They’re the jet black horses that charge through movies and consistently top the internet’s most gorgeous horse rankings, but there’s more to the Friesian horse than stunning good looks, we meet one of the Netherland’s biggest exporters of the Friesian horse, Germ Aise Bouma, to find out more…
hile other traditional heavy breeds try to find their place in the modern world, the Friesian horse has gone on to, quite literally, conquer the globe. The breed is now well represented in 84 countries around the world, and incredibly, Germ’s export company Henswoude has sold horses to over half of these.
The third-generation farmer of Friesians doesn’t only export, his 50-hectare farm in the Friesland region is also one of the Netherland’s biggest bases for Friesian breeding, training, buying and selling. “Our stallion show is for nine thousand people and it’s sold out three months in advance,” he says. “After this, I host an open day at my house, for about five or six hundred people.”
And if that doesn’t sound exhausting enough, he keeps between two and three hundred horses at any one time, is a registered EU breeding station and has stallions and youngstock topping the performance testing/grading programme annually. He also remains a respected consultant for Friesian breeding facilities around the world, is an AI technician, a mega-exporter and when he does have a little down-time, an expert four-in-hand carriage driver.
Buying and Selling
Although Germ only has around 15 mares at Henswoude, his AI duties take him all over the Netherlands and beyond. “I go everywhere and know all the mares… next week I’m in Denmark,” he says. “I do the AI myself and some of the mares I’ve known since birth, it means I can I advise on which stallions are best and know which is good for which mare.” He also travels for buying, primarily from the same mare owners. “We follow all the offspring and as I know all the mares,” he says. “I know how they produce.”
When the foals are born Germ once again visits the farmers, this time to decide if he will purchase the foals. “I buy from my breeders and select my foals on a feeling when they’re seven or eight days old. The decision is based mainly on conformation and movement,” he says, then adds with true Dutch pragmatism, “I either like it or I don’t like it.”
The Stallions and Youngstock
And this “feeling” clearly pays dividends, as Germ now owns four approved stallions, (Ulbe 506, Mees 497, Nane 492 and Wylaster 463), with Mees and Wylaster considered to be Sports Elite Stallions by the KFPS Royal Friesian Society of the Netherlands and ranked in the world’s top 10.
The annual Hengstenkeuring or stallion grading and testing is the highlight of the Friesian owners’ and ‘fanciers’ calendar, regularly attracting crowds of 25,000 from around the world. The stallions arrive at the show fresh from their gruelling 70-day performance testing programme, where the finest will be awarded with Society approval. “Each year I get a stallion approved,” Germ says. An extraordinary feat when you consider most years only two to four stallions gain approval annually.
Over the centuries the Friesian horse has come perilously close to extinction several times, and with this in mind, the Society takes the reduction of in-breeding and continual improved performance incredibly seriously. In the Netherlands it’s not just the stallions which are graded but the youngstock too. Germ adds: “When the horses are three years old, they all go off for testing, mares and stallions all go to an independent school, and get tested. The judges rank them on quality. Via this system, the Friesian just get better and better.”
The core business at Henswoude is export, both in Europe and beyond. “We have done a lot of sales to China,” he says. “However, over the past year, this has slowed down. At the moment, we have horses going weekly to Mexico, mainly for dressage. We’ve just sold 19 mares to Nicaragua for a new breeding programme there. I also do a lot of reorganising of the breeding in other countries. I advise, keep that mare, get rid of that one and that one and so on…”
Image credit: Cally Matherly
Owning a Friesian Horse
While some of us might look at all that mane and feather and just see a nightmare of upkeep and specialised care, Germ is quick to point out its simply a matter of management. “I don’t see a problem if the management is good, when people come to buy a horse, I need to know what they want to do with it, then the people also need to listen,” he laughs. “Yes, it’s hot here [in Dubai], but it’s also hot in China, Arizona, and Mexico,” he says.
Beyond the beauty, for Germ, it’s their workability and temperament which he believes really sets the breed apart. “When people fall in love with the Friesian horse they find they are very easy to ride, to drive, to maintain, if you have a Warmblood you need to ride it numerous times per week, but with a Friesian, you only need once a week, just grab a saddle, get on and enjoy… the Friesian is beautiful! They have a lot of willingness to work, but they can be a little bit lazy,” he laughs.
Henswoude Stock in Dubai
For those in Dubai wishing to experience the beauty and versatility of a true Hensoude Friesian, the Sustainable City Equestrian Centre is home to Batman, a magnificent ride and drive Friesian stallion. Batman was the star of the recent Sustainable City Horse Show CSI2* Showjumping event where he performed the winner’s carriage lap of honour around the arena at the end of each class. His unflappability, charisma and impressive movement while pulling the reproduction Victorian carriage (also imported via Germ), was noted by both equine enthusiasts and those just enjoying a family day out.
Germ met with The Show Hub on a recent visit to Dubai.
The Henswoude facility is extensive and has a reputation for breeding Friesians of the highest calibre.