By Amber Wiseman
The mighty Friesian! We are celebrating this fairytale-looking breed as our May Breed of the Month on YourDressage!
Did you know that dressage riders who choose Friesians as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as Friesian Heritage Horse & Sporthorse International, Friesian Horse Association of North America, Friesian Horse Society, Friesian Sport Horse Registry LLC, and Friesian Sporthorse Association are all participating organizations?
Have a photo of your favorite Friesian or Friesian cross? E-mail it to us at email@example.com for your chance to be featured! Be sure to visit YourDressage all month for exclusive stories and galleries from riders, owners, breeders, and enthusiasts of these fairytale-esque horses!
The Friesian breed, originating in the Dutch province of Friesland, has long been depicted in children’s fairy tales as the steed of knights and royalty. Their long flowing manes, solid black coats, and feathered legs lends them a majestic appearance fitting of these stories. The Friesian has been noted as the mount of Roman soldiers as far back in history as 150A.D. and mercenaries mounted on Friesian stallions were described by Anothony Dent in the 4th Century. While highly sought after as dressage mounts in the present day, the Friesian has had a tumultuous history, with the population repeatedly nearing extinction. Revival efforts have historically been short-lived, with economic impacts hitting the breed hard.
In addition to being highly sought after as military horses, Friesians were commonly seen pulling the carriages of the wealthy to church on Sunday, in the barns of classical riding academies, and in the late 19th Century, they pulled plows to work the fields for farmers, alongside the heavier “Bovenlanders”. Friesians were also used in trotting races during the 18th and 19th Century, and the Russian Orlov and present-day American trotting horse lineage can trace back to these horses.
The Koninklijke Vereninging “Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek” (KFPS) was established in the Netherlands on May 1, 1897 in an effort to revive the breed, which had suffered immensely due to the demand of them to compete with Bovenlanders to work the farmland. This was a short-lived revival, and by 1913, only three studbook stallions survived. The population decimation forced breeders to adapt to the demands of the jobs Friesians were now being used for. The breed became smaller and heavier, thus increasing power, while straying from the previously luxurious and long-lined physical type. When the mechanization of farming took hold in the 1960s, the mighty breed suffered again, with its numbers dropping as low as 500 mares remaining in the KFPS studbook. The economic turnaround came at just the right moment, and Friesian numbers began to rise again as people recovered enough to be able to enjoy their horses for leisure again. Today they are extremely popular in the dressage ring.
Today’s Friesians are reminiscent of the original breed type, with solid black coats, a noble head with large, wide-set eyes and topped by small ears, a high-set neck creating an uphill build, and a long flowing mane, tail, and feathers. The ideal Friesian will have a well-proportioned frame with a strong back and sloping shoulder, good depth of girth, and a well-developed forearm. Two notable genetic health conditions in the Friesian breed are hydrocephalus and dwarfism. Increased rates of these conditions can be avoided with genetic testing and the avoidance of crossing two carriers.
For registration with the KFPS, the mating resulting in the foal must be documented with both parents being registered as well. Crossing with other breeds to create the Friesian Sporthorse has become immensely popular in North America, leading to the creation of several Friesian Sporthorse registries. These Friesian Sporthorse registries recognise horses with as little as 25% documented Friesian blood.