today for Dressage competition and pleasure riding. Friesian and Friesian-mixed horses can do well in dressage competition due the breed's strong intellect, appearance, power, and body control. Due to its heavy, muscular physique the purebred Friesian is not as well-suited to aerobic sports like horse racing or endurance riding.

The Friesian also remains popular as a carriage horse, as it is a powerful horse and its high-stepping action is eye-catching. It is particularly popular in competitions that require the driving of a team, partly because of its movement and disposition, and partly because it is easy to match teams of black horses. Friesians are also good all-around horses, used for showing, driving, and general riding, and are also used as circus horses.

Due to its striking appearance and mild temperament, the Friesian has become popular in the film industry. The breed owes much of its current popularity to the appearance of a Friesian stallion in the 1985 film, Ladyhawke, which ignited a worldwide interest in these horses. Films such as Eragon, The Mask of Zorro, Alexander, and 300 have also featured Friesian horses. Though they are of dramatic appearance, sometimes their use in dramatizations of actual historical events is of dubious accuracy, given that the breed as it is known today only came into being within the last 400 to 600 years.

The Friesian has been used in a verity of ways over the years. Friesian horses have been used as war horses by Friesian soldiers fighting with the Norman armies and by knights during the crusades. The breed has been used to farm fields but this is no longer a common activity for them. They are a popular horse among the English royalty for riding and pulling carriages.

 

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