Friesian horse

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The Friesian Horse

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In the north of the Netherlands lies Friesland. Abounding in water, with
its lakes and waterways, it is considered by many to
be the most beautiful among the Dutch provinces.
Anyway, it’s a province that stands out for its
distinctive character and identity. This article
focuses on this unique piece of the Netherlands and
its inhabitants, but instead of pictures of churches,
other buildings and people, what you’ll see here are
pictures of Friesian horses.


Friesland is the most distinctive province in the
Netherlands, also in the sense that the Frisians have
managed to preserve many of their traditions in the face of
‘modern times’ for so many centuries. The Frisians are a
proud people with a sense of their own merit. But they are
also sober, used to surviving under difficult

Two very different factors have played a major role in
determining the history of Friesland. The first of these
was the sea, and the second consisted of the Counts of
Holland who attempted time after time to add Friesian land
to their own possessions. To neither of these opponents,
however, has the Frisian ever wished to yield an inch.

Long before the Christian era, the Frisians (ethnologically
one of the West Germanic tribes) were inhabiting the area
now known as the Province of Friesland and as such part of
the Kingdom of the Netherlands. To the north and west,
their land was bounded by the sea. Before this land was
sufficiently protected by heavy dikes as it is today, storm
tides would sweep in from the sea and flood most of the
western part of Friesland. Meanwhile, the higher
southwestern, more woody areas were usually spared. But the
southern and western parts of these higher lands were
populated mainly by Saxons. This meant that the Frisians
were the true inhabitants of the predominantly flat tidal
areas that were often at the mercies of nature’s whims.

From the earliest days, the Frisians were known as tall,
strong people with blond hair and blue eyes. This was a
folk of seafarers, merchants, farmers and…horse breeders.
They preferred building their settlements on dwelling
mounds, called ‘terps’, which were raised layer by layer,
both intentionally and by centuries of inhabitation, but
which were frequently surrounded by the sea during storm

Over hundreds of years, they gradually got more and more
control over the unpredictable sea by building dikes, and
they subdued their wild rivers by channeling them. And in
doing so, they created the land of the Frisians as we know
it today: stretches and stretches of flat green meadows
bordered on the north and west by the sea and criss-crossed
by a myriad of canals connecting lake after lake. Sturdy
dikes now protect the low-lying land from the formidable
sea. Dotted here and there are villages or lovely little
towns, and in the middle of each one, often on an elevated
spot, is the church with its historic saddle roof tower. In
the summer, the green pastures are grazed by the black and
white Friesian cows…and those beautiful jet-black Friesian

Friesian Horse

In its
appearance and bearing, the Friesian horse has remained
practically the same down through the centuries, even
though the various episodes in its history had sometimes
placed quite different demands on the breed. Typical of
this appearance are a number of elements that are difficult
to put into words but have everything to do with such
concepts as noblesse, spirit and pride. These are exactly
the characteristics that the Frisian, as based on his own
national character and his own history, would like to see
in his favorite animal – as if this animal were a true
reflection of his own personal history. Is it the
majestically arched neck, the dark friendly eye, or is it
the long black mane and the long wavy tail that give this
animal his aristocratic bearing? In all probability, it’s
not just one of these elements alone but the sum of the
parts that evoke associations with the faraway past when
loyalty and virtue were still chivalrous characteristics.

mare with her foal

When we ask the current inspection team of the Royal
Association “Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek” what a Friesian
horse should look like, the first thing that they says
is, ‘Black!’ White markings, except for ‘a few white hairs
on the forehead’ or at most a tiny star, are not considered
desirable in the breeding of the Friesian horse. Various
shades of black are permitted, but it has to be black.
Preferably, a Friesian horse should be a true jet black,
but this is rarely seen. Most Friesians are coal-black, and
sometimes we see Friesians with a brown-black or ‘summer
brown’ color in some places when their original black hairs
tend to turn brown with the effect of sun and sweat. But a
Friesian horse with any kind of white marking would not be
entered into the studbook at the age of three.

