The Friesian Horse
The Friesian horse is always pure black, although a small white star or snip on the lip is sometimes seen. The head is long and refined with small, alert ears. The body is compact and round-barreled, and has sturdy legs with feathering. The horse ranges in height from 15 to 16.3 hands.
The Friesian horse takes its name from Friesland, one of the northernmost provinces of the Netherlands. The Friesian is one of Europe's oldest breeds and its lineage has been traced back nearly 3,000 years to the ancient horse, Equus Robustus. It is from this heavy horse that the Friesian takes its draft horse characteristics.
Before the Reformation, the blood of West German and Andalusian horses was bred into the horse by monks of the Friesian monasteries. This infusion streamlined the breed and gave the Friesian horse a greater grace and refinement, and established the horse's high-stepping gait.
During the early 1600s, the Friesian was valued by medieval nobility as a weight-carrying saddle horse. Armored knights favored him for his strength and agility when going into battle.
During the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Friesian was bred to produce a lighter trotting horse for pulling carriages. Cross-breeding diluted the breed, and in 1913, there were only three purebred stallions alive. The heroic actions of some Dutch farmers allowed the breed to survive, and today there are 850 purebred Friesians in North America.
Although the Friesian horse is renowned for its elegant black coat, high-stepping action, proud carriage, and luxurious mane and tail, perhaps his most endearing qualities are a sweet, gentle temperament and a willing and honest attitude.
All purebred Friesian horses are registered under the Friesian Stamboek (FPS) system, which is managed by the Dutch government. Dutch inspectors travel all over the world each year making assessments of the Friesian horses. All changes in pedigree are registered with the central office in the Netherlands. Each fall, the inspectors come to the United States.
The Friesian horses are shown to the inspectors in a bridle or halter. They are presented "in hand" with one person leading the horse and another person following to encourage the horse to move well. The horse is walked for one lap and then trotted for one lap along a triangle-shaped track. This format allows the inspectors to best see the horse from all angles and observe its conformation and action. Foals are shown alongside their dams. After examining the horse, the inspectors give their assessments of the horse and bestow any awards they deem appropriate.
At birth, each Friesian horse is entered into the Veulenboek (Foal Book) and given a foal number. The inspectors, after viewing the foal alongside its dam, tattoo a registration number underneath the foal's tongue for identification purposes. At this time, the young horse may receive a First, Second or Third Premie (Premium Award).
When mares are three years old, they are eligible to be entered into the mare registry. Upon acceptance by the inspectors, the mare is given a brand in the shape of an "F" on the left side of the neck. If the mare is of excellent quality, she may be given the designation of "Ster" (or "Star") and an "S" will be branded on her neck next to the"F".
A few exceptionally fine mares are given the designation of Model. Model mare candidates are presented to the inspectors when they are between four and six years old. They must first be Star mares and must be at least 1.58 meters tall to qualify. In addition to designations of Ster and Model, a mare may be deemed preferred (or "Preferent") if they produce superior-quality foals. Model mares are so rare that there are only two in North America!
Under the rules of the Friesian Horse Association, only stallions approved and qualified by the association are permitted to breed mares. Currently, there are only eight qualified stallions in the United States. Hence, much of the Friesian horse breeding is done via artificial insemination.
A candidate stallion to be considered for qualification must be sired by a qualified stallion and be out of a Star or Model mare, stand at least 1.58 meters at 2-1/2 years and 1.60 meters at 3-1/2 years. The candidate's lineage is closely scrutinized and any ancestors found to have any white markings on the legs automatically put the candidate stallion out of the running. The stallion candidates must also show exemplary performance driving and under saddle and must undergo rigorous tests of their character and manners. Even his mother's disposition is considered! In fact, the inspectors are so careful in their selection of qualified stallions that there are only about 50 Friesian stallions in the entire world qualified to breed.