If you’re here to learn more about the Friesian horse, then you’ve come to the right place.
We’ve put together an introductory guide to introduce you to facts, temperament, and characteristics of the Friesian Horse.
To find out more read on! We’re sure you’ll have a great background on this special and popular breed by the end!
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The Friesian breed is an interesting horse for many reasons. It is one of the oldest and most unique types of horse.
It is also one of the few horse breeds that have had little influence from other types during its long history.
Before we jump in, there is no doubt that you have seen a Friesian before, whether on the TV, in films, or in person, you just might not have known it. This breed is one of the real life black beauties of the equine world.
Friesian Horse Origins
The Friesian is one of the oldest horse breeds in the world. While it is not possible to know precisely how old, records describe horses that look very much like the Friesian as early as the 11th century.
However, it is likely that the breed was evolving for much longer and as early as the 4th century. The breed comes from Friesland, a province in the north of The Netherlands and bordering the North Sea.
Starting in the 16th-century blood from other breeds was introduced to the Friesian. This helped to refine the horses and is responsible for the high knee action you see in their movement.
During this period and into the 17th-century Andalusian horses were introduced to the Friesian breeding population. The addition of the Andalusian blood to the Friesian’s genetics also brought with it the influence of Arabian blood.
The result is a horse with a small attractive head, an active gait, and a high, arched neck. Unlike many other warmblood breeds, the Thoroughbred was never introduced into the Friesian genetics.
Horse breeding in Friesland was once a serious activity. Prior to the reformation, even monks in monasteries bred the Friesian. For centuries, unlike some breeds specific standards were put in place to ensure the purity of the breed.
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Friesian War Horses
One of the earliest uses of the Friesian was as a battle mount. As early as the 4th century, we see records that mention horses that fit the characteristics of the breed.
From the 11th century, images depict knights riding horses, usually stallions that resemble the Friesian and with a muscular body.
The breed was particularly popular during the period when knights wore heavy armor. A strong powerful horse was a necessity to carry this weight.
Their majestic presence was another reason for their popularity as a warhorse.
It would have served as an expression of status, wealth, and intimidation during battle. The early evolution of the Friesian is likely to be the Great Horse. The Great Horse was the most valuable war horse during medieval times.
It was not a breed, but a type that only the most wealthy knights had the honor of owning and riding into battle.
The Friesian has unique characteristics that make it easily distinguishable from other horse breeds. Even today, it represents a fairy tale type of horse and often features in period films and TV shows.
Even though the Friesian has the physical look of a light draft horse, it is a warmblood. As a warmblood, the Friesian has a reputation for a nice temperament.
It is more lively than a cold-blood draft breed, but not as hot as hot blood, like the Thoroughbred or Arabian horse.
However, they can have a much more sensible and calm temperament than some other warmblood breeds. This calm temperament is one reason the Friesian was such a good warhorse.
Today, this temperament is another reason why the Friesian is a popular horse to use when making films and TV shows as they can cope with the unusual equipment and busy environment.
The Friesian is a friendly horse that enjoys interacting with people. They have a reputation for high intelligence, loyalty, and having a great ability to remember things.
Another characteristic that distinguishes the Friesian from other breeds of horses is its color.
The majority of Friesians are black, which is less common when looking at other types of horses.
Only Friesians with a black coat are allowed to register with the studbook, but you will sometimes come across these horses in different colors.
The very rare Friesian will have a chestnut coat. Some will appear brown or dark bay if they are not true black or if their coat experiences bleaching from the sun.
Selective breeding over many decades has virtually eliminated white markings from the breed. The only white that is permissible is a small star on the face.
You will never a see a pure Friesian with white socks or a full blaze.
Confirmation & Movement
The Friesian is a powerful, elegant horse with good bone but not as heavy as a draft horse in their body types. It is recognizable for its high-neck carriage.
The body is very muscular and compact, with a thick, arched neck.
The head is small and pretty with comparatively tiny ears and wide-set eyes. These are features that the breed inherited from the Andalusian when it was introduced to the bloodline during the 16th and 17th centuries.
The tail is low set and very thick. It also has a beautiful long mane. The general standard is not to keep the mane and tail trimmed short. On the legs, you will see an abundance of feathers.