In addition to the black color, the luxuriance of the mane,
forelock, tail and the fetlocks are important
characteristics of the breed. The head must not be large or
long, and the eye must be clear and friendly. The ears
should not be excessively large but attentive, with the
tips pointing just a bit toward the center of the poll. The
head must be noble and expressive. The neck emerges at a
point in the chest that’s not overly deep, displays
sufficient length, and is not too heavy. The silhouette of
the head and neck combined should present a beautiful crest
giving the impression of the curve in a swan’s neck and
head. The withers must be well developed and continue on
sufficiently into the back. A height between 1.58 and 1.65
meters at the withers is a good height for a Friesian
horse. The shoulder should be long and not steep. The back
should be nicely muscled and – something that is seen
fairly often – not too long either. The connection of the
back through the loins to the croup is very important,
since it has to be strong enough to transfer the energy
generated by the hindquarters to the forehand. The croup
must exhibit enough slope and length. The conformation of
the legs is exceptionally important: they have to be
correct in every regard as well as being hard and dry.

In recent years, a great deal of attention has been devoted
to the quality of the gaits in Friesian horse breeding. It
is thus important that a Friesian horse possess a good
walk, with good length of stride and sufficient
flexibility. Its gaits are characterized by the elevated,
reaching movement of the forelegs combined with a looseness
in the shoulders and knee action, all of this made possible
by sufficiently strong, sustaining hindquarters. The most
important requirement for the trot is that it has to
display sufficient reach. Due to a strict process of
selection over the centuries, these are also the movement
characteristics that are deeply embedded in the genetics of
the Friesian breed. This also applies to the unique
character of the Friesian horse: lively, intelligent,
honest and reliable, always willing to work, but as proud
as the Frisians themselves.


A harmoniously built, properly proportioned horse. A noble
head with clear, intelligent eyes and small, alert ears
slightly pointing towards each other. A slightly arched
neck of adequate length; a strong back joining a croup of
good length, which should not slope too much.

A strong, sloping shoulder of good length. A body with good
depth and well-sprung ribs. The legs and feet are strong,
with a well-developed forearm and proper stance.

Fluid, square, elegant and elevated gaits, emphasized by
good feathering  on the lower legs, a fine mane and a
beautiful, long tail. In short, a luxuriant, honest horse
with much presence and eager to work. When three years old,
it should have the ideal height at withers of 1.60 m.

The preferred color is jet black.


The most recent phase
in its history could almost be described as a miracle:
Friesian horses are now being bred in most European
countries – Germany, Belgium, France, Great Britain and
Ireland, Denmark, Sweden, Switzerland, Liechtenstein,
Luxembourg, Austria and Hungary – as well as in the United
States, Canada, Chile, South Africa, Australia, New Zealand
and Japan.

Many people from other countries have now visited a
Stallion Inspection in Leeuwarden. And anyone who’s been
there is usually infected for life with the “Friesian
virus”. During a judging process this, a strict selection
is made from among more than a hundred young Friesian
stallions. On the afternoon of the last day, all the
Friesian stallions, including the older ones, put on a
dazzling performance – a true demonstration of the beauty,
vitality and aristocratic bearing typical of this ancient
breed. Around 8000 people from every corner of the world
are on their feet cheering, applauding and touched to
tears. The Friesian horses are dancing again!

At that point, the actual judging is over. For the owners
of the stallions, these have been very exciting days. After
all, they know that when it comes to the breeding
objectives for Friesian horse, the judges won’t give an
inch. Only by such a strict selection process will the very
best stallions be chosen. These will then undergo intensive
testing for seventy days during the central examination.
The few that remain after this final gauntlet will satisfy
the very highest of requirements and be registered as stud
stallions. However, this status is definitively confirmed
not until they have proved their ability, after three
years, to transmit their excellent qualities to their

The inspection team and jury members apply a strict form of
selection and know the bloodlines of the Friesian horse
like nobody else. Every year, almost all the Friesian
horses throughout the world are judged by this group of
experts. They provide owners with advice and explain the
breeding objective and how to attain it. They form an
essential link in the ongoing struggle to maintain a
uniform type of Friesian horse.

Logo of
the FPS

Founded in 1879, the Royal Association “Het Friesch
Paarden-Stamboek”, located in Drachten in the Province of
Friesland, has for over 125 years been entrusted with
preserving this unique breed. In doing so, it can rely on a
noble tradition in which the imposing living cultural
heritage embodied in the Friesian horse is being preserved
for new generations of horse lovers today and in the

But the responsibility for preserving the Friesian horse is
no longer being borne by the Frisians alone. It has become
a task for breeders and enthusiasts all over the world. We
should be grateful to them for all their accomplishments
and what they have given us, and all of us together should
take on the responsibility for continuing these efforts now
and into the future. In doing so, we will be carrying on a
noble tradition.