39 thoughts on “Friesian Is the New Black

  1. There’s a similar “one small act” story about the revival of Clydesdales in the United States. Apparently two of the Busch boys bought a team for their father as a way to celebrate the end of Prohibition. Voila! Now we have everyone’s favorite Superbowl commercial stars!

    1. When Anheuser-Busch owned the Sea World Parks they had a special display and Clydesdale exhibit with horses so you could see them up close, I loved that.

  2. I am very glad you’ve addressed it, as Friesians became as mandatory in costume/historical movies, as the leather pants.

  3. Jill – Oh interesting about the Clydesdales. That makes sense. And they were the legendary “Fire Mares” in another fantasy cult-classic, Krull. It was pre-Ladyhawke but if it had come out afterwards, I’m sure those Fire Mares would have been Friesians.
    Ewa – Now I have to find someone in leather pants riding a Friesian. LOL!

  4. Roy Rogers’ Trigger was in Errol Flynn’s Robin Hood, but Roy refused to sell the horse outright. Loves me a pretty Palomino.

  5. Thanks for the article! I thought Ladyhawke was fun, I had no idea it was responsible for the Friesian craze!

  6. The horse people have landed ! :D
    Thank you Deb for this fun article. I know nothing about horses but I’ll keep an eye open for friesians now.

  7. Thank you for this information! It would be funny to think of the Outlander actors on smaller cob ponies, would not look nearly so majestic. My other horse pet peeve in film is the soundtrack. There are always neighs, whinnys and nickers imposed onto the scene when really, horses are quite silent.

    1. And not just any neighs nickers and whinnies; courting stallion sounds. I was raised on a horse farm, and it’s disconcerting as heck to see a rider and gelding plodding along accompanied by the “HURR HURR HURR! HURRHURRHURR hurr hurr!” of a stallion approaching his lady love of the minute… I wish they would stop!

    2. Gosh, yes! I guess it’s just the easiest way to record sounds from a horse – show a stallion a pretty mare – because, as you said, they are usually rather quiet.

  8. I would say popular for amateur dressage, but like Andalusians and Lipizzaners, their action isn’t favored for upper levels compared to Warmbloods.

    They’re pretty. But they just don’t look like they’re built to be ridden rather than pulling things. I can’t imagine they’re really that comfortable to sit. One thing I give The Tudors, they did ride light horses that looked like they were bred for riding, and the jousting mounts weren’t all Friesians. (Even if Henry’s bay with the white star was improbably long-lived, and they apparently had stainless-steel eggbutt snaffles in Tudor England.)

    1. I spent my adolescence CURSING the popularity of Friesians in amateur dressage circles…I was a working student for a dressage trainer and I ended up riding a lot of her students’ friesians. Unlike Andalusians, they are massive, and they are IDIOTS (at least, the ones I had to exercise on the reg were). And as you point out, they’re built for pulling things, not collection. I so preferred working with the Iberian horses–smarter, lighter, more sensitive in general.

      Hey Hollywood, Andalusians and Lusitanos also have pretty manes and tails! As long as we’re going for aesthetically pleasing, historically dubious breeds, let’s bring in more of those breeds!

    2. I have a Friesian that I ride dressage (amateur level) and can say for a fact that he is NOT comfortable to sit. Hahaha. Such a bumpy trot but oh he’s the sweetest puppy dog of a boy and really tries his heart out.

      Seems weird to see all his clones in the movies though.

  9. Thanks for this interesting guest article. It seems that they are perfect for medieval through possibly 17th century movies (and of course fantasy movies), but not so much for ancient times, and they would be rare in late 1800s and early 1900s.

    (I grew up in Lexington, Ky, but in the suburbs so we didn’t have horses. But I loved visiting the beautiful horses at the area horse farms, and read all the required horse books for young girls. I’m sure the Kentucky Horse Park has some Friesians.)

    1. I have a colleague who grew up in Kentucky, and his public high school had a polo team!

  10. They were used to great effect in one episode of “AHS:Apocalypse”; full funeral procession, hearse, everything, and just ignore what happens after. They looked gorgeous.

  11. My inner horse-obsessed little girl just did a happy bounce.
    I absolutely adore Friesians after having had the chance to meet a few of them when I was little. Such sweethearts :)

  12. Diana Gabaldon mentions Friesians in one of the Outlander books, praising their “elegant sturdiness.” (Or perhaps it was their sturdy elegance.)

  13. I live in Friesland, and Friesian horses are a common sight in the fields. They were originallly used as farm horses, to pull ploughs etc. Now they are bred to be more suitable for riding, which gives them their specific looks.
    In a local documentary a breeder told that the horse he sold to be Zorro’s horse was relatively small, which was good, because it made Antonio Banderas look big next to it.

  14. They’re ridiculously beautiful, and I hear very sweet natured. If you look over on Tor.com you’ll see Judith Tart has a feature on horses in SFF and covers Friedan’s among others.

