What Colors Do Friesians Come In?
The Friesian Horse is a signature in most fairy tales, fantasy, or historical media. Their long flowing mane, whimsical feathering, and arched neck are especially striking, but perhaps their most memorable feature is their gleaming black coat. Have you ever wondered if Friesians came in other colors?
Can Friesian Horses be different colors? Friesians are almost exclusively found in black, with no more than a small white star allowed by most registries. Though unable to be registered, there is a small percentage of purebred Friesians found in chestnut, as some studs in the gene pool still carry the allele for red coloring.
That said, historically, there have been stories of different colored Friesians. A Friesian crossed with another breed can still produce traits known to the Friesian but with different coloring. In this article, I’ll explain all the instances you may find Friesians in different colors!
Can Friesian Horses Be White?
Friesians have been well-loved for centuries, and when the first breed registry opened in the Netherlands in 1879, breeders worked hard to keep the lines pure. The breed has not changed much since this time, and many traits and characteristics have remained the same in the Friesian, including the jet-black coloring that the breed is famous for.
As most breeders understand, there are benefits to introducing new blood into a gene pool, and Friesians do admittedly suffer from specific maladies caused by inbreeding. In the 1970s, a Dutch family living in Germany reached out to the Dutch queen to request permission to pair a handful of their Friesian mares with an Arabian stallion named Jalisco.
The intent was to bring fresh blood into the line, and the queen granted her permission. From these pairings, a specific gray stallion named Negus was foaled. Fast forward to 2007, when a white “Friesian” named Nero made headlines after being shown in dressage at Equitana. Nero is a beautiful stallion, appearing to be pure white but also with the characteristic Friesian size, feathering, mane, and tail. While some now tout Nero as the “first white Friesian,” Friesians genetically cannot throw white foals. Nero is actually one of Negus’s offspring, and he is more accurately 75% Friesian and 25% Arabian.
Nero is not a registered Friesian since he is not purebred. While he is beautiful, and it is exciting to see a “white Friesian,” he is not the sire of a new line of Friesians. He has had one known foal, a pinto colt by a Trakhener mare.
White Friesians in Movies
In many movies, counter to the beautiful black horse is usually a white horse with similar build and features. The white horses have long flowing manes, a heavier yet athletic build, and beautiful white feathers. Are these not white Friesians?
Most of the white horses used in fantasy and historical media are Andalusians. This horse breed originates from Spain and has been around for centuries. Andalusians excel in dressage and are extremely trainable, making them great for movie sets.
An interesting fact is that Andalusian Horses don’t grow thick feathering around their feet like Freisians do, so if you spot one of these horses with feathering in a movie, some movie magic has been at work.
Can Friesians Have Pinto Markings?
A registered, purebred Friesian cannot have pinto markings. However, there are other registries, such as the Friesian Heritage Horse & Sporthorse International, who will register cross-bred Friesians with pinto markings. To qualify with the HH registry, a horse must have a minimum of 25% documented Friesian heritage. These horses that also have an “obvious” Tobiano, Overo, Splash, or Sabino pinto coat can register as a “Baroque Pinto Friesian” with the HH.
You may see these horses listed as “pinto Friesians.” While they are technically registered with a cross-bred registry, they are not actually purebred Friesians.
Can Friesians Be Chestnut?
There is one other color a purebred Friesian could be: chestnut. There are Friesian lines that carry the red gene; however, they cannot be registered with the international registry. This registry, known as the KFPS, requires that Friesians must show they are “homozygous black.”
To put it in the simplest genetic terms I can, a chestnut Friesian will have two copies of the red allele, meaning it would be impossible to be homozygous. They are, therefore, doubly disqualified from the Friesian registry.
On the other hand, a heterozygous Frieisan will carry both the black and the red alleles and will have the ability to throw a red foal, regardless of the parent’s color. If two black heterozygous Friesians were mated, the foal would have a 25% chance of having the chestnut coloring. This is the reason that the Friesian registry requires DNA evidence; a Friesian that is black may or may not still have the ability to produce a red foal and, therefore, is not fit for breeding without homozygous verification. Because these rules have been in place for decades, most purebred Friesians are now, by default, homozygous.
Red Friesian Horses Do Exist
While chestnut Friesians cannot be registered with the KFPS, there are sport horse and Friesian-cross registries that accept the color chestnut. These horses are often called “fox Friesians” or “fire Friesians.” There are currently only three known purebred studs that carry the red gene, meaning that the chestnut Friesian will likely die out unless efforts are made to breed for the color red.
Registered Friesians Must Be Black
The main Friesian registry is operated out of the Netherlands and is called the Koninklijke Vereniging Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboe, KFPS for short. KFPS recognizes the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA) as its North American representative. When you register your horse with the FHANA, you must also meet the KFPS requirements.
To ensure purity in the bloodlines, the KFPS only allows black Friesians into the registry. The organization goes further than looking at a photo of a Friesian for verification, however. Studbook applicants must also provide a DNA test verifying that they are homozygous black. In other words, they must prove that it would be genetically impossible for them to throw a foal that is not black; specifically, this is to prevent chestnut foals.
Registered Friesians are (reluctantly) afforded one small white star, but no more. Socks, pinto markings, and even blazes and stripes are not allowed and would disqualify a horse from being registered.
How Many Friesians Are There Globally?
The number of purebred Friesians found globally is impacted by the rigid registry requirements. No one takes this more seriously than the Netherlands; out of the approximately 15-30 potential breeding stallions tested each year in the Netherlands, only 3-7 are given a 5-year permit to breed. This permit is given only after a thorough examination, ten weeks of training and testing, veterinary exams, and genetic testing. After a stallion receives his breeding permit, his offspring will be tested. If his offspring do not prove to live up to the KFPS’s standards, the breeding stallion will have his permit revoked.
All of these strict registry and breeding guidelines might lead you to believe that it may be difficult to get a Friesian registered with the KFPS. You’d be correct. The parameters of the registry are very rigid, and the verification and inspection process can be daunting.
While the Friesian has made a comeback in recent decades and can be found in most countries around the world, globally, there are only about 45,000 registered Friesians. Most of these registered horses reside in the Netherlands, while approximately 8,000 reside in North America. Friesians are, however, popular and skilled in just about every discipline, so there are many unpapered and cross-bred Friesians available on the market.
The Real Black Beauty
Very few horse breeds boast only a single color, and the Friesian is likely the most well-known example of them. Why is the black color desired over chestnut and other colors? Obviously, the color has nothing to do with the horse’s abilities or temperament; it is simply a preference.
Over the many years of the Friesian’s existence, the all-black coat has become a symbol of pride for the breed, especially for those in the Netherlands. The black coat and long, thick mane and tail now reflect a horse that is a hard worker, an exceptional athlete, and a gentle and understanding partner. While a red Friesian would be just as athletic and docile, the black coat is what identifies the breed.
Want to Know More About Friesian Horses? Check out these articles:
- What Friesian Horses Are Used For: Ultimate Guide
- Top 10 Medieval War Horse Breeds: History, Size, & Pictures