Distinguished History of the Friesian Horse
The heavy Friesian Horse is a true workhorse. The characteristics of this breed include strength, large size, thick fur, and a uniform black coat. Friesians are a beautiful, photogenic breed. Their manes and tails are kept long, and most owners leave the long fringes of hair that grow around their hooves. So the horse looks especially stout-footed, like a Clydesdale.
The true Friesian Horse was a breed developed by the peasants of Friesland, an agricultural region now a part of the Netherlands along the North Sea Coast. The climate in this area can be chilly and windy. This strong horse was perfect for that region. The breed had probably already been developed from the wild horses of Europe by the time the Romans arrived in Friesland. It is thought that the Romans brought these horses to Britain with them and thus introduced some Friesian characteristics to the island's horses.
But Friesian Horses were long thought to be a sort of heavy, inelegant, even ugly breed, suited only to dirty farm work. This had changed drastically by the dawning of the Age of Chivalry. Friesians were one of the few breeds stout and strong enough to carry an armor-clad knight into battle. Chevaliers prized these animals. During the Crusades, it is probable that Europeans bred their Friesians with Arabian horses making the breed somewhat more graceful in its steps.
In fact from the Middle Ages until the Industrial Revolution, the Friesian Horse had a range of desirable characteristics; being more muscular animals, they made strong farm workers. Their more compact brothers were still big, and with a glistening coat, and with a gentle, easily-trained mentality, they were popular with the gentry spending time at fancy riding schools. Some Britons were known to import them to work as hearse-pullers.
However, as the 19th century progressed into the 20th, almost all working horse breeds experienced a decline, and the Friesian was no exception. Throughout its zenith, very few people bred pure Friesians; they rather crossbred them with other horses, trying to select certain characteristics. But Dutch enthusiasts, interested in preserving their local breed, set up a Friesian Horse Registry in 1878. They would only list animals of pure Friesian stock, with no other breed in its bloodlines. Even today, it is one of the strictest registries in the world.
But now the breed is no longer in danger of decline. Its beauty and temperament make it a favorite among breeders, riders, and places that need real workhorses.