Friesian 1
© Cally Matherly



Dating back to the Middle Ages, the bold and powerful Friesian horse was originally bred to be a Friesian knight's war horse. Strong and powerful, the Friesian horse exuded the qualities that would carry his lord boldly into battle and possessed the courage and loyalty to carry him back out of harms way. Fortunately for horses, warfare changed, and so did the adaptable Friesian horse.

In the early 1800's, the Friesian horse was bred to be lighter and faster in order to accommodate the popular trotting races in Europe. Due to the mechanization of the farms, as well as crossbreeding, the purebred Friesian nearly met extinction by the end of World War I. With the one remaining stallion and a few mares, a small group of people from Friesland, a region in the northern most part of The Netherlands, undertook the challenge to restore the Friesian horse to its original form. This resulted in an increase in population that assured the continuation of the magnificent breed.

The Friesian horse was originally introduced to North America in the 17th Century to North America and was ignorantly lost here due to crossbreeding. The Friesian horse did not find its way to North America again until 1974. With vowed determination to maintain the purity and standards of the breed, The Friesian Horse Association of North America was formed, following the strict standards of the KoninklijkeVereniging: HetFriesch Paarden-Stamboek (KFPS), "the original mother studbook" in the Netherlands.


Breed Standards


Friesian 2
© Cally Matherly

The Typical Friesian Characteristics may be found in a horse that is harmoniously built and properly proportioned. The noble head has clear, intelligent eyes and small, alert ears with the tips pointing slightly toward each other. The neck is of adequate length and is lightly arched. A strong back joins a croup of good length which doesn't slope too steeply. The shoulder is strong, long and sloping and the body has good depth and well sprung ribs. The feet and legs are strong with a well developed forearm and proper stance. A height of 1.60 meters (15.3 hands) is considered ideal.

The horse has fluid, elegant and suspended gaits which are emphasized by feathering on the lower legs, a fine mane and beautiful, long tail. Jet black is the preferred color. This is a horse of luxurious and proud appearance, full of personality, honest and eager to work.


Nanning Confirmation
© Cally Matherly

At a time when many breed registries have experienced a decline in registrations and memberships, the FPS has continued to grow. This is due, in part, to the appearance and charisma of the Friesian horse. The attraction exerted on devotees by the appearance of the Friesian horse cannot be jeopardized when breeding for specific performance qualities. A description of ideal Friesian conformation follows:

The head is relatively short and the width is proportional to the length. The ears are small and alert with the tips pointing slightly toward each other. The eyes are large and shining. The nasal bone is slightly hollow or straight; nostrils are wide. The lips are closed and the teeth meet properly. The jaw bones are not heavy and are spread wide apart to allow the horse to breathe easily while at work. The head is set gracefully on the neck with adequate space for the throat. Overall, the head is dry and expressive and blends smoothly into the neck.

The neck is lightly arched at the crest. It is long enough for the horse to bend properly and is adequately
muscled. The neck is set on high and the lower neckline does not bulge between the throat and the chest.

The withers are well developed, prominent and, in particular, blend gradually into the back.

The back is not too long and is well muscled. A slightly low back is allowed.

The loin is wide, strong and well muscled and makes a smooth transition into the croup.

The croup is of good length and slopes slightly downward; it is wide and muscular. It neither forms a
point nor is overly rounded. The tail is not set on too low. The gluteal muscle is long and well developed.

The shoulders are long and sloping and are set widely enough apart to form a good chest, which is neither too wide nor too narrow.

The ribs are long and curved, supplying ample space for the heart and lungs, without being rotund. The belly maintains sufficient depth towards the rear.

The legs - The forelegs are properly positioned and when viewed from the front, are set parallel with a hoofwidth of space at the ground. Viewed from the side, they are perpendicular down through the fetlock joint. The cannon bone is not too long; the forearm, however, has good length. The pastern is resilient, of good length and is at a 45 degree angle to the ground. The hoofs are wide and sound.

The hind legs, viewed from the rear, are straight. Viewed from the side, the legs are set directly under the hind quarters and are strong with good, sound hoofs. The hind cannon is a little longer than in front; the gaskin is long, with well developed muscle. The angle at the hock is approximately 150 degrees; the rear pasterns are at a 55 degree angle to the ground.

The joints in the legs are dry, well-developed, and provide a good foundation for the tendons and ligaments.

The overall appearance of the horse's body is more nearly a rectangle than a square. When the shoulder is long and sloping, the back is not too long, and the croup is of adequate length, the ratio of fore-, middle- and hind quarters can be an ideal 1:1:1. The horse is neither too massive nor too light.

