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The Friesian (also Frizian) is a horse breed originating in Friesland, in the Netherlands. Although the conformation of the breed resembles that of a light draught horse, Friesians are graceful and nimble for their size. It is believed that during the Middle Ages, ancestors of Friesian horses were in great demand as war horses throughout continental Europe. Through the Early Middle Ages and High Middle Ages, their size enabled them to carry a knight in armour. In the Late Middle Ages, heavier, draught type animals were needed. Though the breed nearly became extinct on more than one occasion, the modern day Friesian horse is growing in numbers and popularity, used both in harness and under saddle. Most recently, the breed is being introduced to the field of dressage.
The Friesian breed is most often recognised by its black coat colour, however, colour alone is not the only distinguishing characteristic; Friesians are occasionally chestnut as some bloodlines do carry the "red" ('e") gene. In the 1930s, chestnuts and bays were seen. Friesians rarely have white markings of any kind; most registries allow only a small star on the forehead for purebred registration. To be accepted as breeding stock by the FPS studbook (Friesch Paarden Stamboek), a stallion must pass a rigorous approval process.
Hessel 480 Sport
Norbert 444 x Jelke 367
The Friesian stands on average about 15.3 hands (63 inches, 160 cm), although it may vary from 14.2 to 17 hands (58 to 68 inches, 147 to 173 cm) at the withers, and mares or geldings must be at least 15.2 hands (62 inches, 157 cm) to qualify for a "star-designation" pedigree. Horses are judged at an inspection, or keuring, by Dutch judges, who decide whether the horse is worthy of star designation. The breed has powerful overall conformation and good bone structure, with what is sometimes called a "Baroque" body type. Friesians have long, arched necks and well-chiseled, short-eared, "Spanish-type" heads. They have powerful, sloping shoulders, compact, muscular bodies with strong, sloping hindquarters and low-set tails. Their limbs are comparatively short and strong. A Friesian horse also has a long, thick mane and tail, often wavy, and "feather"—long, silky hair on the lower legs—deliberately left untrimmed. The breed is known for a brisk, high-stepping trot. The Friesian is considered willing, active, and energetic, but also gentle and docile. A Friesian tends to have great presence and to carry itself with elegance. Today, there are two distinct conformation types—the "baroque" type, which has the more robust build of the classical Friesian, and the modern, "sport horse" type, which is finer-boned. Both types are common, though the modern type is currently more popular in the show ring than is the baroque Friesian. However, conformation type is considered less important than correct movement.
The chestnut colour is generally not accepted for registration for stallions, though it is sometimes allowed for mares and geldings. A chestnut-coloured Friesian that competes is penalised. However, discoloration from old injuries or a black coat with fading from the sun is not penalised. The chestnut allele, a recessive genetic trait in the Friesian, does exist; in the 1990s, two mares gave birth to chestnut foals. The Friesch Paarden Stamboek began to attempt breeding out the chestnut colour in 1990, and today stallions with genetic testing indicating the presence of the chestnut or "red" gene, even if heterozygous and masked by black colour, are not allowed registration with the FPS. The American Friesian Association, which is not affiliated to the KFPS, allows horses with white markings and/or chestnut colour to be registered if purebred parentage can be proven. In 2014 there were eight stallion lines known to still carry the chestnut gene
There are four genetic disorders acknowledged by the industry that may affect horses of Friesian breeding: dwarfism, hydrocephalus, a tendency for aortic rupture, and megaesophagus. There are genetic tests for the first two conditions. The Friesian is also among several breeds that may develop equine polysaccharide storage myopathy. Approximately 0.25% of Friesians are affected by dwarfism, which results in horses with a normal-sized head, a broader chest than normal, an abnormally long back and very short limbs. It is a recessive condition. Additionally, the breed has a higher-than-usual rate of digestive system disorders, and a greater tendency to have insect bite hypersensitivity. Like some other draught breeds, they are prone to a skin condition called verrucous pastern dermatopathy and may be generally prone to having a compromised immune system. Friesian mares have a very high 54% rate of retained placenta after foaling. Some normal-sized Friesians also have a propensity toward tendon and ligament laxity which may or may not be associated with dwarfism. The relatively small gene pool and inbreeding are thought to be factors behind most of these disorders.