The Friesian: Impressively Elegant

Draflos 2 in flight.

By Emily Friedel

Grace with her beloved stallion Age B

AS WE sit on Grace Lamers’ verandah, her 94-year-old cockatoo, Dixie, sneaks up to sip foam off Grace’s cappuccino. Four large dogs mill around the table and a white peacock preens itself on the spa a few metres away. In a nearby paddock, Grace’s 16-year-old Friesian stallion Age B (pronounced “Arg- ah Be”) grazes, his jet-black coat gleaming in the sun.

“I can’t imagine my life without animals,” says Grace, offering Dixie more cappuccino foam.

Grace and her husband, Teo, emigrated from the Netherlands in 2001. Soon after arriving, they found their property just outside of Yea and have been there ever since. A year after moving here, they imported three Friesian mares from the Netherlands: this was the beginning of Wildcroft Friesian Stud.

Age B in traditional bell harness.

“There were only 60 Friesians in Australia when we got here,” says Grace. “Now there are about 600.”

Oddly enough, Grace says Friesians thrive in Australia and tend to live much longer than they do in their home country, generally reaching around 30-35 years old over here. This, she believes, is partly due to the fact that they get to “have more of a life as a horse”in Australia. In the Netherlands, they are stabled most of the time due to the colder climate, scarcity of space, and a concern among breeders that their valuable animals might be injured while outside.

Interestingly, she also attributes the longevity of her Friesians to not needing to be shod for the most part; without shoes, the soft part in the centre of the hoof, the “frog”, is massaged when the horse moves, which improves blood and lymph circulation.

The Friesian is the only purebred horse native to the Netherlands. The breed has been traced back to the 13th century, and during the 15th century Friesians were in great demand as war horses. It is an undeniably attractive breed, with a thick, arching neck; long, often naturally wavy mane and tail; feathered fetlocks; big hooves; and sleek, black coat. They are big horses – around 16-17 hands for the stallions – and solidly built, with powerful shoulders suited to the dressage carriage work they’re frequently used for in the Netherlands.

What stands out most about the breed, though, is their friendliness and their ability to bond with humans.

“You won’t find a more affectionate breed than the Friesians,” says Grace. “It’s a very sensitive breed and very willing to work with you if you treat it right.”

And she’s right. Walk into a paddock of mares and foals at Wildcroft and you will instantly be greeted, sniffed, nuzzled and followed – the foals are especially curious.

They are more than happy to be given a pat or scratch and seem genuinely pleased to be in the company of people, even strangers.

The stallions are no different and, as imposing as they are when they get up close, they are calm and exceptionally gentle.

When Grace enters Age B’s paddock, he walks straight to her, welcoming her like an old friend and seeking physical contact – they clearly have a strong bond. In 2004, she went to the Netherlands to choose a stallion to bring back to Wildcroft. There were five picked out for her to choose from; Age B was the second she saw and she knew immediately that he was the one.

“I chose him because I fell in love with him,” says Grace. “I just had this feeling of ‘wow’ … I don’t care how he trots, I don’t care how he walks – I want this horse.”

Grace tells a story that illustrates Age B’s sensitive and warm nature:

“I take horses to Equitana every year and Age is there for two days. There are a few hundred people a day passing and he’s always friendly to people. He was in his stable asleep and I was standing next to him talking to people.

This girl comes up, about nine years old…. She stood [a few feet from Age’s door] and he stretched his neck really long, then she took two steps forward and she put her hands on his nose. They stood there for ten minutes

This lady stands next to me and she starts to cry. And I looked at her and said, ‘Oh no, don’t worry, he won’t hurt her.’ Then she said, ‘You have no idea what’s happening here, my daughter has severe Autism, she doesn’t make contact and this is the first time she’s made contact with an animal’.”

Grace’s granddaughter Jaysley on Fresco, a Baroque Pinto stallion.

Age B’s genes have helped Grace and Teo develop an especially calm and affable herd (not to mention a strikingly beautiful one). Age’s contribution to the Friesian gene pool has also improved the quality of the breed in Australia, bringing it up to the standards of the main studbook in the Netherlands, the Royal Studbook of the KFPS.

“It’s quite rare for a stallion to do that,” says Grace. “You don’t always know if a stallion will pass on his good traits to his offspring.”

Every two years, Friesian experts come to Australia to inspect horses and decide if they meet the requirements for registration in the KFPS Studbook – this event is called a “Keuring”. Last year, 13 of Age’s offspring were presented at the Keuring, and all 13 were awarded “premies”, which are only given to the highest quality horses.

Grace and Teo also work hard to ensure their horses are well-socialised, keeping them in groups until they’re about two years old. Grace says horses that are properly socialised “are more trainable, more developed in the brain. They know the hierarchy a lot better. They have much more respect for the owner and the rider.”

The Friesian’s easy-going temperament and affinity for humans, along with its graceful movement and naturally high knee action, make it a great horse for a wide range of purposes; Grace says people buy Wildcroft horses for trail riding, breeding, dressage, showing, carriage and, above all, for life-long friendship.

Grace and Teo welcome those who are curious about Friesians to Wildcroft Stud – they are as friendly and hospitable as their magnificent horses. A visit is definitely recommended; the only way to really get a feel for this exceptional breed is to walk into a paddock full of them and have them treat you more like one of their own than a strange, hairless outsider.

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Story kindly supplied by Murrindindi Guide