The purebred Friesian originated in Friesland, a province in the Netherlands. The Friesian is most recognized by its upright, noble carriage, its black hair coat, its long thick mane, tail and forelock, and the trademark feathers on its lower legs. Although the breed’s conformation resembles that of a light draft horse, the Friesian is remarkably nimble and graceful for its size, and carries itself with distinctive animation and elegance. Ranging in height from 15.1 to 17.3 hands and possessing a powerfully built body with dense bone, the Friesian horse is known for its brisk, high-stepping trot.
During the Middle Ages, it is believed that the modern Friesian’s ancestors were highly prized as war horses, and because of their size and body type, could easily carry a knight in full armor into battle. Additionally, the Friesian became widely popular in Europe as a carriage horse. Although there is some documentation that the Friesian horse was first introduced to North America by way of the Dutch colony New Amsterdam in 1625, and was perhaps responsible for influencing a number of breeds developed in what would eventually become the United States, it seems that the Friesian horse ceased to exist in the colonies by 1664. It was not until 1974 that the purebred Friesian would be re-introduced to North America as a modern show horse, pleasure mount and parade and exhibition horse. Today the breed can be found competing in virtually every discipline. Still a favorite for carriage driving because of its beauty and powerful trot, the Friesian is making its presence felt in the dressage world in recent years, as well. Saddle Seat, Hunter Seat and Western riders have all found the Friesian a match in their respective classes. As to the driving disciplines, the Friesian has not merely retained its place, but expanded it, finding its way into pleasure driving, as well as combined driving.