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Homeland of the Friesian Horse ..
It's very well-known that the Friesian horse originated in Friesland - as it is the only native breed of the Netherlands.
Friesland itself is an old, ancient country rich in history, dating back to 500 B.C. when people first settled along the coast of what is now known as the North Sea. It is one of twelve provinces of the Kingdom of the Netherlands situated in the northwest of Europe.
The people were tradesmen, seafarers, farmers and horse breeders. Before the Vikings also took to the seas (800 -1000 A.D.), they were the great seaborne traders. They sailed the Friesian Sea, the bordering rivers and the adjacent seas.
The gradual rising of the sea, caused by the melting of the ice on the poles together with the sinking of the earth, forced the Frisians to built mounds, on which they could build their houses and safeguard themselves against floods which came ever higher. One thousand of these mounds are known.
B.C. is the abbreviation of "Before Christ." However, A.D. is not the abbreviation for "After death." AD stands for Anno Domini, Latin for “in the year of the Lord.”
Most towns and villages along the coast were built on them. Around the year when the territory of the Frisians was restricted to the North of the Netherlands and neighboring Germany, sea-walls kept the land free from the continually higher floods.
In 1927, Labouchere found bones of larger and smaller horses in the Friesian mounds. He lumps the types Equus occidentalis (western horse) and Equus germanicus (German horse) together to the type of Equus robustus (big horse).
The result was the beginnings of the Friesian, a horse with incredible strength and agility, coupled with a willing, kind, yet lively disposition. These skillful monks created not only one of Europe's first pure horse breeds, but also one of the world's first warmbloods.
A Breed of Olde ..
Friesians were also depicted in numerous paintings of 15th century artists of the Flemish school, further evidence of the breed’s widespread appeal and influence. There are a great many paintings and pictures, dating back some centuries, showing Princes of the House of Orange-Nassau and other significant people with what inquisitively appears to be none other than a Friesian horse.
Armored knights found this horse very desirable as a destrier or charger, having the strength to carry great weights of knights in armor into battle and still maneuver quickly.
Around 150 A.D., Roman historians wrote about Friesian horsemen who served in the Roman Legions such as the Equites Singulares or "personal body guards" of Emperor Nero 54-68 A.D. And in Britannia near Hadrian’s Wall (122 A.D.), between Scotland and England. Despite being ugly in their eyes, the Romans were among the first to acknowledge the Friesian as a powerful, working horse.
The strength, docility and endurance was proven when they were said to have carried the Teutonic knights to the Middle East during the Crusades (1095 A.D. – 1271 A.D.).
His heir had this set up."
In the 11th century, during the Battle of Hastings on October 14th 1066, Willem de Veroveraar (Willem the Conquerer) used horses which strongly resembled Friesian stallions. From this period, there are many illustrations of knights riding Friesian-looking horses. The legendary Bayeux Tapestry made of this event depicts Willem seated on what could be an early Friesian horse.
The Friesian was also traded on the markets in Germany in the 13th century, which has been handed down in old scripts. Breeding was then mainly in the hands of monks. Since Friesland belonged to the diocese of Münster at the time, it is not surprising that these horses were sold in Germany.
In the course of the Eighty Years’ War, Spanish forces occupied the Netherlands from 1568 to 1648. With them were their Spanish stallions. It is mostly likely that, during this time, the Friesian was influenced by what may have been an Andalusian (or the early 'Villanos') horse. Because Spain, in turn, had been occupied by the Moors in the 8th century, the Spanish stallions also carried a lot of oriental blood as well Arabian influence.
The “first” written evidence of use of the name ‘Friesian horse’ was in an announcement in 1544. That German Elector Johann Friedrich von Sachsen came to the Reichstag in Spiers riding a Friesian stallion. Three years later, he rode the same stallion in the Battle of Muhlberg and was recognized from afar by the Holy Roman Emperor Charles V.
Historian Ann Hyland wrote of the Friesian breed: “The Emperor Charles (reigned 1516-56) continued Spanish expansion into the Netherlands, which had its Frisian warhorse, noted by Vegetius (Publius Flavius Vegetius Renatus) ..