The walk is straight, vigorous and springy. There is good length of stride and the hind quarters swing forward with power.

The trot is a reaching and forward movement with power from the hind quarters. It is elevated and light-footed with a moment of suspension. The hock flexes as the horse moves forward and the inside angle of the hind leg closes during each stride.

The canter is well supported and lively with sufficient power from the hind quarters and flexion in the hock.


The Breed Today

To maintain the integrity of the breed, the registration of the Friesian horse is strictly regulated by the the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA), working in concert with the original mother studbook, the Koninklijke Vereniging: Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek (KFPS), in the Netherlands.

The Friesian horse is very charismatic. Their gentle and willing nature provides a strong base for versatile training. The intelligence of the Friesian leads to a rewarding partnership between horse and owner. Uses of the Friesian horse are limitless-dressage, trail and pleasure riding, pleasure driving, combined driving, saddle seat and more!

Nicole Fog Champ
© Fresian Horse Association of North America

The handsome appearance and naturally animated motion provide a noble  "presence" in any show ring, parade, trail, or just your own paddock. 

Registered Friesian horses are always black-including all various hues of black-from a deep jet black to a bay black. White markings are not allowed on the body or the legs. They have long thick, flowing manes and tails and pronounced fetlock hair. The Friesian horse holds its head high and proud with an arching neck.

Dutch Days
© Cally Matherly


The KFPS Friesian horse in North America is one of only a few breeds that require both DNA testing and micro chipping. FHANA, the KFPS and its members take a great pride in maintaining and promoting the purity and integrity of the Friesian breed.

Today there are approximately 8,000 Friesian horses located throughout North America. Currently there are 24 Friesian stallions in North America that are approved for breeding purposes. The best stallions are selected at the fall inspections to participate in the Central Proving event, a 70 day test where the stallions are trained and evaluated in riding and driving, and at the end of the testing, the top horses are offered the opportunity to have a provisional breeding license. They are allowed limited breeding privileges for 5-6 years, and then a limited number of their offspring are also evaluated. At this time the stallion may be offered an unlimited breeding license. With such stringent testing, if you are one of the lucky few to have bred an approved stallion, you have captured "lighting in a bottle." Only the best of the best become approved for breeding. 

Friesian 2
© Cally Matherly

The stringent criteria doesn't just stop with the stallions. Mares can also achieve a high level within the breed. Approximately 20% of all mares can achieve a "Star" or "Ster" status which means they have met the additional requirements to become some of the top mares in the world. There are additional predicates (titles) that can be earned such as "Crown" or "Kroon" mare which have exterior requirements (conformation and movement) along with displaying an aptitude for Sport. Following the "Crown" predicate a mare can achieve a" Model" predicate. Once again they must achieve the exterior requirements, along with the aptitude for sport, but they must demonstrate fertility by birthing and nursing a foal.

Friesian 3
© Cally Matherly

Only the best of the best "Ster" mares can achieve the "Kroon" and "Model" predicates. Judges from the Netherlands come to the US in the fall of each year to evaluate our foal crop, as well as ranking mares, geldings and stallions. This evaluation can include a performance test, either ridden or driven, known as an IBOP test. This is the performance criteria necessary for the "crown" and "model" predicates. There is a "Sport" predicate available for competitors in dressage and driving, who have achieved acceptable scores in multiple events. The "Sport" title is highly sought after in many countries where Friesians are raised.

Friesian 4

© Cally Matherly

The breed has been able to maintain the integrity of the prescribed standard by keeping a close eye on the amount of inbreeding that takes place and what the relationship percentages are. Relationship percentage is amount of "relatedness" between any Friesian horse and the rest of the Friesian horse population. Since ours is a "closed studbook" (not allowing the introduction of any other horse breeds) it is important that care is taken when breeding fairly closely related horses. This is done by maintaining a very strict studbook.

The Friesian horse, exclusive, charismatic and "the stuff of dreams" for many horse lovers, is making great inroads in the horse communities of the United States. Their increasing use in the movie and television industries is a tribute to their beauty and great work ethic.

Friesian 6
© Cally Matherly


Additional Information

For additional information contact:

    Friesian Horse Association of North America
    4037 Iron Works Parkway, Suite 160
    Lexington, KY 40511-8483
    (859) 455-7430
    [email protected]


Friesian 6
© Cally Matherly



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Friesian 5
© Cally Matherly