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HISTORY: The Friesian Horse is one of the oldest European breeds. Its existence was recorded as far back as 1,000 B.C. The Roman historian Tacitus (AD 22-120) recorded the Friesian existence and noted its value as an all-around powerful utility horse. He said the horse seemed to dance in the streets for the people. The Friesian originally descended from the primitive Forest Horse, but the use of the Friesian horse during the Crusades in the 16th and 17th centuries by Friesian Knights mixed its blood with eastern horses, Andalusians, Arabians, and Barbs.

The Oldenburger was founded through Friesian stock in the 17th century and later was influential in the founding of Dales ponies, the Shire, Fell Pony, Morgan, and the Tennessee walker. The Friesian Horse almost became extinct in the early 1900’s as a result of the crossbreeding, but was saved by World War II. The War brought higher fuel costs, which resulted in the return to the use horse power by Dutch farmers.

Today, there are many clubs, societies and registries dedicated to the Friesian breed.

 The Dutch registry, Het Friesh Paarden-Stamboek or FPS
 The Friesian Blood Horse Registry
 The Friesian Sport Horse Registry
 The German registry, the Friesenferde-Zuchtverband or FPZV
 The Friesian Horse Association of North America or FHANA through the FPS
 The Friesian Horse Society through the FPZV

The regulations for registration are different with every club. Each club looks for a different thing in the Friesian horse. Friesenferde-Zuchtverband or FPZV, the German Friesian Horse registry, will only register purebred Friesian horses, with qualified stallions. A qualified stallion is a stallion that has been checked by a member of the FPZV. The FPZV will recognize crossbreeds if the father is an approved stallion and the mother is a registered mare (any breed). The mare owner must also be a member of the FPZV and the foal will go into the Foal Book II. Any of the foal’s offspring will not be recognized by the FPZV. Registered mares are not allowed to be bred to non-approved stallions. Owners of Approved Stallions, however, may crossbreed if they choose.

The Friesian Blood Horse Society’s regulations on registration are not as strict for the FPZV or the FPS. There are three categories in which a Friesian horse may be registered. The Gold category qualifies horses with a father that is a Purebred Qualified Friesian Stallion and a mother that is a purebred, four generation Friesian mare. The Silver category includes foals from qualified crossbred, Friesian Blood Horse registered and papered, four generation Friesian mare. The Bronze category includes foals from any Friesian Blood Horse Qualified Stallion and mare with no papers. Any mare with no papers must be inspected by an Inspector for the Friesian Blood Horse Society. Any filly from a mare with no papers will need to be inspected before being used to breed; a colt will not qualify for the Friesian Blood Horse Stallion List. Friesian Stallions approved by the FPZV or the FPS are accepted to the Friesian Blood Horse Stallion List without an inspection.

The Friesian Sport Horse Registry requires horses to have at least 25% Friesian blood. Validation of Friesian blood must be presented before the acceptance of any horse into the registry.

Het Friesh Paarden-Stamboek or the FPS was the first Friesian Horse Registry and is based in Holland. Only pure Friesian foals are allowed into the registry with no exceptions. The FPS has four different registry books; the Foal Book, the Studbook, B-Book I, and B-Book II.

The FPZV and the FPS have stringent judging standards for their registries. The FPS has strict performance tests for both mares and stallions. The judging is based on 40% exterior and 60% gait quality. The foals are judged between the age of 6 weeks and 6 months. They can receive premiums for their gait quality and exterior looks. The stallions are judged for star and Approval ratings at three years old. Stallions that are sent on to the Approval judging go through a very strict judging. They are judged on the walk and trot under harness and saddle at the Central Examination. The stallions are put through semen testing, chestnut factor, dope testing, veterinary testing and x-rays. Mares are judged at the age of three for the star rating or entrance into the Studbook. They are judged on their gaits and exterior. They must be at least 15.1 hands min. to qualify for the Star rating.

