The Past......

The world was a much bigger place hundreds of years ago. Without today’s means of easy long distance transportation, many people never travelled more than 50 miles from their place of birth. Regional populations, particularly in more remote areas, were, for the most part, limited to the goods and services indigenous to their area.

 

It is likely that this factor played a role in the development of the Friesian Horse as a breed. Without the ability to travel long distances, and with “live cover” being the only means of breeding at the time, mare owners in Friesland, a remote northern province of the Netherlands, were limited to choosing local stallions to put to their mares. The best quality stallions surely covered more mares, and over many generations, this led to a relatively homogenous horse population, with most being similar in phenotype (appearance) and temperament. This phenotype,  a horse which was sturdy, upheaded, proud, and most often black with luxurious mane and tail, and which possessed  a calm and people friendly nature, is what would become known as the Friesian horse. These “Horses from Friesland” became a popular export throughout Europe as early as 1275.

Phryso, the Friesian stallion of Don Jaun of Austria who was ruling in Naples.

Above

Alva 113 Preferent (Regent x Graf Adolf) 1899 - 1915.  

Notice that, according to the photo’s original caption, Alva’s grand dam was a crossbred mare. This shows that “type”, and not “purity” was the priority.

Hundreds of years ago, breeding “purebred” horses was not likely the goal of horse breeders in Friesland.  This can be evidenced by the fact that there are no Friesian studbook or pedigree records predating 1879. Breeding the best quality horse while maintaining both phenotype and the sweet and generous character that had come to be admired by many throughout Europe would have been the priority. At times, quality non indigenous stallions were used if it was felt that the resulting offspring would bring improvement to successive generations. Such was the case during the eighty years war (1568 - 1646) when the Andalusian stallions ridden by the Spanish Dukes were taken after victories in battle. These stallions were used on the local mares and this led to a lighter, more agile Friesian horse, as was the trend at the time.


In 1884, after researching various types of horses suitable for farm and army work, the International Agricultural Exchange in Amsterdam concluded that the Friesian breed was not the best choice for such work. The current, heavier Oldenburg stock, instead, was the choice for farm and army work. This began a period of waning interest in the Friesian. Breeders crossed their horses with Oldenburg stock in order to produce a heavier more draft type Friesian in an attempt to keep the breed relevant. Even then, by 1913, only three studbook stallions and 34 registered mares remained.

Knowing that without intervention the Friesian horse may be gone forever, and fearing that further crossbreeding would obliterate the Friesian type,  a group of highly dedicated preservationists was formed called “Het Friesche Paard”, or “The Friesian Horse”.  It is through this groups’ efforts that the Friesian was brought back from the brink of extinction. But, the fact that there were very few horses left by 1913 with which to resurrect the breed led to inevitable inbreeding. Sadly, however, the deleterious consequences of inbreeding were not fully understood at the time. In 1913, when the remaining population had decreased to only 37 individuals, the long term health and success of the breeding population had already been severely compromised.  Inbreeding Depression (the decline in vigor in the offspring of organisms that are closely related) was inevitable.  Over the years, a number of mares of unknown origin were admitted into the studbook -- likely based upon their resemblance to the breed type. These mares became foundation mares for new and (assumed) unrelated stam lines (mare lines).  However these mares were likely related to already existing stam lines.

Tetman 205

Age 167

Ritske  202 Preferant

Today, the Dutch Friesian Studbook recognizes three different stallion lines, that of Age 167, Ritske 202 Preferent, and Tetman 205.  But in actuality, all three of these stallions’ sire lines trace to Nemo 51, and therefore are technically from the same line. The Nemo 51 line is the only unbroken stallion line still existing in the Friesian breed.  There are a handful of other stallions whose genetics have survived through mare lines or through their approved sons’ daughters. Most notably, those of Graaf Adolf, Landzoon, Onsta, Prins Hendrik, and Willem de Zwijger. Ultimately, however, any direct male line to these stallions was lost when an approved stallion in the line did not have any approved sons.


The inbreeding of the Friesian population can be seen in the pedigrees of the three FPS stallion “lines” of Age 167, Ritske 202 Preferent, and Tetman 205. For example, Tetman’s pedigree can be traced to Nemo 26 times, Graaf Adolf 25 times, Landzoon 17 times and Prins Hendrik 10 times -- and this is only what is recorded. There may actually be more crosses to these stallions. Additionally, Tetman’s dam was by Age 167, making Tetman closely related to Age. Too close, in our opinion, to be considered a completely separate “line”. Ritske 202 was also closely related to Age and Tetman. Ritske’s pedigree can be traced to Nemo 25 times, Graaf Adolf 25 times, Landzoon 15 times, and Prins Hendrick 12 times. This  shows that, not only are the three recognized FPS stallion lines closely related, but they themselves were also, in our opinion, exceedingly inbred.

The Friesian Stallion, Held 140 Preferent (left), was the product of the breeding of Model Mare Clasina to her full brother, Stallion Arend 131.