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The Medieval War Horse

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Tags: Friesian Horse, Miscellaneous

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The Friesian Horse enjoys a very long history which may go back as far as the primitive Forest Horse. These versatile horses originally come from Friesland, a northern province in present day Holland, in an area where archeological evidence shows us that horses have lived for thousands of years. It is believed that the Friesian so impressed the Romans that they brought the breed with them to the British Isles, where they may have played a part in the development of the Fell Pony, Dale Pony, Clydesdale and Shire Horse. However, the Friesian really began to come into its own during the medieval period, when it was prized for its ability to work as a war horse.

Friesians first came into popularity for their ability to carry knights into battle. This was no small feat, as a knight combined with his armor and harness equipment could easily tally up to around two hundred and fifty kilograms, or over five hundred and fifty pounds. Many Friesians found themselves on the long road to Jerusalem in order to carry their knights into the Crusades. The horses needed to be brave, strong and have the endurance to fight in battles along the way and carry their knights to safety. During the 12th and 13th centuries, some eastern horses brought back with the crusaders and were crossed with the Friesians. Even after gunpowder was invented at the beginning of the 14th century, horses were still being used in battle and the Friesian maintained its good reputation.

It may not be surprising to learn that, because of its excellent reputation, the Friesian was in high demand to be exported all over Europe, even as early as the 13th century. The most conclusive evidence of this early exportation is a notice of a Friesian Horse sale at a market in Munster in Germany in 1276. The appearance of Friesians in Germany may come as a surprise to some, but in fact Friesland and Munster were tied together at this time in history. In the 13th century, the Netherlands was still a Catholic country and there were several monasteries throughout the country, including in northern Friesland. It would not be wrong to assume that there were some monasteries that were working on the development of the breed, and when it is considered that Friesland was a part of the diocese of Munster, the connection falls into place.

Unfortunately, the heavy war Friesian started to fall out of favor in the middle of the 16th century. Around the same time that the fashion in Europe was to have a lighter, faster horse, the Eighty-Years War not only made vast changes to The Netherlands, but to the Friesian as well. Spanish armies occupied the country during the war, during which time Andalusian blood was crossed with the Friesian. The results of these crosses can still be seen today, not in the color, as even then the majority of Friesians were black, but in its swan-like neck, smaller head with big eyes, and the elevated knee action. The medieval war horse was gone, but the versatile Friesian was well on its way to its next incarnation.


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