All About the Friesian Horse

Far more than just a pretty face, the Friesian excels in multiple sports.

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A Friesian horse on a beach
Photo by Ellen L. Chappell Photography

One of the most recognized horse breeds in the world, Friesian horses are known for their luxurious pitch-black coat, feathered legs and breathtaking action. Developed in the Friesland province of the Netherlands around the 16th century, the breed gradually found its way through the world, becoming famous in the process. Today, if a movie has horses in it, nine times out of 10 there’s a Friesian. But it’s not just their looks that make them great Hollywood stars. The breed is intelligent, athletic and willing to work—all things a good star should be.

A girl in an archery costume poses with a large black horse
Thanks to their fairy tale looks, Friesians have captured the imagination of film makers and artists. Photo courtesy The Benestar Ranch/Captured Moments by Peggy Helie

And it’s these qualities that enamor enthusiasts, with ownership numbers growing every year, according to the Friesian Horse Association North America (FHANA). Currently, there are 14,000 registered Friesians in North America, with around 450 foals being registered annually. In addition, the numbers continue to increase through importation, with around 120 Friesians being imported from the Netherlands annually.

Combined driving competition
Homebred and trained horses from Stonecreek Friesians at a Preliminary-level combined driving event in Metamora, Mich. Pictured at the water obstacle on the marathon course, driven by Gerben Steenbeek. Photo courtesy Stonecreek Friesians/Ria Steenbeek

FHANA works hard to show that the Friesian is not just a pretty face, but a complete athlete in all disciplines. Recently, they updated their awards program to include western dressage and in-hand categories due to an increase in FHANA members who compete in these sports. They also developed a trail category to reward members who get out and do things with their Friesian non-competitively; it has been very successful.

Friesian Horses in the Show Ring

Nineteen-year-old Alanna Bent is the proud partner of two FHANA-registered Friesian geldings.

“My first introduction to the Friesian horse comes from my mother,” shares Bent. “She had always had an interest in the Friesian, and eventually she decided to purchase one.”

In fact, it was her mother who purchased Bent’s first gelding, Gerke Nillis von de G.V. (Gerke) in 2015 as an unstarted 5-year-old. Bent trained him to go under saddle herself.

“Right from the start, he had an excellent work ethic,” Bent shares. “He is extremely intelligent and catches on to training extremely fast.”

Two years later, she purchased Ooude van G.V. (Ooude), another unstarted 5-year-old Friesian horse.

“Ooude is an incredibly talented horse,” Bent says. “He has always enjoyed the more difficult movements and used to get quite bored in the lower levels. Though it was a tricky thing to balance when he was young, it is an excellent quality of his as he advances up the levels.”

Although a rider since she was little, Bent has only been riding dressage for four years. But in that time, she and her geldings have achieved two Sport Predicate awards, which require five scores at 60 percent or higher at Third Level.

“I didn’t start working on dressage with Gerke until 2018,” Bent recalls. “Thinking back now, it is incredible how fast he caught on to dressage, and in 2020 he earned his Sport Predicate.”

Bent also free-jumps Gerke using just a neck rope with no saddle.

A girl jumps a large black horse
Alanna Bent and her Friesian horse Gerke enjoy jumping in addition to dressage. Photo by Britt Bent

And Ooude is no slouch either. Along with his Sport Predicate award, he and Bent earned a United States Dressage Federation (USDF) bronze medal in the same year, which happened to be only his second year of showing.

“With Ooude, I have focused completely on dressage,” she says. “He is a very talented horse and seems to enjoy the upper-level work. I am currently schooling Prix St. George with him.”

Her next goal is competing at the Prix St. George level and possibly earning Ooude his Sport Elite Predicate, which requires five scores at 60 percent or higher at the Prix St. George level or above.

Both geldings get time out of the arena on trails, as well.

She wishes more Friesian owners would join her in dressage.

“Representing the Friesian horse in dressage is very important to me,” she explains. “There aren’t a lot of Friesians competing in dressage—and even fewer in the highest levels. Because of this, I feel it is very important for Friesians to be represented. Many Friesians have a real talent for dressage, and with time and training they can be very successful in the competition ring.”

Dressage
Alanna Bent feels it is important to showcase this intelligent and hard-working breed in the dressage ring, especially at the upper levels. (Shown riding Ooude). Photo by Josa Comstock Photography

Bent acknowledges two key traits of Friesian horses are their intelligence and work ethic.

“In the end, the mind of the horse will determine their success,” she shares. “A horse can be very talented, but if they are not willing, or do not have an aptitude for the dressage work, it can be very challenging to train them. With Friesians, they really care about their work, and want to do well for their person.”

This article about Friesian horses appeared in the January/February 2022 issue of Horse Illustrated magazine. Click here to subscribe!

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