Friesians are so beautiful that they don’t look like real horses. This is one reason why they have been picked to act in leading equine roles in movies such as “Ladyhawke” (1985), “The Mask of Zorro” (1995), “Eragon” (2006) and “Sense and Sensibility” (1995). But they are real horses with incredible charm that goes beyond their good looks.
A Brief History
The Friesian breed has been around since the Middle Ages and possibly longer than that. It was developed in the Netherlands as a horse for the nobility and for warfare. The Frisian was strong enough to carry armored knights and yet flashy enough to command respect for the rider.
Originally, Friesians were more muscular than they are today, although they probably never were as bulky as a Clydesdale. They also had infusions of Andalusian blood after the 1600’s, when the Netherlands and Spain became allies. Although in great demand, the breed almost went extinct around World War I. It is thought that modern day Friesians do have some health issues such as dwarfism and OCD (a joint disease) because of a lack of genetic diversity.
Officially, Friesians only come in black, with a small white star (dot) on the forehead being the only white marking permissible for registration. But other colors do pop up in purebred Friesians. These include a rusty red chestnut and dark bay (which may be due to sun bleaching.) Some blacks will often turn reddish when exposed to the sun for a long time in a sun bleaching effect.
There are Internet rumors that there is alsothe extremely rare white (not light grey or albino, but white), but these are not purebreds, but still are amazing horses. Since purebred Friesians are so rare, perhaps white will one day be acceptable for registration. But for now, it is that shining black coat which really quickens the pulse.
The Friesian is a light draft horse with a build in between a Morgan’s and a Clydesdale’s. They have very thick manes, tails and feathering around the hooves, which should be kept on. They range in size from 15 – 18 hands high and can weigh about 1500 pounds. There are some bloodlines that are bred to be leggier and lighter than others. They are very elegant for their size and bulk.
Their heads are usually held high and their ears are usually in constant motion. Their ears can often seem a trifle small for their heads, but that’s usually an illusion because of the profuse mane. They don’t lend towards mule ears, however. Their heads can have a straight profile or slightly Roman nosed (which is politely called “Baroque”).
Their legs look thick and their hindquarters and shoulders are well rounded. Their necks are thick and generally well-crested. They naturally pick their feet up in a prancing motion, but this motion isn’t exaggerated to the extent of a Hackney’s. They often seem to bounce instead of trot. Their elegant and flashy moves make them excel at horse sports such as driving and dressage.
“Storey’s Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America;” Judith Dutson; 2005.
“The International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds;” Bonnie Hendricks; 1995.
“The Ultimate Horse Book;” Elwyn Hartley-Edwards; 1991.