Friesians originally come from Holland and the province of Friesland. It is one of the oldest breeds in Europe and was originally brought to North America in the 1800s. Due to crossbreeding, however, the breed was eventually considered a complete loss in North America in only a couple of generations.
Friesians were not formally introduced to North America again until 1974.
Friesian horses are incredibly versatile and can be an asset for a number of different uses. Many owners use their Friesians for riding and driving. They are also good competitors, suitable for light farm work, and for dressage. Unlike many other warm-blooded horses, they have not generally been bred for jumping, but some perform well in doing so.
There are currently 45,000 Friesians that have been registered around the world. About 8,000 Friesian horses currently reside in North America.
There Are Specific Height Requirements for a Friesian Horse
In order for a Friesian stallion to be registered into the official studbook, it must meet specific height requirements. The stallion must be a minimum of 15.3 hands in height by the age of four. Friesian mares also have a height requirement of 15 hands in order to be registered into an adult studbook.
A mare must stand at 15.2 hands at minim to qualify for the star designation pedigree. Geldings have the same requirement.
Some horses are taller than these minimums and may enter the studbooks as well. The average height for a Friesian horse starts at 14 hands, however, so a pureblood Friesian may not be able to register for the studbook because it is not tall enough. Not being able to register for the studbook does not disqualify the horse from being able to register with the breed association.
The average weight of a Friesian horse is about 1,300 pounds. Mares tend to weigh a little less, while geldings tend to weigh a little more.
What Colors Are Friesian Horses?
When registering a height qualifying stallion or mare for the Friesian studbook, the only accepted color is black. This color may range from dark brown to a true black and still be considered acceptable. Many of the horses in this breed will actually appear to be black when they have been standing in the sun or their coat happens to start shedding.
The only color exception that is permitted from the black coloration for a Friesian horse is a small start on the forehead. No other white markings are permitted. Selective breeding with the Friesian ranks has sought to fully eliminate any additional white markings. Some mares and geldings may be allowed to register if their coat fades to more of a chestnut color.
Discoloration that occurs because of an injury or a black coat that becomes bleached by the sun will not affect registration status.
Crossbreeding is technically allowed with Friesians, but because of what occurred previously to imported Friesians in North America, it is strongly discouraged by the registration association.
Why Are Friesian Horses Unique in North America?
Most horses are going to be evaluated just twice in their lives. The first judgment occurs when the horse is a foal to determine if it qualifies for an initial registry into the breed association. The second judgment occurs when a stallion or mare is being evaluated for inclusion into a breed association’s studbook.
For European Friesian horses, this is the standard process that is followed. For North American Friesian horses, there is a different judging process that is required for registered horses.
Officials from Holland travel to North American annually to inspect horses that have been registered with the breed association. The goal of this annual inspection is for North American breeding programs to be as effective as possible. A little more than half of the evaluation looks at the movement of the horse, while the other portion is based solely on conformity to breed standards.
There are three classifications that may be awarded to a Friesian horse. These are called premiums, of which a first or a second may be offered. The most common premium awarded is the Third Premium, while some horses may not even receive one. Whatever judgement has been awarded to the horse will be placed on the registration certificate.
What Is Star Status for Friesian Horses?
If a stallion or mare meets the height requirements perfectly and other conformation requirements are also met in an impressive manner, then the breed association judges may award the horse with a “star” status. About 1 in 5 horses that qualify for the studbook are given this specific designation, which also appears on the horse’s registration status.
Once the “star” status has been awarded, another set of classifications will be used to evaluate the horses. Mares may be classified as model, preferred, or performance. To receive a performance designation, a Friesian mare must bear a minimum of three offspring that are able to perform at top competitive levels.
How Does a Stallion Enter the Studbook?
Just because a Friesian stallion is 15.3 hands or higher in height does not guarantee that he will be entered into the breed association studbook. Only 100 approved stallions are currently listed and these are the only horses that are permitted to sire Friesians for eligible entry into the main register.
Once entry has been approved, there is a four-year probationary period where the offspring of the stallion must be able to demonstrate that a positive impact on the breed is being made. If the judging process indicates that the offspring of a specific stallion are not performing as expected, then approval for inclusion in the studbook can be withdrawn.
This is how the integrity of this breed is maintained. It may be considered to be a merciless process, but it also makes sure that only the best horses are influencing the future of this particular breed.
Friesian Horses Continue to Be a Popular Breed
Friesian horses have a striking appearance. The dedication to a specific color creates a horse that demands attention. Their temperament is also quite calm, especially in chaotic environments, which is why Friesian horses are often coveted for movie and TV roles. Their elegance attracts many who own horses, though the cost can sometimes be prohibitive.
The price of a Frisian horse depends on gender, conformation to standards, age, and other factors. Top horses of this breed may be priced near $100,000 in some markets.
Although the numbers of Friesian horses are somewhat limited compared to other breeds, the Friesian horse continues to grow in popularity. With restrictive requirements in place to ensure the future of this breed, a repeat of what happened more than a century ago in North America is not likely to repeat itself.