The Friesian horse is one of the oldest European breeds native to the Netherlands, and gets it's name from from the province Friesland. Friesians descend from the Equus Robustus. Arabian blood was introduced to the breed in the 16th and 17th centuries, largely from Andalusian horses from spain.
It was originally used as a military horse by the Romans, but the Friesian has also been used for riding and agricultural work and throughout history as a cavalry and a carriage horse.
With the introduction of petroleum-powered farm equipment on dairy farms, the popularity of the Friesian horse was declining by the beginning of World War I and was in danger of extinction, but revival of the breed began during World War II when there was a shortage of vehicles. At it's lowest, the number of Friesians registered dropped to less than 1,000 before WWI, with some reports claiming there at one point to be only 3. These days there are around 6,000 registered Friesians in the United States.
Characteristics of the Friesian
The Friesian Horse usually ranges from 15.3 to 16.3hh, but can grow as big as 17hh. It has a long head, strong body, full mane and thick tail and fetlocks. Friesians are powerfully muscled with agile with elegant movement. They have a high stepping action which likely comes from the Andalusian blood they inherited. They are almost always black, but occasionally they may be chestnut color if they carry the "red" gene. Some can have a small white star on the forehead. Only black Friesians can be registered, but some with the white star are allowed.
There are two main confirmation types. The "baroque" type has the strong build of the classifcal Friesian. The "sport horse" type is more modern and finer boned, and is more likely to be found in the show ring. Friesian Horses are a companionable, willing, hard-working and sensitive breed.
Registering a Friesian Horse
There are strict rules on the registering of friesian horses, and it can be helpful to be aware of them in order to make an informed purchase. The main registry organization for Friesians is the FPS. Friesian foals and adult horses are inspected by an FPS judge to evaluate their quality based on their movement and confirmation. The movement represents 60% of the evaluation and confimation is 40%.
If you are planning on buying a friesian colt with the aim of using him as an eventual stallion, you need to follow very strict guidelines to get him approved, which you can find more about by reading this registry overview.
Modern day use of Friesians
These days friesian horses are most commonly used for dressage. The Friesian's glossy black coat, flying mane and tail and eloquent high stepping action make it an imposing image in the show ring.
Friesians are also popular as a driving or carriage horse due to it's powerful movement and are particularly good in team competitoins and in the circus as it is easy to match friesians in a team due to their color. The Friesian is also good as a general riding horse.
Friesian Horses in popular culture
The Friesian is a popular choice for movie roles due to its dramatic and powerful appearance. The friesian began it's career as a popular movie horse due to the film LadyHawke which featured the Friesian called "Othello" and ignited a friesian frenzy. Since then they have appeared in films such as Eragon, The Chronicles of Narnia, The Mask of Zorro and most recently in The Hunger Games movies during the tribute parade.
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