Friesian Horses: History and Beauty
Origin of the Breed
Friesian (also spelled Frisian) horses are a light draft breed native to the Friesland area of the Netherlands. It is one of the oldest domesticated breeds in the world.
The ancestors of this breed are believed to be the wild forest horse, a prehistoric era horse which was native to much of Europe. The wild forest horse, also known as the tarpan, became extinct in the early 20th century, victim to human hunting and taste for horse meat.
A modern form of the wild forest horse has been revived by the selective breeding of closely related horses. An excellent article about the wild forest horse is "Galloping Ghosts."
The first references to the "Friesian breed" were made in the 16th century. As early as the 14th century, people wrote about the beautiful, as yet unnamed horses used by mounted Frisian troops from the Netherlands.
The oldest known artwork of this beautiful horse is from 1568. The magnificent horses used by the Frisian troops in these paintings strongly resemble the breed later recognized formally as Friesians.
The Magnificent Frederik the Great, Friesian Stallion
History of the Breed
The early draft Friesian horses are believed to have been used as war horses for knights. The horses large size and massive strength were ideal for carrying the weight of the mounted knight and all his armor.
As weaponry and warfare evolved, the heavy draft horse was no longer needed and/or practical for long protracted battles. A lighter horse was needed to be less burdensome to feed and care for. A smaller horse ate less feed and produced less waste. The native Friesian horse was bred to smaller, lighter horses to reduce its size.
It is believed that in the 17th century, Spanish Andalusians were crossbred with the Friesians to make the breed even lighter and more nimble for battle and carriage work. This crossbreeding probably accounts for the Friesian's high-stepping gait and long, flowing mane and tail.
Friesians were also used in agriculture as plow and work horses. Their even temperament and willingness to work made them ideal as carriage horses for bustling and chaotic cities.
19th Century to Present
The Friesian was still popular carriage horse due to its presence, temperament, and fancy gait. It also began to be used as a trotter for racing, and more cross-breeding created an even lighter weight version of the breed.
In the late 1800's the Friesian's numbers dwindled as other horse breeds increased in popularity. A registry, the Koninklijke Vereniging, the Friesian Horse Studbook (KFPS) was introduced in 1879 to register the stallions. The breed saw a resurgence in popularity that ironically led to the export of most of the best native breeding stock from Denmark.
It was at this time that the standard black color of the Friesian was mandated. Until the 20th century, approximately 20% of horses born were chestnut. The chestnut color is much less common today, occurring now only if both the sire and dam have the recessive "chestnut" gene.
By the early 1900s, there were only three breeding stallions left to replenish the Danish stock. All purebred modern Friesians can trace their ancestry back to Nemo, a stallion born in 1885.
The advent of modern farm equipment led to another large drop in the number of horses available for breeding. Only 500 brood mares were registered in 1965.
Fortunately, a Dutch riding club grew determined to save the breed from extinction. With their efforts at promoting this ancient breed, the popularity and subsequent number of Friesians grew rapidly. There are now over 60,000 registered purebred Friesians throughout the world.
The modern horse, with its classy, fluid movement, is now popular for pleasure riding, dressage, and harness driving.
Friesians are famous for their glossy ebony coat, high crest, luxuriant long mane and tail, and the heavy feathering around their hooves. To be registered, a horse may not be any other color other than black, although a small white star on the forehead will be accepted.
The average horse is between 15 and 17 hands tall (a hand is equivalent to 4 inches, and is measured from the ground to the highest point of the withers).
A calm, quiet horse, it is energetic and carries itself with pride and grace. This is a high-stepping horse which carries itself with pride and is beautiful in action, whether walking, trotting, or galloping.
Friesians in Movies
Mask of Zorro
Conan the Barbarian (2011)
Clash of the Titans (2010)
Chronicles of Narnia
An absolutely beautiful video of Friesians.
- KFPS > Home
The Friesian horse. There she is: fiery, strong, intelligent, and looking just a bit superior. As if she knows of her centuries-old heritage. As if she knows of the place she has in so many hearts.
- The Friesian Horse Society, International registration for Friesian Horses in North America, includi
The FHS is a non-profit organization whose mission is to both promote and preserve the beautiful Friesian horse through education and strict registration standards, as originated in the Netherlands for this Dutch breed.
- Friesian Horses for Sale
There is, perhaps, no more beautiful breed of horse than the Friesian. That, combined with the fact that they are graceful and nimble for their size, explains why this centuries old breed is now popular in both Europe and the United States.