Yes, the Friesian Horse Is One of the Rarest Breeds Today
To say the Friesian horse is an elegant breed is an understatement. Its distinct, black coat and silky mane make it a sight to behold, which is why it comes as no surprise that this horse has been used by royalty throughout history. They're easy to train and are loyal to their owners, which is yet another reason this breed is a favorite.
Friesian horses can be seen in a variety of equestrian sports, but they especially excel in driving sports and dressage. But what else does this breed excel at? Here are 30 facts about the Friesian that will make you fall in love with this rare horse breed.
They’re Named After a Place
The Friesian originated in the province of Friesland in the Netherlands.
It's the only breed of horse that is native to Holland.
The Breed Standards Are Particularly Strict
The Friesch Paarden Stamboek (FPS) in the Netherlands is the absolute authority when it comes to which horses can claim to be purebred Friesians. Dutch judges inspect each horse to determine its eligibility for a “star designation” through a process called a keuring.
While organizations in other countries also register Friesians, these horses may not meet FPS standards and are not recognized by the Dutch organization.
They Come in One Color
The Friesian horse is black. While mares and geldings sometimes can be chestnut or dark bay, in order to be registered as a purebred Friesian, stallions must be black. (Even stallions shown through genetic testing to carry chestnut genes are disqualified from registration with FPS.)
White markings also make horses ineligible for being registered as Friesian; only a small white star on the forehead is permissible.
Two Confirmation Types Are Recognized
Friesian registries recognize two conformation types: the traditional, more robust Baroque body type and the finer-boned “sport horse.” The sport horse is the one more often seen in the show ring.
Both are acceptable as examples of the breed; confirmation type is secondary to movement in judging.
They Have a Characteristic Gait
The Friesian is known for its elegant high-stepping gait. They lift their knees higher than most horses making them appear to dance.
This is a hallmark of the breed and is a factor when rating the quality of a particular horse.
They Have Feathers
Unlike many other breeds, Friesian horses have long, silky hair on their lower legs that flows when they move, giving the appearance of feathers.
This is a distinctive trait of the breed and requires regular grooming to keep it looking neat.
They Have Distinctive Manes and Tails
Friesian manes and tails are thick and wavy and kept long. The breed standard requires that they never be trimmed.
Instead, manes are kept looking neat through pulling (which can be likened to plucking eyebrows, though in handfuls rather than individual hairs).
They Are Expensive
One of the most expensive horse breeds in the world, you can expect to pay about $20,000 for a young and healthy horse, though you can pay much more.
People magazine reported that Kim Kardashian West has a herd of 14 Friesians and that the breed can cost as much as $600,000.
Their Appearance Is Misleading
While they resemble a draft horse in build, they are of average height (about 15 hands). Their long, arching necks and high head carriage make them look taller than they are.
That said, some stallions have been as tall as 17 hands.
They Are Like Big Dogs
Friesians have an even temperament and are easy to train. They are playful and gentle, intelligent and eager to please.
They often form strong bonds with humans and are particularly loyal.
It Can Be Hard to Find a Saddle That Fits
It can be hard to find the right saddle for this horse breed. Most Friesians have a sloping shoulder, and their withers may not be pronounced. They often have a rounded rib cage, and their back and loins are often broader than other breeds.
A saddle that fits another breed well may shift back and forth or simply not fit as well on a Friesian, making the ride uncomfortable for both horse and rider.
They Were Popular as Medieval War Horses
This is an ancient breed. Records indicate that they were quite popular mounts for medieval knights to battle. Their size and strength allowed them to carry a man in full armor while being fully armored themselves.
This could be up to 160 pounds in armor alone!
Friesians Were a Favorite of Royalty
King Louis II of Hungary rode a Friesian in battle in the 1500s, as did the Emperor Charles of Spain. Don Juan of Austria and Prince George William of Prussia also favored the breed in the 16th and 17th centuries, and more recently, they have been popular choices to pull royal carriages.
It has also been suggested that horses used by William the Conqueror at the Battle of Hastings in 1066 may have been Friesians.
A Status Symbol, Exclusively for the Wealthy
In the 18th and 19th centuries, Friesians were a status symbol in rural areas of Friesland. Their primary use was to pull the carriages of wealthy farmers to church.
