The Friesian is one of Europe’s oldest breeds, dating as far back as the 13th century. It is native to the Netherlands where it gets its name from the Friesland region, where it is deemed a national treasure.
Experts suspect that the Friesian’s most influential ancestor was the prehistoric Equus Robustus, an enormous horse that once roamed Northern Europe.The monks where well known for their horse breeding in the middle ages, and reputedly crossed the draft type Equus robustus descendants with lighter horse breeds. The result was the Friesian: one of Europe’s first pure horse breeds and one of the world’s first warm-blooded horses.
They were used in medieval times to carry European knights during the Crusades to the Middle East. The look of the breed was refined due to breeding with the eastern horses, and the infusion of Andalusian blood when the Spanish occupied the Netherlands during the Eight Years’ War.
The descendants of this heavy horse were valued as saddle horses by the medieval nobility and are portrayed in paintings by many of the Old Dutch Masters.
Use of the Friesian horse became increasingly limited to Friesland over the 18th and 19th centuries.
During the early 20th century they almost became extinct due to being crossed to other breeds to create a lighter and faster horse for trotting; and the popularity of heavier breeds for farming. In 1913, there were only three studbook stallions available for breeding.
Fuel shortages in World War II revived the population and popularity of the Friesian as farmers turned to them for carriage and farm use.The enthusiasts of the breed brought the attention of the horse to others, andthere was arapid expansion of the breed for many and varied purposes.
From the later part of the 20th century until today, demand for the purebred has increased with a finer-boned, taller, more agile version becoming sought after. Today the breed is popular in harness and in the show-ring, and are being competed up to international levels as well as a dressage horse. They can also be seen in the circus and is a popular choice in movies.