Breed Organization Information
About the Breed
The Friesian Horse originated in Friesland, one of twelve provinces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands (Holland), situated in the northwest of Europe. Friesland is an old country dating to 500 B.C., when the Friesians settled along the cost of the North Sea. They were tradesmen, seafarers, farmers and horse breeders.
The Friesian horse descends from the Equus robustus. During the 16th and 17th centuries, but probably also earlier, Arabian blood was introduced, especially through Andalusian horses from Spain. This has given them the high knee-action, the small head and the craning neck. Because of his temperament the Friesian horse is considered warm blooded. The Friesian horse has been kept free from influence of the English Thoroughbred. During the last two centuries it has been bred pure. Breeding horses and dealing in them was very important for the Friesians. The monks in the many monasteries in Friesland before the reformation did a lot of horse breeding. Through the centuries the Friesian Government has made many regulations in order to safeguard good breeding. Now the Dutch Horselaw of 1939 (modified) gives rules for studbook and breeding.
From records of the past we know that the Friesian horse of old were famous. There is information from as early as 1251 and there are books in which Friesian horses were mentioned and praised from as early as the 16th century.
Armored knights of old found this horse very desirable, having the strength to carry great weight into battle and still maneuver quickly. Later, its suppleness and agility made the breed much sought after for use in riding schools in Paris and Spain during the 15th and 16th centuries. Before an elegant carriage this breed has few rivals, and throughout Europe the royal courts used them as coach horses.
An excellent trotter, the Friesian was used for racing short distances in Holland, the winners being awarded silver or golden whips. Today in Friesland there are many carriage events and often sjees, the Friesian form of the chaise, are seen. This unique two-wheeled cart may be drawn by one or two horses, and aboard are a gentleman and a lady dressed in the traditional costumes of the 1880s. The sjees is one of the few carriages in which the driver is seated on the left; his lady occupies the right-hand side, the place of honor. Four-in-hand carriages are common and as many as ten-in-hand can be seen in front of light carriages. These large, unusual hitches used for demonstration purposes are becoming very popular. The Friesian people take great pride in the natural ability of their black horse in harness.
The well-known English writer on horses, Anthony Dent, and others are of the opinion that the Friesian horse influenced the Old English Black Horse and the Fell Pony. Dent proposes that the Norwegian D?le (Gudbrandsdal horse), which shows great likeness to the Friesian horse, must have gotten there from Friesland either as booty or by regular trade. The Northern Swedish horse was greatly influenced by the Norwegian D?le. Dent also suggests a Norwegian influence on the English Dale pony. In the Pyrenees in France there is a pony “Ariege called after Merens” (Ariege dit de Merens) that looks remarkably like a small Friesian horse. The resemblance of the types mentioned can be traced back in some cases to the influence of Friesian horses, in other cases the similar way of breeding will have caused the similarity.
As early as 1625 Friesian horses were being imported into what later would become the United States of America. The Dutch founded New Amsterdam in the region they discovered in 1609, but they had to abandon it to the English in 1664, when the name was changed to New York. Advertisements in the papers offer trotters of “Dutch” descent. These must have been Friesian horses. The able writer Jeanne Mellin proposes in her books The Morgan Horse (1961) and The Morgan Horse Handbook (1973) the possibility that this well-known American horse is of Friesian descent. The ability to trot fast, the heavy manes, the long rich tail and the fetlocks at the feet of the original forefather of this breed may be an indication.
The breed was totally lost in North America due to crossbreeding. Tom Hannon of Canton, Ohio reintroduced the horse to North America in 1974. By 1983 the popularity of the Friesian in America had grown enough to support a national association and a national show.
With the help of the Friesian Studbook Friesian horses have been imported into Western Germany, Scotland and South Africa (1957-58). The imports into South Africa occurred to improve the type of horse called the Flemish Horse, imported long ago from Belgium. Nowadays this type of horse is not found in Belgium anymore, except when imported from Friesland.
*Adapted from the Summary in English which is part of the Dutch book titled “Het Friese Paard” by G. J. A. Bouma, 1979, and printed by Friese Pers Boekerij, b. v., in Drachten and Leeuwarden, The Netherlands. It is reproduced here with the kind permission of the Friesian Horse Association of North America, the author and Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek.
Friesian Horses are always black. White markings are not allowed on the body or legs. They have a long, thick, flowing mane and tail and pronounced fetlock hair. Under no circumstance is it permissible to dock the tail of a Friesian and, in fact, trimming of any hair from mane, tail or legs is frowned upon.
The Friesian Horse holds its head high and proud with an arching neck. The animated gait is natural. Selective breeding is used to achieve the active hock action and high, extended-from-leg action. The body is strong and deep with a sloping shoulder. The rear quarters are sloping with a somewhat low-set tail. Registered Friesian stallions must be at least 15.3 hands by the age of four and mares must be at least 14.3 hands. The mares average about 1300 lbs., more for males.
To maintain the integrity of the breed, the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA), working in concert with the original parent organization the Friesch Paarden Stamboek in the Netherlands, strictly regulates the registration of the Friesian Horse. The FPS is the registry for the Friesian horse worldwide. The registry was founded in 1879 and today’s Dutch registered horses are the result of over a century of rigorous evaluation and selection of breeding stock. Organizations from other countries may also register Friesian horses, but horses registered with those organizations may not have met the standards of the FPS and therefore the true Dutch Friesian registry cannot recognize the horses. The Friesian Horse Association of North America cannot recognize a horse whose papers are not issued by the Friesch Paarden Stamboek.