These men of leisure also used these horses for entertainment in races, both pulling carriages and under saddle.
The Color Orange Has Special Significance
The Royal House of Orange is the Royal Patron of the official studbook. For this reason, the winning ribbon color is orange.
It is also why, when raced in the 18th century, riders rode horses wearing only an orange blanket.
They Almost Became Extinct
As farmers switched to heavy draft horses, there was less of a need for Friesians on a farm. In 1913, there were only three living stallions in Friesland. This alarmed Friesian breeders and the association worked to save the breed.
Years later, machinery and automobiles again threatened the breed since few had the means to keep horses for pleasure.
A Car Shortage Saved the Breed
A shortage of cars during World War II helped bring back the breed by making the Friesian once again in demand for farming and transportation. When the war ended and automobile production resumed normal levels, their owners turned to driving competitions.
Others Friesians found were trained in dressage or sold to circuses.
Friesians Are Susceptible to Certain Genetic Diseases
As with all species, excessive inbreeding can cause genetic issues.
There are several issues that may arise in Friesians. These include dwarfism, hydrocephalus, anhidrosis (the inability to sweat) and verrucous pastern dermatopathy (a leg condition).
Their Athleticism Is Limited
Despite their strength, they do not have a lot of stamina, so they are not particularly good at endurance events. They are also not the best choice for someone looking for a jumper.
The Friesian is capable of jumping small fences, but their body type makes it difficult for them to jump the higher fences typical at advanced show levels.
Bugs Really Bug Them
Friesian horses are especially sensitive to insect bites.
The Friesian is particularly susceptible to external parasites such as mites since their long, thick hair provides ample hiding spaces for colonies to form undetected.
Trainers Must Be Firm and Patient
These horses are highly intelligent and need an experienced and dedicated trainer to prevent behavior issues from developing.
They can be stubborn and sensitive; patience is necessary when working with them.
A Good Choice for Beginner Riders
While Friesians need experienced trainers, once they have been well trained, their gentle temperament and willingness to please make them good mounts for beginner riders.
They Have a Shorter Than Average Lifespan
While many horses live 25 to 30 years or more, the average lifespan for a Friesian is only 16 years. They also develop slower than many other breeds.
Trainers who allow them more time to fully develop before riding them (about five years) can add to their lifespan.
They Helped Develop Other Breeds
Because of their unique qualities, Friesians were crossbred with other breeds to create new ones such as the Dale, Fell, Norfolk Trotter (ancestor of the Hackney), Morgan, Shire and Clydesdale.
They Inspired a Special Type of Carriage
A special carriage, called the Friesian Sjees, was developed especially for this breed in the 18th century.
This carriage can be pulled by one or two Friesian horses and can be seen today at shows and festivals where participants wear traditional 18th-century garb, driven by a man on the left with a lady on the right.
A Popular Breed for the Big and Small Screens
Because of their beauty and temperament, they are a favorite breed for use in movies.
These horses have been seen in many popular movies and television shows including "The Chronicles of Narnia," "The Legend of Zorro" and "Game of Thrones."
Influenced by Arabian Breeds
As the need for armored battle horses dwindled in the 16th and 17th centuries, Friesians were crossed with Arabian horses such as Andalusian horses from Spain.
This not only gave them their characteristic high-knee action, small head and craning neck, but it also made them lighter and more suitable as carriage horses, which were in greater demand back then.
Friesians Require More Grooming Than Other Horses
Their mane, tails and long leg feathers need daily grooming.
When their leg feathers are washed, they need to be thoroughly dried to prevent pastern dermatitis.
Their Color Can Fade
Too much sun exposure can bleach their black coat.
Some owners put a special blanket, called a UV fly sheet, on their horses when they will be outside for extended periods to help prevent this.
Friesian History in the U.S. Is Spotty
While there are records of Friesian horses arriving in what was then known as New Amsterdam in 1625, the breed was frequently crossbred with other breeds. (At least one breed, the Morgan, was likely a result of this cross breeding.)
It was completely lost as a breed in the U.S. until it was reintroduced in 1974. It made rapid gains in popularity, and in 1983, a national association was formed.