The Friesian Horse originated in Friesland in the Netherlands around 3,000 years ago. It is Netherland’s only surviving indigenous breed; however, over the years it has faced many hardships.
Ancestors of the Friesian Horse were heavy warhorses which carried the crusaders and knights into battles in the middle ages. In the 1500-1600s, Arabian blood was introduced via Spanish Andalusians to lighten and refine the breed. In the 17th century, Friesians were used as carriage horses, and in the 19th century the breed began being used for general riding and farming. The Friesian studbook was established in 1879. By the end of WWI, the Friesian Horse was almost extinct, due in part to unsuccessful crossbreeding. A further blow came following WWII with the mechanization of farming.
However, with careful breeding, the Friesian gradually flourished. The movie Ladyhawke starring the Friesian stallion Othello was released in 1983, shedding a spotlight on the breed and causing a Friesian craze in North America.
Although black, bay, and grey Friesians used to be common, today the only recognized colour is pure black with the possibility of a small white star on the forehead. Another distinguishing factor is the long, heavy mane and tail and the long, silky feathers on the lower legs.
Friesians range in size from 15-16 hands, with a long, arched neck and a chiseled, short-eared, “Spanish-type” head. Their compact, muscular bodies feature sloping shoulders and hindquarters and comparatively short and strong limbs that produce a lively, high-stepping trot.
Friesians possess a willing disposition, intelligence, and gentleness.
Because of their showiness, elegance, and willingness to please, Friesians excel at many jobs including driving (from singles to four-in-hands), general riding, and more recently, dressage. Their calm demeanor makes them sought-after for movie roles, especially in fantasy films.