As one of the world’s oldest equine breeds, the Friesian is native to a northern province in The Netherlands called Friesland, where it is deemed a national treasure.
With powerful muscles beneath its lustrous black lacquered coat, and a gentle disposition that endears the animal to those of the two legged kind, the Friesian has enchanted Europeans for centuries. Experts suspect that the Friesian’s most influential ancestor was the prehistoric Equus Robustus, an enormous horse that once roamed Northern Europe.
The Friesian people that lived in the area that is now included in the Northern part of the Netherlands and Germany, and the South of Denmark, were recruited by the Romans to do battle in their legions. Statues on graves of Friesian soldiers on horseback were found as far as Northern England.
The monks where well known for their horse breeding in the middle ages, and reputedly crossed the draft type Equus robustus descendents with lighter horse breeds.
The result was the Friesian, a horse with incredible strength and agility, coupled with a willing, kind, yet lively disposition.
These skilful monks created not only one of Europe’s first pure horse breeds but also one of the world’s first warm-blooded horses.
The Friesian was a coarse looking horse, but strength, docility and endurance was proved when carrying the European Knights during the Crusades to the Middle East. The crusades would keep the knights there for long periods. Friesian became better looking, because breeding with the eastern horses improved the Friesian, as did the infusion of the Andalusian blood when the Spanish occupied The Netherlands during the Eighty Years’ War.
The descendents of this heavy horse were valued as saddle horses by the medieval nobility and are portrayed in paintings by many of the Old Dutch Masters.
In turn the Friesian was used to create other breeds such as the Oldenburg that was mainly founded on Friesian blood (and in later years Oldenburg blood was used to help re-establish the Friesian breed). The New Forest, Dale, Fell Ponies, the Morgan Horse and from there the Standardbred, Orlov Trotter, Swedish Warmblood, Kladruber and the Norwegian Dole Gudbrandsdal were all influenced by the Friesian.
Through its derivative, the Old English Black, the Friesian also influenced England’s Great Horse, now known as the Shire.
The Friesian’s use varies in very many ways, as a coach horse, a horse in harness for riding, for dressage (hitched up or under saddle) as a circus horse and a horse for pleasure. The original Friesian gig, a delightful two wheeled carriage from the second half of the eighteenth century with its typical rococo adornments is traditionally closely connected with the breed. This beautiful combination considerably enhances its baroque appearance.
The Friesian Horse used to appear in all West Europe, but from about 1900 only in Friesland. This province of the Netherlands is still the centre of breeding but at present their popularity is increasing every year, there are now Friesians in Scotland, France, Germany, USA, Mexico, Chili, Yugoslavia, Belgium, Switzerland, Canada, South Africa, Luxembourg, Ireland, Austria, Australia, and New Zealand.
Nowadays the Friesian is popular in harness and often in the show-ring. The Friesian can be found in the circus, because of its striking carriage and willingness to adapt itself, is also found under saddle, competing in dressage up to international levels, but its first function remains supreme. It is a cheerful, loyal, very sensitive all-rounder with a unique pleasant character.
Since the movie “Lady Hawke”, the Friesian has also become a popular choice in movies.