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Immediately after witnessing the beauty and grace of the Friesian breed, I knew that I would sculpt this magnificent horse. I was struck by the breed’s proportions and lines—then I saw the horse in motion —absolutely brilliant. It was remarkable to witness the indescribable gracefulness of the breed.
I set about sculpting this elegant horse, working in clay, slowly refining the proportions and muscle groups, while always giving attention to the overall silhouette and fluid lines of the Friesian. I spent countless hours studying the anatomy of the horse.
While working on this sculpture, I began to study some of the old masters’ work, trying to understand what truly made their work great. I learned some significant lessons from my study: The masters saw the work as a whole and focused as much on the overall composition, movement, balance, and fluidity as on the intimate details, while always capturing the organic nature of the subject. It became very important to me not have any linearity or planar surfaces, which can make a sculpture so rigid and lifeless.
I also learned that light is the great revealer of form and that if the form was not accurate then light would expose this. This taught me to work in a dark room with one very bright light, which I would move around to expose the form. It was clear that the masters spent a great deal of time studying and measuring their subject to ensure proper proportion and to give justice to their subject. It was very important to me to get the proportions exactly correct using a caliper in millimeters, checking and rechecking my measurements.
Once I completed the clay sculpture, I realized I was not able to get the precision, control, and smooth surface I desired, so I molded the sculpture and cast it in resin to further refine the surface. Although this added considerable expense and time, it was necessary to achieve the final result.
Throughout this process, I would email images to owners of the breed and ask them to critique the conformation and anatomy of my sculpture. I repeated this many times to ensure the satisfaction of a true lover of the breed. In all, I worked over 1,700 hours on this piece, often doing areas over and over again until I was satisfied.
The Friesian breed of horse is over 2000 years old and is one of the purest representatives of the European horse.
The breed has a very rich history and is pictured in many paintings with the nobility of Europe. For those of you who have had the opportunity to travel to England you may have seen pictures of them, or perhaps seen them in action, acting as the carriage horses for the elite shopping centre of ‘Harrods’.
The Friesian was used as a war horse by Friesian soldiers fighting with the Norman Armies, and later used by knights and travelled all the way to the Middle East with the Crusaders. In the seventeenth century, Iberian horses who had been left in the Netherlands influenced the breed and led them to be more refined with a higher extravagant action.
In later times the Friesian was used on the land but this lapsed with the advent of farm machinery. The Friesian was also used as a fast trotting coach horse, and it was in fact the Friesian who was the original horse used in trotting races over short distances (320 metres) in the 18th century. At the same time ringdriving (ring spearing) became popular as a recreational sport with these versatile animals.
The Friesian has been used to form the basis of many breeds such as the Shire, New Forest, Oldenburger, Gelderlander, Orlov Trotter and was recently used to revive the Kladruber breed.
The Friesian itself has faced near extinction several times, and was saved by a group of dedicated breeders in Friesland, a northern province of Holland in 1913. At this stage there were only three studbook stallions left in the world. The herdbook of the Friesian horse, the “FPS – Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek” is the oldest and most strict in the world and was founded in 1879.
Breeding is done under strict guidelines such as selection, performance testing and classification to ensure the high quality of the breed remains.
There are around 40 FPS Studbook approved stallions in the world. These stallions can be found in Holland and America. Purebred mare owners are advised to use these stallions, through live service or frozen semen to be able to register progeny in the main studbook. A subsidiary register (B Book) has been made available for countries outside of America and Holland, where there are no studbook stallions. In these countries foal book stallions are able to be used. Many breeders around the world are taking advantage of modern technology and using frozen semen from the FPS approved stallions and some are also succesfully using embryo transfer coupled with frozen semen in America.
Friesian horses range on average from 15 hands to 16.2 It is not unheard of to have a Friesian horse standing at 17 hands. The movement of the Friesian horse must be extravagant to catch the eye of the FPS judges who rate these horses first of all as weanlings and give them a premium rating from one to three. First and second is very desirable for any one interested in importing.
The Friesian horse is again rated at adulthood and if they are exceptional, they are given certain predicates such as star, model, preferent, performance mother or for the small amount of stallions that make it to the FPS approved status, preferent for the very best of them. FPS approved Friesian stallions have to fight hard to keep their approval rating, as the quality of their off spring is assessed each year. If the progeny is not to be seen making a positive contribution to the breed, the approval rating is taken away.
For countries outside of America and Holland it is recommended to people, if they are interested in importing one of these beautiful horses, to do a lot of homework, and where ever possible choose progeny from only approved stallions who’s progeny have also passed inspection over four years of age from dam’s that have predicates such as star and model for at least three generations.