The Friesian horse is one of the most beautiful creatures on earth.

They are amazing to look at, to observe their powerful and majestic movement.  Their nature is the sweetest of all horses, faithful to a fault to their handlers, and ever so gentle.

The Friesian horse – powerful beauty

The Friesian horse is native to the Netherlands, with records dating back to the 13th century. The KFPS is the main studbook that regulates the breed standard, and continues to modify the standard to improve the quality of the Friesian horse.  A consistent breeding policy has produced the Friesian horse we are familiar with today, exhibiting the unique characteristics of the breed while continuing to bear close resemblance to its ancestors.

The Friesian is easily identified by it’s majestic mane and feathering of the lower legs, the jet black colour and the mesmerising, powerful elevated gaits. The strong build and the noble head, set on a lightly arched neck, complete the aristocratic and fiery appearance. The gentle and ever friendly character is the key to this flexible  breed.

Multipurpose breed
Throughout the 1950’s the Friesian horse was used mainly as a harness horse in farming operations. These days Friesians are again being kept for purposes of recreation, breeding and sports, and often for some combination of these objectives. The Friesian is often seen in the dressage ring across Europe and in driving sports. More and more in Australia people are investing in the Friesian horse as a performance horse, and achieving excellent results in the dressage arena.

Some of the more common uses are:

  • dressage
  • competition showing
  • pleasure riding under the saddle
  • harness
  • horse driving

There is a close relation between an animal’s intended use and its exterior. The horses that were bred for use in agriculture were more short-legged and compact than their ancestors, with forelegs a bit behind the vertical and a broad chest. With this broad chest, the horse was better able to throw itself ‘into the harness’ and in so doing develop more pulling power.

These exterior characteristics are less functional these days in the riding arena or in harness and driving horses, and breeders are striving more for a taller, more elegant modern sport horse. Nonetheless, the heavier and short-legged type is still much in evidence, partly because this type was bred for so many years and multiple generations are needed before it disappears from the breed.

For work under the saddle and driving sports a functional build is key. The horse’s body must have an ‘uphill’ slope. With this ‘uphill’ build, the distribution of weight is brought more onto the hindquarters in motion, enabling the horse to ‘carry’ more with its hindquarters. For an uphill build, a relatively long foreleg is important, as well as the stance of the foreleg. The stance of the foreleg is linked to the shoulder, whereby an angled and long shoulder provide the horse space to extend its foreleg far out to the front. The harness horse often has a bit more vertical neckline than the riding and driving horse.

For animals of all purposes, the horse must move fluidly through its entire body, with a powerful hindquarters that transmits movements forward, enabling the horse to ‘grow’ in front, a desired trait for both riding under the saddle and for driving in front of the wagon.

For harness horses a lot of knee action is desirable (but not this alone, as it must be combined with spaciousness of gaits and a ‘carrying’ hindquarters), while for riding horses and also driving horses, extravagant knee action is not always appreciated. For all purposes, a correct leg stance is a must.

The Friesian horse has increasingly developed itself as a sports horse over the past decades, in so doing in fact returning to its origins before the agricultural interlude. The Friesian’s origin is of a luxuriant and aristocratic carriage horse. Today, thanks to its typical functional characteristics, the Friesian horse now competes with other breeds at the highest levels of equestrian sports.

More great information about the Friesian horse can be found on the KPFS website here.