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Equines are speedy beasts, all of them faster than the fastest human, but the speed of the various types and breeds varies according to their form and function created through selective breeding. As a medium-built horse, the Friesian is not the fastest, but the horse can run as fast as he needs to perform the activities he was designed for.
A racing quarter horse can run 55 miles an hour for a short distance -- a quarter of a mile is the limit of his top speed. A racing thoroughbred starts slower but can keep running at 40 miles an hour for a mile or more. A zebra tops out at about 35 miles an hour but has great stamina and can keep running long enough to outpace a hungry lion. An exceptionally fast human can hustle up to 23 miles an hour for the abbreviated distance of 100 meters. The Friesian is neither the slowest nor the fastest of equines; his moderate turn of speed to match his moderate size and build. A reasonable estimate would place his best pace at something like 30 miles per hour or a little better, according to his age and condition.
The middle-size Friesian is generally labeled a "warm-blood," a combination of a heavy cold-blood draft horse and a lightweight hot-blood type. He has enough bulk and strength to pull a carriage but also has the agility and spirit to be a saddle horse. The original chunky Dutch workhorse was lightened and refined by crossbreeding with the high-stepping Andalusian, which contributed a little speed and a lot of style, including the snappy knee action that calls attention to the feathering of the lower legs, and the arched neck showcased by the flowing mane.
The Friesian is a steed of great versatility. He has been much preferred as a carriage horse because of his elegant style and the fact that teams are easy to match -- The Friesian, like the Ford Model T, comes in any color as long as it's black. He has also been popular as a riding horse, with enough beef to carry a knight in full armor and the agility to carry out all the maneuvers of battlefield mobility that were described by Xenophon in 1300 B.C. and continued through today in classical dressage. In the field , the Friesian has enough speed for a cavalry charge; but in the show ring, speed at the various gaits is penalized.
The only time the Friesian has been encouraged in speed was when he was used in trotting races in the Netherlands during the late 18th and early 19th centuries. These short races, in which the Friesians were ridden bareback over the very short distance of 325 meters, were an opportunity for wealthy Dutch burghers to flaunt their wealth and the consequent excellence of their native horseflesh.
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