The Black Friesian Horse - powerful beauty
The black Friesian horse is the only horse breed native to the Netherlands, where the Friesian has been known since as far back as the 13th century. A consistent breeding policy has produced the black Friesian horse we are familiar with today, exhibiting the unique characteristics of the breed and continuing to bear close resemblance to its ancestors.
Multipurpose utility breed
Midway through the last century the black Friesian horse was used mainly as a harness horse in farming operations. These days Friesians are again being kept, but for purposes of recreation, breeding and sports, and often for some combination of these objectives. The Friesian is often seen in the dressage ring and in driving sports.
Some of the more common uses are:
- ridden work under the saddle
- harness horse
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. 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 black 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.
Without a doubt, the black coat of the Friesian will impress you at first sight. Bays and grays occurred earlier in the breed, but now black is the only recognized color. A small white forehead star is also allowed. Other obvious characteristics are the long, heavy mane and tail and the Shire-like fetlock hair.
The Friesian horse is enjoying a revival. He is a noteworthy sight in the show ring. His shiny black coat, flying mane and tail, and high action form an imposing image. The Friesian is, by nature, a talented show horse.
The aim of showing in harness is to bring out the best in one's horse. The horse should be balanced in a fast, high-action trot, roomy from the shoulder and powerful in the hindquarters. The total picture is one of lively harmony, with ears pricked attentively forward. Harness events in shows are usually driven with a high-wheeled gig, the "sjees", for singles, pairs, and tandems. Driving with four-wheeled show carts is also gaining popularity.
Recreational and Competition Driving
Driving one or more Friesian horses has become increasingly popular in the past few years. Tough international competitions are only for the few, but there are many who derive relaxation and pleasure from driving Friesians for recreation. He who wants to perfect his driving and test his skill against others, can do so at the many dressage driving events. The Friesian horse has a talent for dressage. The foundation lies in his intelligence, willingness to learn, and readiness to perform. His pleasant character and his gentleness make the Friesian an attractive mount for competition as well as for recreational purposes.
The riding club "De Oorsprong" (the source), from Huis ter Heide near St. Nicolaasga in Friesland, has been using only Friesian horses since 1937 in order to advertise their abilities as riding horses.
Tilting at the ring
The Friesian horse has a talent for dressage. The foundation lies in his intelligence, willingness to learn, and readiness to perform. His pleasant character and his gentleness make the Friesian an attractive mount for competition as well as for recreational purposes.
This traditional sport is still enthusiastically practiced throughout Holland. One can see Friesians pulling a wide assortment of carriages at these events.
The Friesian quadrille is a well-appreciated show number. It is comprised of 8 sjees, drawn by Friesians, driven by gentlemen accompanied by a lady, both dressed in traditional costumes like those worn in the 1850's. Complex patterns are driven, showing the drivers' trust in the obedience of their horses.
Cource: Royal Dutch Friesian Horse Studbook KFPS