PetMD Editorial

. Reviewed by Courtnee Morton, DVM
Updated Nov. 28, 2023
Friesian mare and foal running

Although it originated in the northern Netherlands, the Friesian horse has existed for over 100 years in Europe. The breed has been used for riding, competition, and to improve other horse breeds.

Physical Characteristics

The Friesian horse has a solid, strong body, and magnificent posture. The head is elongated with a deep nasal cavity and alert ears. A breed with refined elegance, the Friesian has brilliant eyes, sturdy legs, and a long, rich mane and tail and feathered feet. They measure about 15 to 16 hands high (60–64 inches, 152–163 centimeters) and weigh between 1200 and 1500 pounds. Friesian horses have a lustrous black coat, with an occasional white star on the forehead.

Personality and Temperament

The Friesian horse has a distinct personality and temperament. Intelligent and strong-willed, the breed is commonly used to pull light farm carts or carriages. While they can have fiery personalities when needed, particularly the stallions, most Friesians are gentle and serene. In fact, their posture and disposition are so highly sought after that they remain one of the most popular horses for general riding, harness, and equestrian sports. 

History and Background

There are many records which provide proof of the existence of the Friesian even in primitive times. Numerous portraits of this horse exist in caves in Holland, particularly Friesland (a province north of the Netherlands) and Germany. These horses were the first that were crossed with the Andalusians. Many of these horses were used during times of war because of their great courage and speed. They have also been used to pull royal carriages from medieval times up to the present day, due to their elegance.

The Friesian Horse Association of North America was formed in 1983 and is the only American-recognized representative of the original Friesian studbook maintained in the Netherlands. Due to the very high standards of the breed, there has been some inbreeding over the years.

Health and Care

While a beautiful and elegant horse, the Friesian breed is subject to a relatively high number of health concerns and genetic conditions; this may be due to inbreeding or other evolutionary factors. Some common genetic conditions of the Friesian foal include hydrocephalus and dwarfism. A few of the diseases that are seen frequently in the breed include:

Featured Image: Zuzule/iStock via Getty Images Plus

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