.. and used on the continent and in Britain in Roman times. Like the Andalusian, the Frisian bred true to type. Even with infusions of Spanish blood during the sixteenth century, it retained its indigenous characteristics, taking the best from both breeds
The Frisian is mentioned in 16th and 17th century works…a courageous horse eminently suited for war, lacking the volatility of some breeds or the phlegm of very heavy ones. Generally black, the Frisian was around 15hh with strong, cobby conformation, but with a deal more elegance and quality. The noted gait was a smooth trot coming from powerful quarters. Nowadays, though, breed definition is retained, the size has markedly increased, as has that of most breeds due to improved rearing and dietary methods.”
In 1624, Electoral Prince George William of Prussia imported Friesian horses. Then later by the famous Danish stud at Fredericksborg and also by the stud in Salzburg, Germany.
During the 17th century, the Friesian horse, as well as Spanish breeds, was well represented at the various riding schools where the “Haute Ecole” of equitation was practiced. At the time, the Friesian horse was not only a favorite horse for the “Haute Ecole”, it was also a desirable carriage horse.
As early as 1625, Friesian horses were being imported into New Amsterdam which would later be known as New York City in the United States of America. The Dutch founded New Amsterdam in the region they discovered in 1609, but they had to abandon it to the English in 1664, when the name was changed to New York. Advertisements in the papers in 1795 -1796 (5/20/1795 and 11/6/1796) offer "trotters" of Dutch descent. These must have been Friesian horses.
Use of the Friesian horse became increasingly limited to the current Dutch province of Friesland over the 18th and 19th centuries. Undoubtedly, the decay of the upper-class on the European mainland after the French Revolution is partly to be blamed.
By the end of the 19th century in the Friesian countryside , the Friesian horse became merely an expression of the owner’s wealth. Wealthy peasants went to church on Sunday with their gig pulled by a pair of Friesian horses. Additionally, the horse was used for entertainment - in the form of ridden short-track trotting races. In these races, the horse was traditionally ridden with just a small orange blanket on its back.
The Royal House of Orange is the Royal Patron of the studbook. Thus why the winning ribbon color is,
It soon became clear that the registration of the remaining Friesians in genealogical registers was having a stimulating effect on the breeding of Friesian horses. But, those supporting the Bovenlanders were often disproportionately hard in their judgements about the Friesian horse as it "danced too much in front of the plough and thus wasted useful energy." This competition and crossbreeding battle almost proved fatal for the Friesian breed.
It was around this period that about a hundred Friesian people met at Oranje Hotel in Leeuwaarden. Together, they founded an association for Friesian horses in addition to the studbook in order to preserve it from its seemingly inevitable extinction. Thanks to well-considered and professional breeding, and purchasing policies for the remaining full-blooded colts that showed sufficient quality, new life was breathed into the breeding. Among others, the Royal Stables in Borculo and ‘De Oorsprong’ breeding farm, which had been established by the family Van Eysinga at Huis ter Heide in 1885, played a role in this. And with success - it preserved the Friesian horse from extinction.
The Friesian Government has made many regulations in order to safeguard good breeding. Now, the Dutch Horselaw of 1939 (modified) gives rules for studbook and breeding. And with the help of the Friesian Studbook, Friesian horses have since been imported into Western Germany, Scotland and South Africa (1957-58).
But the 1960s ushered in another crisis in the breeding of horses - worldwide discontinuing of the use of horses as a source of power in agriculture. Due to the unexpectedly high pace with which farms became mechanized, horses quickly became redundant on farms. Most farmers lacked the time and money to keep horses simply for pleasure.
Once again, the old inland breed was threatened with extinction. And in 1965, only about 500 mares were registered in the studbook. But the Friesian people, once again, rose the alarm in defense of the Friesian horse facing extinction.
In 1967, the national riding association ‘De Oorsprong’ began a crusade through the Dutch province of Friesland to promote the Friesian horse. From 28 March to 1 April a parade of lovers of the breed travelled with their Friesian horses from Huis ter Heide to Workum. This very powerful factor rescued the breed.
