The Friesian horse has increasingly developed itself as a sports horse over the past decades, returning it to its origins before the agricultural interlude. The Friesian’s origin is of a luxuriant and aristocratic carriage horse. Today, thanks to its typical functional characteristics, the Friesian horse now competes with other breeds at the highest levels of equestrian sports.
The horses that were bred for use in agriculture were more short-legged and compact than their ancestors, with forelegs a bit behind the vertical and a broad chest. With this broad chest, the horse was better able to throw itself ‘into the harness’ and in so doing develop more pulling power.
These exterior characteristics are less functional these days in the riding arena or in harness and driving horses. Nonetheless, the heavier and short-legged type is still much in evidence, partly because this type was bred for so many years and multiple generations are needed before it disappears from the breed.
For work under the saddle and driving sports a functional build is key. The horse’s body must have an ‘uphill’ slope. With this ‘uphill’ build, the distribution of weight is brought more onto the hindquarters in motion, enabling the horse to ‘carry’ more with its hindquarters. For an uphill build, a relatively long foreleg is important, as well as the stance of the foreleg. The stance of the foreleg is linked to the shoulder, whereby an angled and long shoulder provide the horse space to extend its foreleg far out to the front. The harness horse often has a bit more vertical neckline than the riding and driving horse.
For animals of all purposes, the horse must move fluidly through its entire body, with a powerful hindquarters that transmits movements forward, enabling the horse to ‘grow’ in front, a desired trait for both riding under the saddle and for driving in front of the wagon.
For harness horses a lot of knee action is desirable (but not this alone, as it must be combined with spaciousness of gaits and a ‘carrying’ hindquarters), while for riding horses and also driving horses, extravagant knee action is not always appreciated. For all purposes, a correct leg stance is a must.
Funerals and the Friesian Horse
The Friesian Horse has always been the accepted horse to the funeral profession mainly because of its temperament, presence and colour.
In Victorian times there were reckoned to be at least 700 in the London area alone. In those days they were brought over in barges via Antwerp from Friesland; sometimes 200 at a time and then sold at the Elephant and Castle horse repository in London.
T. Cribb & Sons were at one time to have 8 stallions in their stables, but, by the Second World War six remained; those six were to go in 1943 by which time cars were taking over and unfortunately no fresh stock were available because of the occupation of Holland.
Forty two years later (1985) Cribbs were to bring Horse Drawn Funerals back into their business. It all started with finding a horse drawn hearse in a collection of farm vehicles at Epping.
This hearse had been built by Dotteridge Brothers of London, circa 1900 and after inspection was found to be structurally sound and the vehicle was restored to its former glory. To date three more hearses stand alongside the Dotteridge, together with a Mourners Coach, Floral Carriage and a Landau, all maintained in immaculate condition.
A visit to Friesland was inevitable and the first two Friesian horses were purchased with four more to follow.
Harness was to come next and there was no doubt that it had to be the same as Grandfather Toms (the Founder of T. Cribbs). The harness used today is an exact replica of his; the initials of the Company adorn the harness having been carefully copied from old photographs.
Besides their funeral commitments the horses are to be seen (work permitting) at shows where they appear very successfully in Light Trade Classes . Some of the achievements being Champions Bucks County 91-92, Royal Windsor 92-94, Herts County 88-96, Light Trade Champions BDS 91-92 and BHS Championship at Windsor in 1998.
2 purpose built lorries convey the horses, hearses and all necessary equipment to their destinations. To care for all the horses and this equipment Cribbs employ 3 full time coachmen, Messrs. Charles Raymond, Peter Gibson and Phillip Sharp.
The Harrods Coach and Horse Team
The Harrods Stable used to operate 8 Friesian horses from their Knightsbridge stables situated under the store in part of the Goods Receiving Bay. 4 horses, for a week at a time, are stabled and worked in London and then return to Mr. Al Fayed's Surrey estate when the other 4 take over.
Deliveries were made daily to local hotels and palaces within an approximate four mile radius of the store working mornings and afternoons up to 5 hours a day driven by the then Head Coachman David West.
A team of horses regularly transported celebrities such as Diana Ross, Joan Collins, or Burt Reynolds to the store in one of Mr. Fayeds collection of carriages to enable them to arrive in style on such occasions as the opening of the famous Harrods January Sale or perhaps the launching of their latest book. The most popular carriage for the stars being the open topped landau or an elegant omnibus.
The horses attend as many shows as possible throughout the country such as Royal Windsor, The Royal Norfolk, the National Championships, Chatsworth etc. with great success.
The stallions and geldings were all purchased from different farms in Friesland; brought over as three year olds and initially broken to harness on the estate before being introduced to London traffic at about four years old.