The Friesian horse is an ancient breed descended from the primitive Forest Horse (Equus caballas silvaticus). It is the only horse breed native to Holland, and has been important in the development of some native UK breeds, such as the Fell Pony and the Dales Pony.
As far back as Roman times, the Friesian was noted for its value as a powerful utility animal, however the Roman historian Tacitus (AS 55-120) felt compelled to make note of its ugliness!
The breed had been refined somewhat by the time the Friesian and German knights rode their Friesian horses into the Crusades 1000 years later, but still retained their endurance, strength and docility.
The Friesian was refined further by crossings with desert horses and later with Andalusians.
Although the Friesian is relatively small, for centuries it was considered the top warhorse in Europe.
The Friesian horse nearly became extinct during the early part of the 20th century, when its popularity as a trotting horse resulted in outcrossings which made the horses faster, but compromised the purity of type. By 1913, there were only three Friesian stallions left in Friesland.
The fuel and food shortages of World War II encouraged Dutch farmers to return to horsepower and in 1954 a new breed society was formed.
Friesian horses are always black, and are noted for their thick and luxuriant mane and tail, as well as the feathering on the lower legs.
The Dutch breed registry requires that stallion candidates be at least 15.2 hh 1/4 by age 3 and 15.3hh by age 4. Friesians continue growing until age 5-6 yrs. The judges at the keurings, or inspections, measure the horses at a specific vertebra, since most Friesians do not have prominent withers.
Friesians today are still used for working on the land, and have become increasingly popular as carriage and harness horses where their flowing mane and tail and flashy leg action make them a popular sight in the show ring.
Their docility and willingness to learn makes them suitable for the sport of dressage, as well as being pleasant all-round riding horses.
Judging from discussions in the EquiSearch Discussion Forum, Friesian horses have a definite “wow” factor. Whether it’s their color (black horses seem to appeal to lots of people) or their presence and “oomph,” Friesian horses have a growing following of fans throughout the world.
The Encyclopedia of the Horse – Elwyn Hartley-Edwards. ISBN 1-56458-614-6