Thanks to the increased possibilities for people to spend time and money on their horses and an improving economy, the Friesian horse received new opportunities - as a recreational horse.
The impact of the promotion campaign was evident in the rapid expansion of the breed in the two decades that followed. The Friesian horse’s exceptional kindness, intelligence, and honest character was of notable importance as horse’s character is extremely fit for recreational use. Within a relatively short period of time, its possibilities for pleasure riding and competition were reborn. The Friesian horse was ideal partner for all kinds of driving purposes. Famous four-in-hand drivers such as Tjeerd Veldstra and Leo Kraayenbrink appeared in international combined driving competitions with Friesians.
Its dressage potential was soon rediscovered as the breed had once been a favorite choice in "Haute école" back in the 17th century. And they are increasingly seen in the higher levels of dressage.
The breed was totally lost in North America due to crossbreeding. But Tom Hannon of Canton, Ohio reintroduced the horse to North America in 1974. More Friesian horses were imported in 1975 and 1977. And by 1983, the popularity of the Friesian in America had grown enough to support a national association and a national show.
An influx of registration and recorded breedings triggered the establishment of “daughter” societies of KFPS outside the Netherlands. Most Dutch members are associated with breeding societies, which organize a large number of activities each year. The Friesian has recently become one of Europe’s most respected performance horses. Because of continued steady growth in number as well as a tremendous surge in popularity, the Friesian’s survival is now virtually guaranteed.
A consistent breeding policy has produced the Friesian horse more familiar today, exhibiting the unique characteristics of the breed and continuing to bear close resemblance to its ancestors.
There are three modern bloodlines: Tetman 205, Age 168, and Ritske 202. Each of these sires trace their blood to Paulus 121, who was born in 1913 and entered into the Studbook in 1916. He in turn can be traced back three generations to the original 19th century Studbook foundation sire, Nemo 51, born in 1885.
Today all purebred Friesians trace back to these bloodlines.
The imports into South Africa occurred to improve the type of horse called the Flemish Horse, imported long ago from Belgium. Nowadays, this type of horse is not found in Belgium anymore, except when imported from Friesland.
A more recent writer, Jeanne Mellin, proposes in her books The Morgan Horse (1961) and The Morgan Horse Handbook (1973) that there is a possibility that this well-known American horse is of Friesian descent. The ability to trot fast, the heavy manes, the long rich tail and the fetlocks at the feet of the original forefather of this breed may be an indication of it's influence.
The Friesian horse has known a couple of famous trotters and it is almost certain that this type of horse was used in the breeding of the Russian Orlov (an Arabian stallion to Friesian mares) at the time, and also in the developing breeding of American trotters.
- KFPS Presents: The Friesian Horse (book)
- KFPS: History of the Friesian Horse
- "Het Friese Paard", Koninklijke vereniging Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek, Drachten, 1999 (book)
- Friesian Horse Association of North America
- International Museum of the Horse: Friesian Horse
- Proosdijhof: The history of the Friesian horse
- Jorieke Savelkouls: The Friesian horse and the Frisian horse
- The Horse in the Ancient World: From Bucephalus to the Hippodrome By Carolyn Willekes (book)
- Friesland Post: The Eventful History of the Friesian Horse
- The Friesian Horse Society: Friesian History
- Friesian Horses Stables M.F. Pietersma: Information about Friesian Horses
- The History of the Friesian Horse
- Roman tombstone in Cirencester featured in BBC project
- Frisian horse
- Friesian horse (Dutch Wikipedia)
- Het Friesche Paard
- Bokt.nl: Friesian horse
- Baroque horse (Dutch Wikipedia)
- The Livestock Conservancy: Friesian Horse
- International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds By Bonnie Lou Hendricks
I made very conscious efforts to list or link all resources. It's extremely difficult to find 100% correct info on a very specific topic, especially going far back in history and when your primary language is English, not Dutch. I did my best to double-check and verify all the information I collected. If you find any errors or have more info to add, please let me know through the Contact page.