Friesian horses are a relatively rare breed. Although it is considered a fairly popular dressage and carriage horse, there are fewer than 1,000 Friesian horses currently registered in North America according to some estimates. Here are some interesting Friesian horse facts that can help you get to know this fantastic breed a little bit better.
#1. Friesian horses are named after their origination province.
Friesland is where the Friesian horse originates. It’s a northern province in The Netherlands, situated along the North Sea. It is a mostly rural province, known for its agricultural activities. Less than 4% of the population of The Netherlands calls this province their home.
#2. It is an ancient breed.
The Friesian horse has been around for nearly 1,000 years. The first documents which appear to discuss this breed and its positive qualities have been dated to before the year 1200. King Louis II, who was the ruler of Hungary, is often described as riding a Friesian horse into battle in the mid-1500s. Ancestors of the modern Friesian horse are even said to have been used in the medieval period because they could effectively carry knights and nobility into battle.
#3. Friesians have been in the United States since its colonial days.
The first imports to North America for Friesian horses occurred in the 1600s, immediately after colonies were established. The Dutch controlled the early areas around what is now New York and they imported their “trotters” to help tame the lands so that agricultural activities could occur as effectively as possible in those early days.
#4. Friesian horses are often black, but they have other coats as well.
Most people picture the Friesian horse as a pure black horse. This is because Friesian horses in other coat colors are not able to be registered. Chestnut coats are also available with this horse breed and no stallions with this coloration are allowed to register. Some geldings and mares are given exceptions to this rule if all other conformation aspects are of a superior quality.
#5. Chestnut or Bay Friesians are called “Fire” horses.
Chestnut stallions, as well as rejected mares and geldings, are eligible to register under a separate registry. These horses are called “Fire Friesians” and their registry is maintained by the Friesian Heritage Horse and Sporthorse International registry.
#6. Friesians traditionally pull their own unique carriage.
When Friesian horses are used as a carriage horse, they traditionally pull a carriage that is unique to them. The carriage, which is called a “sjess,” is essentially a lounge-style of chair that is on wheels. Each carriage is traditionally registered, sometimes to the horse itself, and every one must be unique. They are intricately detailed, have wheels that must be 5-feet in height or higher, and there must be 14 spokes.
#7. Only one white marking is allowed on a Friesian horse.
Most official registries for this horse breed will only allow a small star on the forehead. Any other white markings are considered to be evidence that the horse is not a purebred, which will cause it to not be accepted as breeding stock.
#8. Friesian horses can be quite tall.
The average Friesian horse will stand at 15.3 hands in height. Some stallions have been known to be greater than 17 hands. Some mares have been known to be just 14.2 hands in height. In order for a Friesian horse to be given the designation of “star pedigree,” it must stand at 15.2 hands at minimum. Judges will also inspect the horse for power, bone structure, and body type to determine if the star pedigree designation is deserved.
#9. Friesian horses have feathers.
The Friesian is one of the few purebred horses that is not a warmblood, not a drafthorse, and not really a lighter breed that have feathers. Feathering refers to the longer hairs that are around the hooves of the horse. In this breed, they are traditionally kept untrimmed. This means the horse can be at a higher risk of skin issues underneath the feathers, such as rain rot, depending on the conditions where the horse lives.
#10. There are 4 genetic disorders which are known to affect Friesian horses.
About one-quarter of 1% of Friesian horses are affected by dwarfism, which results in the horse having a broader chest, normal-sized head, and very short limbs. Hydrocephalus, which causes cerebrospinal fluid to build up within the brain, is also known to affect the breed. There is testing available for both conditions.
Friesian horses also have a higher risk of aortic rupture and the development of an enlarged esophagus.
#11. Friesian horses are one of the breeds that is susceptible to PSSM.
PSSM is a glycogen storage disease that effects several breeds of horse, including the Friesian. It can be managed with diet and exercise in horses that have been diagnosed with the disease.
#12. A majority of Friesian mares retain their placenta after foaling.
Up to 54% of Friesian mares retain their placenta after foaling. There may also be laxity within tendons and ligaments that occurs, which could be due to the genetic traits that are believed to be associated with the dwarfism traits that are found within this breed.
#13. The first studbook for Friesian horses included other breeds.
Several landowners, breeders, and farmers gathered together in 1879 to create a society that worked together to produce a horse stud book for the Friesian horses. Called the FRS (Fries Rundvee Stamboek), it included several heavy warmblood breeds in book in addition to the Friesian horse. The entire group was called the Bovenlander horses, which contributed to the virtual extinction of the Friesian breed.
#14. By 1900, there were only 3 available breeding stallions for the entire Friesian breed.
Many of the best stallions for the Friesian breed disappeared in the late 1800s because of the preference to create Bovenlander stallions, which were much more fashionable at the time. This caused most of the stallions of the breed to be sold, disappearing into crossbreeding operations. In the early 1900's, there were just 3 registered stallions available to continue the Friesian breed. Every current Friesian horse can trace its heritage to one of these three horses.
#15. It would not be until 1943 when crossbreeding operations separated themselves completely from the Friesian studbook.
From 1913-1943, groups such as Het Friesch Paard worked to separate Bovenlanders and other heavy breeds from the Friesian horse. In 1915, the FPS finally split into two groups so that the Friesian breed would have a chance to recover. In the middle of World War II, it was decided to completely separate crossbreeding operations from Friesian horse breeding operations.
#16. Friesian horses are still quite popular in The Netherlands.
The Friesian horse may be a rare breed outside of Europe, but they are still extremely popular in The Netherlands. About 7% of the total horse population of its foundation country are Friesian horses. It is a remarkable recovery in the past century, considering how close the breed was to total extinction.
#17. Friesian horses may have been used as foundation stock for other breeds.
The Morgan is the most likely breed to have Friesian genetics infused into it. Hackneys, Norfolk Trotters, and Dole Gudbrandsdals are also believed to have Friesians as part of their foundation stock.
#18. International Friesian horse associations have only been founded recently.
The best example of this is the Friesian Horse Association of North America. It wasn’t formed until 1984. The North American association for the breed has around 8,000 horses registered to it. This is despite numerous publications announcing that there are only 1,000 or fewer purebred Friesian horses that currently live in North America.
#19. Coat color is not the only distinguishing characteristic of the Friesian horse.
Friesian horses are known for their dark coats, but they also have additional characteristics which make them stand out as a popular breed. This includes a mane that is thicker than other breeds, a tail that is thicker as well, and longer hair in these areas. When the Friesian horse gallops, the combination creates a “flowing” effect that is visually impressive.
#20. Many popular movies have included Friesian horses because of their personalities.
Many war movies, such as 300 or Alexander, have featured this breed of horse. Fantasy movies like The Chronicles of Narnia and Eragon have done so as well. If you watched the modern adaptation of The Mask of Zorro, then you saw a Friesian horse as well. The camera likes this breed because of its impressive look, ability to take direction, and the calm nature of its personality.
These Friesian horse facts show that any breed has the opportunity to thrive if it is given half a chance. Their dark elegance captures the eye while their calm disposition makes it the perfect horse for recreational or competitive activities. As time goes on, the influence of this breed will continue to shine.