By Bill Rinderknecht
WKTV Community Journalist
Charlotte and I attended our first Michigan area Keuring event in Ionia in September 2016 based on our desire to “meet” Friesians in person and learn more about those who own them. Like most show horse owners and breeders, the people we met were enthusiastic about their prized animals and were very friendly as they patiently educated us on the breed and the Keuring.
A little Friesian History
The Friesian horse originated in the province of Frieslan in the Netherlands centuries ago, as war horses used by knights and cavalrymen across Europe, even to Rome. Several movies have used Friesians when a big, majestic, proud horse was desired. More recently they were used extensively on European—especially Dutch—farms until tractors effectively took over. The breed went nearly extinct in the 1970s, but due to a concerted effort the breed has made a comeback. Friesians are an exclusive breed, numbering only 45,000 worldwide and 8,000 in North America.
What is a Keuring?
Keuring is a Dutch word meaning inspection. Friesians are inspected annually to determine which ones are worthy of the only certified database of pure bred Friesians in the world. This record is called the KFPS, or Royal Friesian Studbook. Judges are almost always Dutch, certified in the Netherlands to judge the horses against a single standard, a single Friesian ideal. Dutch “Runners” will put the horses through their paces so the judges can evaluate them.
According to the very thorough Keuring program for the September 2016 event, there are three major areas of Friesian evaluation. They are 1.) Exterior and Movement, 2.) Use—i.e., judged in riding, on a lead, and under harness—and 3.) Vitality and Health (FHANA Royal Friesian, 2016). Today, I’ll address the Breed characteristics that are important to classic Friesians.
What is the Ideal Friesian?
The best Friesians make a luxurious and proud impression. A good-sized stallion will stand 15.5-17.5 hands tall. Evident qualities include a “characteristic front; abundance of hair; black color; and roomy, elevated gaits (knee action)” (FHANA Royal Friesian, 2016, p. 57). The Friesian’s head is “small, noble, expressive” with eyes “placed far apart” (FHANA Royal Friesian, 2016, p. 57). There are several other detailed descriptive traits of the head, which only an experienced Keuring official might notice. The neck is long and elevated and muscular. This combination presents a very distinct appearance. Their hair (mane, tail, feathers) is ABUNDANT! Owners I’ve consulted say they must regularly trim the tail so it won’t drag the ground. Feathers refer to hair that grows on each leg around the fetlock (just below the canon bone), reaching down to the hoof. This hair adds to the regal appearance of Friesians as they prance. And oh, how they prance! Some breeds must be taught how to do it; it comes naturally for Friesians.