The Friesian (also Frisian) is a horse breed originating in Friesland, in the Netherlands. Although the breed's conformation resembles that of a light draft 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 armor. In the Late Middle Ages, heavier, draft 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 recognized by its black coat color, however, color alone is not the only distinguishing characteristic; Friesians are occasionally chestnut. They 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 in the FPS studbook, a stallion must pass a rigorous approval process. The chestnut color is not accepted for registration in most cases. A chestnut-colored Friesian that competes is penalized. Stallions are most severely penalized. However, discoloration from old injuries or fading from the sun are not penalized.
The Friesian's average height is 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's temperament 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.