The Friesian horse is an iconic horse breed known for their fairytale looks and striking charisma. These horses are often featured in Hollywood productions, contributing to the breed’s growing popularity in recent decades.

Originally from Friesland in the Netherlands, the breed descends from famous war horses once ridden by knights in the Middle Ages. Demand for the breed outside of the Netherlands grew over centuries, and today, these horses are found worldwide.

Rampant crossbreeding almost led to the extinction of the purebred Friesian in the 20th century. Although population numbers have rebounded, inbreeding has contributed to several genetic diseases and health problems in the breed.

This breed profile will discuss the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Friesian horse breed. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for Friesian horses.

Friesian Horse History

Friesians are an old breed with a long history spanning centuries and recognizable breed type. Their reputation as one of the most desirable horse breeds in the world has persisted throughout their history.

Origin

Illustrations depicting horses recognizable as Friesians date back to the 11th century. But military records indicate that troops from Friesland rode these local native horses much earlier, beginning in the 4th century. [1]

Arabian horses brought to the region by returning crusaders introduced eastern blood to the local Friesian horses in the Middle Ages. Additional outside influences came from Andalusian horses imported from Spain in the 16th and 17th centuries.

Genetic studies reveal the modern Friesian horse is a distinct breed largely isolated from other Dutch horse populations. Unlike many riding horse breeds in Europe, Friesians do not descend from horses with English Thoroughbred blood. [2]

The Friesian horse, as we know it today, has its roots in a landrace that was naturally shaped by the conditions of its native region over a millennia. A landrace is a domesticated animal species that has developed largely through adaptation to its natural and cultural environment, as opposed to selective breeding.

Despite their long history, the official Friesian breed described today was first recognized in 1879. [1]

Historic Use

Early ancestors of Friesians were all-around working and riding horses for the population of Friesland. The breed eventually became famous war mounts for medieval knights. Early illustrations often depict knights riding horses resembling modern Friesians. [1]

Historians believe several famous historical figures rode horses with the Friesian type, including William the Conqueror. Hungarian King Louis II also used Friesians in battle. European Nobility frequently used Friesians as elegant coach horses. [1]

In the 18th and 19th centuries, Friesians were popular trotting and harness horses throughout Europe. However, the population dwindled when the breed fell out of fashion in the late 19th century. By 1902, only 15 approved Friesian stallions remained in Friesland. [3]

Dutch settlers imported large numbers of Friesians to North America, but crossbreeding nearly eliminated purebred Friesians on the continent until their reintroduction in the 1970s. Since then, Friesians have become one of the most in-demand breeds for recreational riding and driving.

Breed Registry

The Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA) serves as the exclusive North American affiliate of the Koninklijke Vereniging “Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek” (KFPS), or the Royal Association of the Friesian Horse Studbook, based in the Netherlands.

The KFPS is the original and authoritative registry for the Friesian horse breed, responsible for maintaining the breed’s purity and standards as established since its formal recognition in 1879.

FHANA’s role is to uphold the standards and practices set by the KFPS for Friesian horses in North America. This includes ensuring that all registered horses are purebred, tracing their lineage directly to the original Dutch studbook.

To be eligible for registration with the KFPS, a Friesian horse must be born from a dam (mother) registered in the main section of the studbook and sired (fathered) by an approved stallion. Approved stallions undergo rigorous evaluation and testing to ensure they meet the high standards of the breed and can contribute positively to the gene pool.

Both FHANA and KFPS conduct regular inspections, during which horses are assessed on a variety of criteria, including:

  • Conformation (the horse’s physical structure and appearance)
  • Movement
  • Overall breed characteristics

The inspections are designed to identify horses that exemplify the breed standard and are therefore suitable for breeding.