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 harm's way. Fortunately for horses, warfare changed, and so did the adaptable Friesian horse.
In the early 1800s, 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 was nearly extinct 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 and was eventually lost 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.
The typical Friesian characteristics may be found in a horse that is harmoniously built and properly proportioned. 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.
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 ideal Friesian conformation is as 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 hindquarters. 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.
To maintain the integrity of the breed, the registration of Friesian horses is strictly regulated by the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA), working together with 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, saddleseat and more! 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, from 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.
The KFPS Friesian horse in North America is one of only a few breeds that require both DNA testing and microchipping. 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 are approved for breeding.
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 one of the top mares in the world. There are additional 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” title, a mare can achieve a "Model” title. 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.
Only the best of the best “Ster” mares can achieve the “Kroon” and “Model” titles. Judges from the Netherlands come to the US in the fall of each year to evaluate the country's 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” titles.
There is a “Sport” title 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.
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. Because North America has a closed studbook that does not allow the introduction of any other horse breeds, it is important that care is taken when breeding horses that are somewhat closely related. This is done by maintaining a very strict studbook.
The Friesian horse, “the stuff of dreams” for many horse lovers, is making waves in the equine communities of the United States. Their increasing use in the film and television industries is a tribute to their beauty and great work ethic.
For additional information contact:
Friesian Horse Association of North America
4037 Iron Works Parkway, Suite 160
Lexington, KY 40511-8483