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Use and characteristics of Friesians
Friesian horses average 15.3 hands (63 inches, 160 cm), though in recent years it has become common to buy a Friesian that is taller, up to 17hh (68 inches/173 cm), particularly for use in shows. They weigh between 1,250 – 1450 pounds. Although they are strong and sturdy horses, they always look extremely elegant due to their compact shape, naturally arched neck and full mane and tail, creating an overall impression of grace combined with boldness and strength. They have powerful quarters and shoulders, good strong bone, and excellent feet, all highly desirable qualities that undoubtedly assist to sell a Friesian. Their heads are beautiful, with an alert expression and long, tapering ears. Friesians will normally have some feather, though not to the same degree as cobs or draught horses, and feathering is a breed characteristic. Their appearance indicates Spanish ancestry, which most likely dates to the period when the Netherlands was under Spanish rule. Today, Friesians are often categorised with Spanish, Portuguese and other “Baroque” breeds in dressage and similar events. They are especially noted for their stunning, elevated trot.
Origin and history of breeding Friesians
Like many breeds, the origins of the Friesian are hazy until early modern times. It has been argued that Friesian horses are the descendants of horses belonging to the Iron Age tribes that occupied the area in pre-Roman times. After the Roman occupation, some of the men and horses from the region were sent to Hadrian’s Wall as auxiliary cavalry. It’s certainly true that the tribes of the lower Rhine area were excellent cavalrymen, and the Batavians in particular had a reputation that was so high they became Caesar’s imperial horse guard. However, much of the information is conjectural. It's likely that ancestors of the Friesian horse were used as warhorses and riding horses during medieval times. The picture becomes clearer during the 16th and 17th centuries, when the area that is now the Netherlands came under Spanish rule and their horses influenced the foundation of the breed. In modern times, Friesians were the horse of choice for farmers since they could do agricultural work and also take part in trotting races. They were also beautiful in appearance and easy to keep, thus drawing parallels with another excellent all-rounder, the Cleveland Bay, bred by Yorkshire farmers. The Friesian studbook was formed in 1879.
Friesian horses in equestrianism
Now that horses are no longer required in agriculture, the handsome Friesian still finds plenty of work in the media. These stunning looking horses are much in demand for carriage and coach work, as well as being dressage and High School stars. They thrive on work and new challenges, needing plenty to occupy them.