The most comfortable gait for the Friesian is the trot, which it displays in a most impressive high stepping way. With their proud look and flashy trot, the Friesian became a popular carriage horse.
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Now that you have a good introduction to the Friesian’s history, let’s take a look at the breed in today’s world. Do they have any special grooming needs? Health issues? What activities suit Friesian horses?
A freshly groomed Friesians is a sight to behold. They have a majestic presence with long, flowing manes and tails, as well as thick leg feathering. This huge amount of extra hair means the breed needs extra grooming care.
The thick tail and mane hair are tough to keep and free from tangles. Luckily, more grooming doesn’t end up costing you too much more to keep one of these horses.
The only grooming items that you might go through more quickly are mane and tail conditioners, and treatments for the leg feathers. All of your standard grooming tools will still do their job admirably.
To avoid skin issues on the legs, it is important to keep the feathers clean and brushed out. When you wash the feathers, you must dry them afterward so moisture doesn’t sit on the skin for hours.
This is done with a good toweling, though some people will even use a hairdryer! It is sometimes necessary to use special shampoos on the legs to prevent skin problems.
Another grooming issue that Friesians face is coat bleaching from the sun. Some tips for avoiding coat fading include, not putting a Friesian out in the paddock when it is very sunny, using a UV flysheet, and only doing turnout at night.
The mane and tail will require daily brushing. The best way to do this is slowly working up the mane or tail with a wide-tooth comb to prevent pulling out hair. Also, using a mane and tail spray will keep it silky and prevent knotting.
Many Friesian owners will keep the mane braided, which not only reduces tangles, it also helps prevent the hair from ripping if it is caught on something.
Overall, the Friesian is a strong and healthy horse breed, but it is at higher risk of some health issues. One of these issues is anhidrosis. Anhidrosis is a condition that lessens a horse’s ability to sweat.
This means that hot weather is not always ideal for the breed. They are most suited to a cooler climate.
Chronic dermatitis is another problem that Friesians are more likely to suffer from. This includes skin thickening and even alopecia.
Another problem some Friesians face is sensitive skin, especially in relation to insect bites.
Breeding can also create issues for the Friesian. While every foaling mare is at risk of a retained placenta, it is more commonly seen with the Friesian.
Megaesophagus is another health problem found in Friesians. This is an issue that causes the esophagus to dilate and becomes chronic. It makes it difficult for the horse to swallow correctly and can cause a choke.
In addition to the megaesophagus, the Friesian is at a higher risk of aortic rupture than other horse breeds. An aortic rupture is when the biggest artery in the body breaks. Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to predict this, and the horse will not survive.
EPSM (equine polysaccharide storage myopathy) is one of the more difficult to manage genetic disorders that Friesians are susceptible to. The condition means that the muscles do not have enough glycogen. To manage EPSM, a correctly tailored diet is essential.
A good diet, in general, is important for a Friesian. The breed tends to have a higher sensitivity to its gastrointestinal tract. This means the risk of colic and other digestive system disorders is higher.
The Friesian today is still a versatile horse capable of many equestrian activities. Their fairytale looks and impressive presence, as well as their good temperament, makes them a popular choice for TV and film.
The breed is one of the most common equines you will see on the big or small screen. Some of the best-known productions to feature a Friesian include Sense and Sensibility, Ladyhawke, The Hunger Games, Once Upon A Time, Eragon, and Game of Thrones.
A Friesian’s active gait and compact, powerful body make it a competitive dressage horse. One of the most successful Friesian dressage horses is Elias 494.
Elias 494, a Friesian stallion rose to the highest level in the sport and won the 2019 European Champion for Friesians Dressage Horses award.
Another activity that might surprise you is trail riding. You might not think of the breed as an ideal trail horse at first, but their calm, and unflappable personalities, make them a good choice.
One equestrian activity that is great for making a big impression with a Friesian is carriage driving. Again their excellent temperament plays a role here. Also, their strength and beauty create an attractive picture with a carriage.
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Interesting Friesian Horse Facts
The Friesian has some interesting facts that make it one of the most unique horse breeds. Let’s take a look.
#1 Exercise Limits
Research into the breed led to a more recent study to see if the Friesian reached anabolic threshold sooner than other breeds. The anabolic threshold is the point at which the body changes from relying on oxygen to fuel the muscles to anabolic reactions.