The FPZV also has strict performance tests that the horses must pass to qualify for the Studbook. The Friesians are judged by a FPZV breeding director. The mares and stallions are judged 40% exterior and 60% gait quality. The stallions for Breeding Approval status are judged between the ages of three and four. Three year olds must be at least 15.2 H and four year olds must be 15.3 H. The stallions must be examined by a vet and have x-rays done during the second stage of judging. They are judged on trainability, character, and disposition. They are judged in dressage, driving, jumping, and sled pulling at the 50-day performance testing at the Central Stallion Testing Station in Munich. The stallion’s approval may be revoked at anytime if the FPZV judges believe him to be passing defective traits. The mares are judged for Star or Model status in dressage and driving. For a mare to qualify for the studbook, she must be at least 14.3 H. A mare going for Star or Model must be at least 15.2 H.

Freisians have an undeniable talent for breeding animals. They have successfully bred two breeds of dogs; the Stabijhoun and the Wetterhoun. They have also bred their own breed of sheep; the East Friesian Dairy Sheep and the black and white Friesian Dairy cattle and famous all over Europe. The Dutch’s most impressive and beautiful result of their breeding talent has to be the Friesian Horse. The history of the breeding of the Friesian horse is a breathtaking story in itself, but to fully understand the character of the Friesian, you must understand the background from which they come from.

As early as 150 AD Roman historians mention Friesian cavalry in Brittania near Hadrian’s Wall. The first written proof of the Friesians existence was in 1544, when the German Elector Johan Fredrik van Saksen rode his Friesian stallion to the Reichstag in Spiers. This apparently attracted a lot of attention, as the Emperor Charles V recognized him by his horse. There is a famous etching dating from 1568 of Phryso, the stallion owned by Don Juan of Austria in Naples.
The Friesians were originally bred for trotting races, where people would place baskets of oranges on the horses back and which ever horse kept the basket on the longest at the trot won. Toward the end of the 1800’s and the beginning of this century, Friesians were used, mainly in Friesland, for carriage driving and short track races. Wealthy farmers went to church in a ‘sjees,’ pulled by one or more Friesian Horses.

In 1526 Hungarian King Louis II used heavy Friesian horses in battle against the Turks, but this was not the first or the last time these majestic horses were used by royalty. Electoral Prince George William of Prussia imported Friesian horses from the Netherlands in 1624 and later, in 1823, King William I started trotting races in Leeuwarden which later became known as the “King’s Golden Whip Day” due to the prize. In 1870 the first Friesian studbook was created in Roordahuizen. It was called “The Horse Studbook.” The Friesians were not always popular for games and play; in 1881, there where more then 700 Friesian horses employed in the funeral business in London alone. At that time they were known as the “Belgium Blacks.”

The Friesians were prosperous, but that was soon to end, because in 1913 the Dutch received a wake up call to preserve the Friesian Horse. There were only three approved Friesian stallions left in the world. The Friesian blood had been deluded in the creation of other breeds, such as the Oldenburger. In 1918, the Dutch registered the last brown Friesian mare, therefore ending the allowable chestnut factor for the breed.

Throughout history, the Friesian has been used in wars and circuses, on farms and trotting teams, and now for pleasure and competition. The Friesians’ near extinction in the 1920’s encourages Friesian breeders to be very vigilant with their breeding programs. The Friesian Horse is now an internationally recognized breed and has over 80 approved stallion in Holland and over 20 approved stallion in the United States.

Now the FPS and the FPZV are very careful in the maintaining and preferably improvement of the Friesian Horse. Tireless efforts are devoted to further improvements in the breed. The future goal of these associations being, the ability to breed a versatile horse suitable for driving as well as driving, for combination events, for harness events, and maybe even shows in the circus. The one thing that must be preserved at all costs is the heart of the Friesian itself; noblesse, power, love, and devotion. The Friesians’ almost extinction gave us a good look at what we were about to loose and we became all the more determined to save these wonderful horses. Finally, the Friesian horses are dancing again! 

FHANA - Friesian Horse Association of North America

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