Few breeds possess the elegance and awe-inspiring movements that Friesians have. For many, the majestic gaits of the breed, coupled with their jet-black coat and lustrous manes and tails evoke a world of fantasy.
Originating in the Friesland region of the Netherlands, Friesians today make for a delightful breed choice for riders of all levels. The evolution of the Friesian is none other than fascinating: adapting to different needs and uses throughout the Middle Ages and modern human civilization, Friesians went from warhorses to draught horses, before nearing extinction at the turn of the 20th century. The Friesian ultimately witnessed a surge in recognition as a recreational horse in the past few decades. With his imposing presence, captivating movements, and unrivaled elegance, the breed is now at its peak popularity.
A Breed with a Long and Bumpy History:
While evidence shows that horses have roamed the coast of the North Sea (now the Netherlands) for thousands of years, Friesians were first depicted in literature around the 11th century. Used as war horses in the Crusades and ridden by armored knights throughout the medieval times, their strength and agility allowed them to carry heavy weights while being easily maneuvered during battle. Their calm and courageous temperament traditionally made them loyal and valuable war partners.
In the 16th and 17th centuries, Andalusian blood lines were introduced, altering the Friesian morphology to exhibit long, arched necks with proportionally smaller heads, as well high stepping gaits. The popular baroque breed retained its strong built and powerful hindquarters.
Friesians underwent a career change in the 19th and 20th century, as horses were no longer needed at war, but instead were used as carriage and draught horses. Competing with other, heavier breeds, Friesians eventually came at a disadvantage to carry out agricultural work. As a result of a steady decrease in demand, the breed nearly went extinct in 1913.
Thanks to the Dutch Friesian Horse Studbook known as “Friesch Paarden-Stamboek” (FPS) founded in 1879 by breed enthusiasts, the Friesian was revived and promoted as a recreational horse. Since then, efforts have been maintained to ensure the purity of the breed according to specific standards and strict registration guidelines. Now valued around the world, many countries have implemented their own registry as counterparts to the official FPS studbook.
A renowned Modern Friesian breeding farm in Spain offers beach rides on majestic stallions
The Modern Friesian: A Highly Sought, Versatile Athlete
Friesians have recently been bred to produce a thinner-boned, more versatile version of the breed. The modern Friesian is a well-respected athlete whose capacities shine in carriage driving, dressage, and as a wonderful trail companion. In the early 2000s, breeders around the world recognized the strength and power of Friesian and have sought to breed them with other sport horses, including Warmbloods and Thoroughbreds, to increase athleticism. The birth of Friesian Sporthorse as a breed was made official in 2007, when the new breed registry was created. Exceling in many disciplines, the Friesian Sporthorse has gained international recognition in many FEI competitions.
Four Friesian carriage
Victims of Their Own Popularity: Friesians Show an Increased Prevalence in Genetic Diseases
Sadly, many Friesians have become victims of their own popularity. Due to increasing demand for Friesians since the early 1900’s, a small gene pool and high inbreeding rates have yielded breed-specific genetic disorders. One of the main disorders seen in Friesians is dwarfism, a recessive genetic condition in which horses exhibit a compact and disproportionate ribcage, along with reduced growth in limbs. Other associated genetic conditions include hydrocephaly (a buildup of fluid cerebrospinal fluid in the skull), as well as skin disorders (chronic dermatitis), increased risk of aortic ruptures, and megaesophagus (enlargement of the esophagus).
A note on buying a Friesian in Australia…
The Australian Friesian Horse Society (AFSH) is the official representative of “The Friesian Horse Studbook” (FPS) in Australia. If you are considering buying a Friesian, we recommend going through the list of registered breeders of the AFSH. Registered Australian breeders follow strict regulations which ensure the protection of the breeders and buyers, while maintaining the purity of the blood line and limiting potential genetic disorders. The AFHS also recommends a thorough vet check as well as referring to the breeds’ “standard of excellence” as a guideline before finalizing a purchase.
For more information, visit: https://www.afhs.org.au/
Official Friesian Horse Studbook (FPS) https://english.kfps.nl/
Friesian Sport Horse Association: http://www.friesiansporthorseassociation.com/
Australian Friesian Horse Society: https://www.afhs.org.au/