When the body switches to anabolic reactions, lactic acid build-up begins, and fatigue sets in. The more recent study found that the more intense exercise of cantering for long periods of around 4 minutes resulted in more lactic acid build-up.
Training these horses with shorter bursts of canter, resulted in less lactic acid. The conclusion is that Friesians require a different type of training program that includes more low-intensity exercise, such as trotting, especially for young horses.
#2 Arrival Into the United States
The Friesian was one of the first horse breeds imported to the United States when it was still just a colony. These early imports came during the 1600s to the then Dutch region, which is now New York.
#3 A Special Friesian Carriage
The Friesian has its very own type of carriage to pull. This is the ‘sjess’. The carriage is so unique to the horse that it is often registered under the name of the individual horse. They are highly detailed and must meet exact design specifications.
ARE FRIESIANS GOOD JUMPERS?
Even though the Friesian is an athletic horse, it is not a good jumper. Their confirmation and high neck carriage make it hard for them to jump at a high level, but many will enjoy jumping small fences.
HOW LONG DO FRIESIANS LIVE?
The Friesian has a lower average life expectancy than some other horse breeds. While other breeds live on average for 25 to 35 years, the average for a Friesian is 15 to 17 years.
WHERE DO FRIESIAN HORSES ORIGINATE FROM?
The Friesian horse originated from Friesland, an area in the north of The Netherlands.
ARE FRIESIAN HORSES FAST?
While the Friesian is an active horse breed that enjoys work, it is not the fastest. Compared with other breeds, it is average.
IS A FRIESIAN A WARMBLOOD HORSE?
The Friesian is a warmblood horse. However, it is one of the more unique types of equine that fall into this classification of horses, as even over centuries, very little outside blood has been introduced to the breed.
IS A FRIESIAN A GOOD FIRST HORSE?
The answer to this question isn’t completely straightforward. In one way, yes, the Friesian is a good first horse because it is calm, friendly, and gentle in nature. However, due to the special grooming requirements, the breed isn’t ideal for a beginner.
We hope you have enjoyed this introductory guide to Friesian horse facts, temperament, and characteristics. As you can see, this is a special breed with a rich history. It has characteristics that make it stand out from other breeds and is a good choice for riders of all abilities.
- “20 Interesting Friesian Horse Facts.” Karina Brez Jewelry, karinabrez.com/blogs/news/20-interesting-friesian-horse-facts. Accessed 20 July 2021.
- “FAQ.” Fhana, fhana.com/the-friesian-horse/faq/. Accessed 20 July 2021.
- “Friesian Grooming Tips – News – Iron Spring Farm.” Www.ironspringfarm.com, www.ironspringfarm.com/news/friesian-grooming-tips/2264/.
- “Friesian Horse.” International Museum of the Horse, imh.org/exhibits/online/breeds-of-the-world/europe/friesian-horse/.
- Horsetalk.co.nz. “Friesian Horses Put through Their Paces in Standardized Exercise Tests.” Horsetalk.co.nz, 16 Feb. 2017, www.horsetalk.co.nz/2017/02/17/friesian-horses-paces-standardized-exercise-tests/. Accessed 20 July 2021.
- “WebSite > the Friesian Horse > the Friesian Horse > History of the Friesian Horse.” English.kfps.nl, english.kfps.nl/TheFriesianHorse/TheFriesianHorse/HistoryoftheFriesianHorse.aspx. Accessed 20 July 2021.
- de Bruijn, Cornelis Marinus, et al. “Monitoring Training Response in Young Friesian Dressage Horses Using Two Different Standardised Exercise Tests (SETs).” BMC Veterinary Research, vol. 13, no. 1, Dec. 2016, 10.1186/s12917-017-0969-8. Accessed 11 Nov. 2020.
What do you think of Friesian horses? We’d love to hear your thoughts in the comment section below!
Siun is an all-around animal lover, with a passion for horses. She grew up in the United States, competing in the hunters, equitation, and jumpers. Now living in Ireland, she competes with her own showjumping horses. She is experienced in the care and training of horses, as well as teaching riding lessons. She loves to combine her love for horses with her work. When not working, Siun will be found at the stables, rain or shine.
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