THE FRIESIAN HORSE
The enchanting black Friesian horse, a native of the northern part of the Netherlands known as Friesland, conjures up images of the misty, distant past. A cold-blood or draft horse, the Friesian is thought to be more than 2000 years old. As early as the time of the Roman Empire, Friesian members of the Roman Army rode the big, powerful black horse with the narrow throatlatch, the upright neck, and the wonderfully long, flowing mane, tail, and forelock on both land and in the water, since the Friesian was long known for his fondness for swimming. During the Crusades, the Friesian became the mount of choice for Dutch knights, and by the sixteenth century, the French and Spanish riding schools used the powerful but graceful black horse for schooling and dressage. As a result of this broad exposure across Europe, the Friesian horse became some of the foundation blood for breeds as diverse as the Shire, the Oldenburg, the Dutch Warmblood, the Swedish Warmblood, and the Holsteiner.
When the Dutch first established New Amsterdam in the New World, they brought some Friesians with them. Nevertheless, the big black horse was not to enjoy the success that he had encountered in Europe. In fact, by the time that the British defeated the Dutch in the late seventeenth century and renamed the Dutch colony New York, the Friesian had been crossbred so vigorously that its own identity was lost in the "melting pot" of horse breeding, although some assert that the Morgan Horse owes at least some of its ancestry to some of these Friesians brought to America. It was not until the release of the mid-1980s movie, LadyHawke, however, that Americans could see Othello and revel in wonder at his great power, yet absolute grace. By 1988 there were still only an estimated 200 Friesians in the United States, first imported from Friesland in the mid-1970s. By 1991 those numbers had increased to about 800, and in 2000 there were about 2000 registered Friesians here so that even in 2003 the breed is still considered rare, endangered, mysterious, and glamorous.
The Friesian horse is known for its lack of any white markings, its long, luxurious tail, mane, and forelock. Additionally, it sports feathers on its fetlocks, much like the celebrated Clydesdale horses that many of us have seen pull the brewery wagons at equine demonstrations. Although native Friesians found the Friesian a horse that was good for plowing fields and pulling heavy loads, modern-day enthusiasts have discovered that it is an excellent Carriage and Dressage horse, as well, because of its high neck carriage, powerful hindquarters, and high knee action.
The average Friesian horse ranges from 15.2 to 16.0 hands in height, and breeders recognize three body types: Lightweight, Medium, and Heavyweight. The Friesian's hindquarters have a pronounced downward slope and a low-set tail. The head can be long and fine or short and broad, but because there is no Arabian blood in the Friesian's ancestry, a dished face is thoroughly unacceptable.
Registration for Friesian horses is a complicated and strict process undertaken by one of the world's oldest registries, established in 1879. Before a Friesian is accepted by the Friesian Registry, it is implanted with a microchip, receives a tongue tattoo, and is hot branded with a letter F on the left side of its neck. Additionally there is a rigorous evaluation procedure known as a keuring, during which individual stallions are evaluated for ten weeks in the Netherlands on their movement, their temperament, and the quality of their bloodlines. It is such a strict process that foals sired by non-approved stallions cannot be registered. These strict guidelines do appear to help guarantee the excellence and monetary value of the breed. According to one website, the average 2003 price for Friesian weanlings to yearlings is between $8000-$12000, while three-year-olds and older that are under saddle can command a price of $25,000-$35,000.
No wonder the Friesian horse is so entrancing!