Page 3 - Flathead Beacon // 4.15.15
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APRIL 15, 2015 | 3
by Guy Stibal
Legendary Friesians
The black horse prances in the early morn- ing light, excited and tense like an arrow that is ready to be released. He is a stallion standing sixteen hands high and is bedecked in light armor made of boiled leather with a metal ‘peytral’ breast-plate to protect his chest. His rider is a knight in full armor with a eight foot long spear held ready and a shield in his other hand. A long line of cavalry is ar- rayed on either side, with hundreds of horses and riders poised for one purpose.... destroy the enemy before them. The enemy waits across the field, infantry and cavalry poised for the charge that is to come when the two armies will meet in battle.
The black stallion is a ‘destrier,’ a Friesian warhorse that has been trained all his life for this one purpose.... to charge into battle without hesitation, to protect his rider to the death and to be utterly fearless.
The black stallion is the leader of the charge, for he carries the warlord on his back. He waits for the signal that will loose the ar- row of cavalry at the enemy, every muscle in his body tensed for the charge....
The charge begins slowly at first, the hors- es start at a trot, then canter, and finally to a full gallop. A shout goes up on both sides and the spears of the knights lower in unison, aimed at the enemy with deadly intent. The black stallion breaks into the lead to be the first into battle. The two cavalry charges meet with a thunderous crash of armor, flesh and bone. The warlord is unseated from his black stallion but the horse does not run away. In- stead, he protects his rider with his hooves and teeth, a deadly engine of destruction to all that approach. The rider is able to climb on the stallions back to continue the battle....
The stallion that we have just depicted is an ancestor of the Modern Friesian horse, known also as Belgian Black. In the Middle- Ages, these horses were in great demand in Europe as warhorses. It probably looked
quite similar to pure-breed Friesian horses to- day, one of the few horses left with the same characteristics. Its origins are from Friesland in the Netherlands, or Holland, hence the name ‘Friesian.’ Friesian horses are likely de- scended from the ‘forest horse’ in northern Europe thousands of years ago.
In the 12th and 13th centuries, eastern horses were mated with Friesian stock from the crusades. Then during the 16th and 17th centuries, warhorses were no longer in such demand. The Friesian was then bred to Anda- lusian horses from Spain to work as elegant carriage horses. Its use as a carriage horse kept the breed in demand into the 16th and 17th centuries.
In the late 1800s the Friesian was almost bred out of existence by crossbreeding with Bovenlander horses in the Netherlands. By the early 20th century, only three stallions of the breed were left alive. The pure breed Frie- sian has only three modern bloodlines from the following stallions: Tetman 205, Age 168, and Ritske 202. Each of these stallions trac- es his blood to the stallion Paulus 121, who was born in 1913. Paulus 121 can be traced back three generations to the original 19th- century Studbook foundation sire, Nemo 51, born in 1885.
Over the next hundred years the Friesian was used in agriculture as a light draft horse and for carriage driving. The use as a draft horse began to impart breeding that made a horse that was smaller and stockier for pull- ing. People that used the horse for pulling plows complained that ‘the horse danced to much in the traces,’ a characteristic that was undoubtedly never bred out of them.
Cross breeding was not the only thing that threatened the breed from oblivion. Friesians almost went extinct when tractors and cars replaced them in the 20th century. Only the farmers in the Netherlands kept them alive, undoubtedly for no other reason than that
they loved the breed.
In the 1960s there was a concerted effort
to save the breed from extinction in the Neth- erlands. Breeders began to value the horse not as a agricultural horse, but for its intrinsic value as a historically important breed.
The draft horse characteristics are now being slowly bred out. Now the horse is re- turning to its tall, elegant demeanor of a carriage and dressage horse through the guidance of the modern KFPS Royal Frie- sian Association and the American Friesian FAHNA association.
The Friesian has now come full circle, back to the luxuriant aristocratic carriage horse it once was. Typical of a pure breed Friesian are the front, the majestic flowing mane and feathering hair of the lower legs, their jet black color, noble features and the proud, fiery gait. The harmonious build, the noble head with a lightly arched neck hear- kens back to horses of old, when the knights rode them into battle.
A testimony to the Friesian type of horse can be seen in the sculpture of the four horses still in St Marks cathedral in Venice, Italy from the fourth century A.D. These four horses look identical to the modern Friesian. All you would have to do to make these char- iot horses look Friesian would be some black paint.
Today the Friesian breed is kept for pur-
poses of recreation, breeding and sports, and often in combination of these purposes. The Friesian is often used in the dressage ring and in driving sports. From near extinc- tion to its modern day triumph the Friesian warhorse is very much still very much alive.
The first time that you meet a pureblood Friesian horse, you will know why breeders love them so much. The Friesian is a large and powerful horse, but despite their size, they are surprisingly nimble. They are spir- ited, yet at the same time, gentle. They are without guile or pretension, yet they are very proud. They have a strong capacity for inter- action and affection unlike some of the other breeds. They almost want to crawl into your lap like a large puppy. They are intelligent and learn quickly, and thrive on praise. Last but not least, they are majestic.
Today, thanks to its typical functional char- acteristics, the Friesian horse now competes with other breeds at the highest levels of equestrian sports. The breeders of Legend- ary Friesians are dedicated to preserving the characteristics set down by the KFPS Royal Friesian Association and the Friesian Horse Association of North America or FAHNA. We are dedicated to saving this magnificent ani- mal for posterity.
For more information about Legendary Friesians call the local Breeders here in Co- lumbia Falls at 208-243-6130.

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