The Friesian is one of Europe’s oldest breeds and gets its name from the Friesland region in the Netherlands. The breed originated during the Middle Ages, even as far back as the 4th century.
“The Friesian’s personality as an easy-going, well-tempered horse also displays the characteristics of a Baroque horse,” adds Jason Tice, executive director of the Friesian Horse Association of North America in Lexington, Ky.
The breed’s strength, stamina and maneuverability made it the perfect mount for medieval knights. Its flashy, high-stepping trot also made it a favored carriage horse for European royalty.
Friesians almost became extinct worldwide during the turn of the 20th century, as many of them were crossed to other breeds to create a faster horse for trotting races. In fact, only three purebred stallions were left by 1907. However, while World War II very nearly destroyed other breeds, it brought the Friesian back from the brink of extinction when Dutch farmers turned to horses for transportation and fieldwork because of fuel shortages.
The Friesian was first imported to North America in the 17th century, but due to crossbreeding, it disappeared. In 1974, the breed was re-introduced in the United States. The Friesian is still considered rare in North America, but its numbers are growing because of the demand for these romantic horses.
With its dark coat, flowing mane and tail, and feathered legs, the Friesian’s striking appearance leaves an impression. The long, arched neck is rather upright and ties in to rounded withers. The head is expressive and well-sculpted with small, elegant ears. Its compact body, powerful shoulders and sloping, strong hindquarters create movement that is long-reaching, powerful and supple. The Friesian is a popular carriage horse, but because of its expressive movement, athleticism and kind temperament, it excels in dressage as well.
Height: 14.3 to 16 hands
Colors: Dark bay, black and dark brown. A small star is the only white marking allowed.
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This article originally appeared in the August 2010 issue of Horse Illustrated. Click here to subscribe.