The Friesian Horse Breed
This breed of horse has become increasingly popular in the UK, and for a rather strange reason. In more recent times, there has been a resurgence in demand for horse-drawn hearses and there is no better fine funeral horse than a Friesian or even a pair of Friesians. Complete with black plumes on their heads and often dark purple or black tabards across their backs, these horses will take your breath away with both their presence and nobility. This is perhaps a more unusual way to raise breed profile and is an echo from the past as before motor cars, any hearse was, by necessity, drawn by horses. Only the very wealthy however could afford something as spectacular as the Friesian for their final journey.
But as the Friesian Horse Society of Great Britain and Ireland proclaim on the front page of their website, these are more than just mere carriage horses. Originally from Friesland in the northern part of the Netherlands, this breed started its journey as a war horse as did so many of the stronger breeds. Later on, its conformation and athletic ability made it particularly suitable for the classical dressage schools of the 17th and 18th centuries. Then in more recent times, it was used as an agricultural worker. As with other breeds employed within farming, once mechanisation took hold after the Second World War, the use for the horse began to dwindle and numbers fell to perilously low levels.
The Friesian is a breed that has influenced other European stock such as the Oldenburg and the Dales and Fell pony breeds in the north of England – there is quite a strong resemblance there to the two native ponies. It was popular as a cross because it added strength but with quality and without the heaviness of some of the other draught breeds. It also brought its docile and generous temperament to the mix. Being a good doer, it was an economical animal to keep, able to thrive on meagre rations, a significant consideration particularly during the depression in the early part of the twentieth century. But by the sixties, the breed was itself struggling for survival. Now however, the Friesian is on the rise as our global reach does not limit our choice to Thoroughbred, Irish Draught or pony cross.
When circuses were the height of fashion, the Friesian was a popular participant, trainable and eye catching, it was a very suitable performance animal. More recently, the Friesian has continued its love affair with performance in modern media with appearances in Sense and Sensibility, the Chronicles of Narnia and Game of Thrones. These are horses that are docile enough to be managed on set and handled and ridden by actors who may have had little training, but yet still look the part.
There are a small number of UK based breeders who breed Friesians within the guidelines of the KFPS mother studbook so it is not necessary to have to import a Friesian. The Friesian Horse Society’s website is very comprehensive and will provide not only a list of studs and breeders but also the processes that surround importation if that is your chosen route. The Society is very happy to help with advice and guidance about the breed. Most shows, even at local level, run classes for foreign breeds so it is also worth keeping an eye out for Friesians on your local circuit. Talking to an owner is the best way of finding out whether your chosen breed is likely to prove suitable for your needs or not. The Friesian has an expressive action so as a riding horse, would not be suitable for everyone; the Friesian requires a sufficiently balanced and established rider and a horseman who is confident as although genuine, they can be feisty.
The Friesian horse is always black in colour with an abundant mane and tail and plenty of feathering on the legs. It stands at around 16hh, but is never usually bigger than 17hh. The conformation is compact with quite a strong head but one that is chiselled, so there is no coarseness present. The Friesian is an exceptional carriage horse, there is no doubt about that, but with the strictly controlled breeding programme run by the mother studbook, it is fast becoming a popular and successful sports horse too. The Friesian has a loveable and tractable nature which makes them suitable for a variety of activities and is most often seen now as a very proficient riding horse. They are becoming increasingly popular in modern dressage but it is probably still in driving that they are best known and most commonplace. But whatever you choose to do with a Friesian, they will do it willingly and calmly and you can be assured that they will turn heads.