The Friesian horse originated in Friesland in the Netherlands over 3,000 years ago. The Friesian horse is the Netherland’s only surviving indigenous breed and it’s had a lot of struggles over the centuries.

Some of the first Friesians ever recorded in art were the black horses on the Bayeux Tapestry that belonged to the Normans and William Duke of Normandy. During the Battle of Hastings on October 14th 1066, William the Conqueror used horses which strongly resembled Friesian stallions. The many illustrations of knights and nobles on the battle field show horses that were called Friesians at the time. It’s very likely that right around that time, during the crusades and the Hundred-Years’ War, the Friesian horse, like every other type of Western European horse, was influenced by Arabian and Andalusian breeds. The more or less dished nose bone, the swan neck and the trot, arouse this suspicion.

In the 17th century, Friesians were frequently employed as carriage horses, and by the 19th century the breed was so common in Western Europe they used for general riding and farming. The Friesian studbook was established in 1879. But by the end of WWI, finding a purebred Friesian Horse was a near impossible task. The bloodline troubled. A further blow came following WWII with the mechanization of farming and western society’s love for automobiles. But with proper attention and careful breeding the Friesian horse breed has since returned to prominence and flourished.

Ladyhawke movie, Friesian stallion Othello

1983 movie Ladyhawke, Friesian stallion Othello

Ladyhawke, the 1983 movie starring Rutger Hauer saw the hero ride a Friesian stallion named Othello, which stole many scenes and won audience hearts. The movie’s success and the horse’s performance put a spotlight on the breed which caused a Friesian craze in North America.

Friesians are probably best known for their black color and luxurious manes, their tail, and ‘feathers’ (long, untrimmed hair on the lower legs). The official breed rarely has white markings of any kind, because registries allow only a small star on the forehead for purebred conformance.

Frederick the Great is a rare Friesian horse living in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas, is captivating the internet with his fantastic mane and muscular build.  The Prussian-named horse has more than 40,000 followers on his Facebook fan page and a nickname of “Storybook Stallion.”

Are Friesian horses good for riding?

Friesian horses have evolved into excellent horses for sport and pleasure riding. They appear in so many different roles in many different sports and real life industries, so it must be assumed they are excellent horses for riding. Because of its presence and movement, the Friesian is a talented show horse. They are raced, jumped and shown competitively. They are ridden and driven and do dressage. They’re haltered, saddled, seated, and shown in exhibitions and adored everyday in recreational rides.

In some parts of the world, the horse is used in short-track trotting races. This is called riding ‘under the saddle’ which means riding without a saddle because the horse is ridden with just a small orange blanket on its back.

What is a Friesian horse used for?

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. Friesians are well known for their black color and their luxurious long manes. Their calm demeanor makes them sought-after for movie roles, especially in fantasy films and TV shows.

Today Friesian horses are used both in harness and under saddle. In harness, they are used for competitive and recreational driving, both singly and in teams. A traditional two-wheeled carriage called a sjees is still used today in some time-honoured European ceremonies and events and the horses that pull this cart are almost always Friesian.

What is a Frisian Sjees?

freisian sjees

Frisian sjees

A Frisian sjees is a classical curved carriage on two wheels which has been adored throughout the ages for its beauty. The cart’s sleek body combines wonderfully with black Friesian horses. The Frisian sjees was used by the people of Friesland, especially on Sundays when gentlemen farmers would drive their horses and their families to church.

This cart is pulled by Friesian horses, either a single or double horse team. Used outside the Netherlands for harness racing, the sjees is still seen today at folkloric shows and parades.  The box is suspended between two high wheels. Bridles with richly decorated blinders, matching withers and breast collars are also typically used to harness the Friesian horses pulling Frisian sjees.

Are Friesian horses good for beginners?

Friesians possess a willing disposition, intelligence, and gentleness that makes them excellent horses for beginners.  Friesian horses are good trail riding horses and are known for their friendly, calm, and even temperament. They are intelligent and eager to please their rider. Trotters, their compact, muscular bodies feature sloping shoulders and hindquarters with strong limbs that produce a lively, high-stepping trot.

Characteristics

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.

The Friesian Demy Van Gosveld with Josh Whitehouse as Sir Cole in ‘The Knight Before Christmas.’ (Motion Picture Corporation of America)

Fun Fact

Both  Martha Stewart and Kim Kardashian own Friesians.

For more information, visit:
Friesian Horse Society of North America
Canadian Friesian Horse Association

Bob Langrish photo