The Friesian Horse

The modern Friesian traces to the oldest European warmblood stock. It escaped extinction barely more than one hundred years ago and only survived due to the efforts of several dedicated supporters. The Friesian is now a popular and respected breed in Europe, and it is gaining recognition in North America and Australia.

The breed originated in the Netherlands in the early 1500's, taking its name from the province of Friesland on the North Sea. Friesland is well known for its broad meadows and sandy soil which contribute to high quality horse production. During the wars of that era the Spanish Andalusion horse was used in Friesian breeding. Later, in the 1600's, the Spanish influence was reinforced, and this laid the foundations for the modern Friesian. This ancestry can also be found in the Lippizan breed. In the 1700's the Friesian was used increasingly less as a war horse, finding favour instead as a carriage horse. The arrival of the railroads in the 1800's allowed Friesland to expand its dairy and beef industry which decreased the interest in horse breeding and the Friesian hovered on the edge of extinction. A few supporters formed the Friesian Studbook Society in 1878 and published the first studbook in 1880. Despite these efforts, the later destruction wrought by the first world war left little purebred stock. Since then, intense effort has reestablished the Friesian; still, all modern Friesians descend from only three bloodlines.


The three foundation sires are Tetman 205, Age 168, and Ritske 202. Each of these trace to a single 19th century stallion, Nemo 51, born in 1885. Every registered Friesian today descends from these horses.


Over the centuries, several different types of Friesians have developed. However, the modern Friesian used in sport disciplines has a lighter frame than its agricultural cousins, and will be slightly taller; around 16 hands is preferred. This type is also lighter on its feet than its coaching forebears.

A finely chiselled head with small ears is carried on a shapely neck with a luxuriant mane, which has been known to reach the ground. The neck is set on on long, sloping shoulders with a moderate width of chest. The withers are well developed and gradually join a strong, well muscled and not overly long back. The ribs are deep and well sprung with depth through the flank. The strong loin blends smoothly into a lengthy croup which slopes slightly with a flowing tail set low. The legs are strong and stand true on wide, sound hooves. The legs are feathered, with hair sometimes reaching the knee joint.


The color is always black, although it should be noted that at large gatherings of Friesians it is apparent that there are different shades of black. No white is allowed on the legs or body, though a small star or snip is permitted.


Friesian beauty is more than skin-deep. The Friesian's admirable character is based on a docile and gentle disposition, and his willing and cheerful temperment make him a joy to be around. His keen intelligence allows him to learn quickly. In general however the breed is a slow maturing one and horses cannot be expected to work hard when very young. Because of its temperment the Friesian is considered warm blooded. He is a companion suitable for all ages and levels of competence.


The movement of the Friesian is doubtlessly unique. Incredible suspension complements the fast high action. The power and elasticity of the gaits truly exemplify poetry in motion.


The Friesian has the stamina and ground covering capability to excel at combined driving. Yet his gentle nature allows him to be a pleasure driving companion as well. His impulsive, elastic gaits coupled with forward movement make him a suitable dressage prospect for many levels, including grand prix. And again, his genuine, honest personality will make him a superb riding horse.



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