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This "History" page has been reprinted with the permission of the Friesian Horse Society, Inc.
(The "Webmaster" and author for the original FHS website in 1999 also happens to be the "Webmaster" for this site!!)

For more information regarding The Friesian Horse Society, visit their web site at 

Topics Included:

bulletHistory of the Friesian Horse
bulletDescription of the Modern Friesian


The modern Friesian descends from one of Europe's oldest breeds of warmbloods.   Yet as little as one hundred years ago, it was nearly extinct.  The Friesian is a prospering breed today due to the efforts of a few admirers of this magnificent warm-blooded horse.

The breed is equally skilled at multi-level dressage, trotting, and driving, singly or combined.  Its high step and superb

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natural movement are the result of its long being favored by breeders throughout Northern Europe.  The same blood lines that runs through the Lipizzan are present in the Friesian.
From the 16th century on, Friesian horses were also known in Neaples.  Jan van der Straat's painting in 1568 shows the stallion "Phryso" owned by Don Juan from Austria.

The breed originated in the Dutch Netherlands in the early 16th Century.   It takes its name from Friesland, a Dutch province bordering the North Sea, long known for its open pastures and wealth of horse breeding.  Because of the wars of this time the native Friesian came under the influence of the great Spanish Andalusian horse.  During the Dutch IndependenceWar against Spain (1568-1648), the Spanish influence was renewed to lay the foundation of the modern Friesian.

During the 18th Century, the Friesian lost its favor as a war horse but became respected as both a trotter and carriage horse.  Its muscular body,

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high natural step, well-developed hindquarters, energetic intelligence, and gentle temperament all lent their strengths to these demands.

But the 19th Century favored other breeds increasingly available in the widening world equine trade market.  Imported trotting horses from Russia and America replaced the Friesian horses at almost every race course.  The once-famous Friesian was

In the 17th century , the Marquis De Newcastle mentioned Friesian horses as being very qualified for dressage and high school riding.

so rare it was in danger of becoming extinct.  In 1879 a few admirers tried to save what was left.  The result was the Studbook Society, which  included
two registries:  Friesians in the "A" Book, and other warmbloods including crossbreeds and Bovenlander (Oldenburg and East Friesian horses) in the "B" Book.  The first studbook, "Paardenstamboek" was published by 1880.  After the fusion of the registries in 1906, the studbook was renamed "Friesch Paarden Stamboek" (FPS) in 1907, a registry which included Friesian and Oldenburg stallions.  The Oldenburg blood was added because it was the opinion of some that this warmblood would "improve" the Friesian horse.

By the turn of the century, the ravages of the foreign trade influences as well as the extensive cross-breeding of remaining Friesians had sadly left only a few purebred stallions and mares.  The Dutch society "Het Friesche Paard"(The Friesian Horse) was founded in 1913 to promote the breeding of purebred Friesian horses, and by 1915 were able to convince FPS to agree to split the registries once again.  By 1943, the breeders of non-Friesian horses of the B-Book left the Studbook to form an entirely separate registry called NWP (NWP=Noordnederlands Warmbloed Paarden, which later became   Warmbloed Paarden Nederland (WPN, a.k.a. KWPN).  The remaining Friesian breeders of FPS concentrated such intense effort to re-establish the Friesian that it can be fairly claimed that no breed has been researched more scientifically than the Friesian.  There are three modern bloodlines:  Tetman 205, Age 168, and Ritske 202.   Each of these sires trace their blood to Paulus 121, who was born in 1913 and entered into the Studbook in 1916.  He in turn can be traced back three more generations to the original 19th century Studbook foundation sire,  Nemo 51, born in 1885. Today, all purebred Friesians  trace back to these bloodlines, including all those registered with both FPS and FPZV.

Thus, thanks to the efforts of a few Dutch Friesian admirers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, purebred Friesians are now seen and enjoyed around the world, with the majority being in the Netherlands and Germany, followed by North America.  The result has been the establishment of "daughter" societies of FPS, including the "Society of Breeders and Friends of the Friesian Horse" in Germany in

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1979.  This group of German breeders later were granted the approval of the German government and FN (German National Equestrian Federation) to become an independent registry.  The Society was renamed the   "Friesian Horse Breeders' Association" or Friesenpferde Zuchtverband, e.V. (FPZV).  In addition to being recognized and approved by FEI (Federation Equestrian International), FPZV is also the only Friesian registry that is both licensed and approved by the German government and FN.  FPZV maintains stringent registration criteria and regulations based on the original Dutch tradition.   In 1993, the Friesian Horse Society (FHS) was established as the North American affiliate of FPZV.

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Today, because of continued steady growth in number (now up to approximately 1200 in North America) as well as a tremendous surge in popularity, the Friesian's survival is now virtually guaranteed.  Having recently become one of Europe's most respected performance horses, it remains only for America to discover the versatility and beauty of this noble and ancient breed.

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The Modern Friesian's Beauty

Since prehistoric times, humans have been drawn to the natural beauty of horses.   The Friesian, an ancient warmblood breed, has evolved to exemplify the exterior traits that we love about equine beauty.

The modern Friesian's trademarks are its overall distinctive exterior, especially the high-set neck with outstanding crest, the broad chest with lightly accentuated croup, and relatively small head and ears.

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The Friesian strikes the beholder as a breed apart.  Most memorable is their impressive stature, stunningly luxuriant mane and the extra-long tail.  During performances these features combine with the feathers and the low set of the tail to emphasize the breed's powerful and elastic gait.  The aristocratic appearance is accentuated by the big expressive eyes, with a fine head carried high on an elegant and nicely curved neck. Compared to the body, the head seems rather small and either straight or slightly concave, and the small ears are also typical. They have tough legs with good bone structure, resulting in an enduring and surefooted horse.
The Friesian is a powerful horse with high stepping action.  Today, the horses are bred to be exclusively black.  Darker colors have always been dominating, but up to the turn of the century about twenty percent were chestnut or bay.  The black color was advanced by strict selection.  The only white spot allowed on the body is the star.  The preferred build today is the lighter sporthorse rather than the heavier draft type.  The modern Friesian is strong but slightly taller and lighter on its feet than its coach-bred forebears.  For this reason, the Friesian has re-emerged throughout Europe as both a champion dressage and driving performance horse.

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Friesian beauty is more than skin-deep.  Its easy-going temperament makes him a great companion to riders of all ages.  The breed is honest and willing to please.  But its versatility is what brings lasting value to the owner.  Whether Dad wants to get a quality dressage mount for his daughter, or a dependable cross-country horse for his wife, or to take family and friends for a carriage ride, the Friesian does it all!

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"History" adapted by FHS webmaster, Mary Jean Gould-Earley, from booklet published by the Friesenpferde Zuchtverband e.V., The Friesian Horse, Lützdruck, Germany, 1993.
This page was last updated on 10/29/10.
Copyright © 1999-2000 by Friesian Horse Society, Inc. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 1999-2000 by Laurel Highland Farm. All rights reserved.
Revised: 01 Jul 2011 02:34:14 -0700.