  15. Thank you for this delightful post! I am not a “horse person,” but I was greatly entertained reading this. Cheers!

  16. I absolutely agree! Apparently every single horse for the last 1000 years from the Norse to the Persians rode Friesians, xD Really tired of it. I wish they would use local breeds/types!

    I have a half Friesian and she’s just a great big ol puppy dog. Every Friesian I’ve ever met has been the Golden Retriever of the horse world. I grew up riding stock horses (Appaloosas) and she feels completely different. She swings her butt like a street walker and feels like sitting on a suspension bridge, when she trots her knee action is almost chest level, she paddles, when she canters she goes up and down more than forward, she’s narrow(er than a stock horse) her feet are huge, she has no muscle definition (like a stock horse has) and while her angles are great, she has that smaller old style Friesian hip. She also has a beautiful neck, head, and shoulder, and loves every person she’s ever met. She was born an old soul. She will walk through fire, past banners, under helicopters, next to any other horse, and through water. She’s amazing.

    When you finally go shopping for one be sure to get the seller to do genetic tests. Friesians have a few really awful genetic diseases. And I suggest a mare. But I prefer mares, xD

  17. Oh lord, this is one of my pet peeves. They’re beautiful horses, but they’re everywhere, including in a lot of settings where it would be really weird to find them. My biggest irritation–to possibly an irrational degree I admit–is seeing Friesians drawing Regency gigs. Historically, there was a very specific horse usually used to draw a gentleman’s gig in that era, and that horse was the Hackney. Hackneys are fiery and flashy, with a ridiculously high super octane trot, often with a lot of white markings to set it off. A gig and a pair of Hackneys was the sports car of the day, and, as gorgeous as they are, Friesians are rather more sedate.

    (I know. I’m about the only one who even notices this, let alone cares!)

    1. I wonder how much of it is because of temperament? Very few if any of the actors handling them can have much experience with driving a gig. If the Friesians are calmer and less likely to act out with an inexperienced handler than the Hackneys, that may be one reason.

  18. When you said a fantasy box office flop, I immediately thought of LadyHawke and the gorgeous black Friesian. xD I love that movie so much, it’s awesome and funny and clever and heartbreaking. It’s cool that its horse made the equestrian world ‘collectively lose their minds’ and bring back the breed!

    Some of these horses must have been in Tudor England, since I think Henry VII sent one to King James of Scotland as part of his daughter’s dowry / as a gift.

  19. I don’t know a lot about horses, and once I got through puberty, sort of lost interest. However, I’ve watched many, many episodes of the YouTube channel “Fresian Horses” during the pandemic. For some reason, I find watching the herd calming. I’ve learned a lot about horses, but mostly find the videos a great way to disengage from the day’s troubles. And I had no idea Fresians were so popular in movies, even though I’ve seen many of these. Thanks for the great post – and for extending my Fresian knowledge!

  20. So much yes! They are everywhere! I like them in fantasy movies, because, yes, they are pretty, but other than that… they make nice carriage horses as they were not originally bred for riding but for pulling and it shows in a lot of them (many have very long backs). I cannot stand them in anything medieval or earlier, but I guess the directors don’t want to see their hero (whether in leather pants or in shining armor) on a stocky dappled grey pony (medieval illustrators love their dappled greys, must have been a popular color).

  21. I would love to have seen true Scottish garrons in ‘Outlander’. Horses were unknown in the Highlands because there wasn’t enough forage for them to survive on (Jamie making hay. Hah!). The descriptions are of the gentlemen having to ride with their legs extended in front; the ponies were so small that the men’s legs would strike the ground if left hanging down. Of course, those who rode also wore trews, not kilts.

  22. I would just like to point out that Friesian’s can come in chestnut! Chestnut is recessive to black (expressing as e rather than E), so a black horse (E?) can carry it (Ee) and it won’t express unless bred to another red recessive horse (Ee), and then bang! Chestnut Friesian (ee).

    They (chestnut friesians) can also be registered if they are proven to have come from 2 registered Friesian parents (different registeries may have different rules and levels of registeration as well).

    http://www.americanfriesianassociation.com/rules-regulations/ “The AFA has great respect for the Breed Standard as set forth by the FPS. The AFA recognizes that the FPS breed standard describes the Friesian horse as solid black, with no white markings, allowing a small star. The AFA also wishes to recognize that a Friesian who can prove its purebred heritage should not be excluded from registration if it is chestnut in color or has white markings. Therefore, these horses will be allowed registration as long as all purebred parentage requirements for registration are met.”

    1. Ah. Thanks for pointing that out. That’s like the American Paint Horse Association where you can have a solid horse registered if they have registered parents.

  23. I had no idea what breed of horse Goliath was in Ladyhawke, but he’s magnificent and I sure loved (and still love) that movie! And he’s an actual character, too. “Go with him boy, he didn’t mean to hurt your feelings.”

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