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About the cover

  D e s e r t   E x p o s u r e   July 2010


Noble Steeds

From carrying knights in shining armor to galloping around the Mimbres Valley, Friesian horses have been turning heads for centuries.

By Pat Young

They trotted right out of medieval times into the hearts of today's horse lovers, and at the bottom of the Royal John Mine Road in the Mimbres Valley, they provide a visual speed bump as drivers slow down to watch the horses at DJ's Farm Friesians.

Doyle Beasley driving a 10-year-old Friesian gelding, Avalon.

Doyle and Jill Beasley were happily raising Appaloosas in Yucaipa, Calif., when they saw their first Friesian horse in 1990.

"We were at the LA County Fair when they announced they were bringing out a special horse," Jill recalls. The Beasleys watched in awe as a huge stallion came prancing out. That's when it all began.

It took them five years to be able to purchase their first Friesian, which sell for $20,000-$80,000, depending on age, training and bloodline. The Beasleys bought from a well-known name in the Friesian horse world, Pier van der Hoek, who was instrumental in getting an organization started and continuing Friesian bloodlines in America. They purchased a magnificent stallion named Tedman. Next, they purchased a mare, Christine. Then they moved to Cherry Valley, Calif., where there was more room for the horses. There was more room for them, too, in a large Italian-built homestead complete with a wine-making facility.

The Beasleys were broken-hearted when Tedman died suddenly, but that didn't dampen their enthusiasm for raising Friesians. They soon purchased another one named Avalon.

They also discovered, to their delight, that their neighbors in Cherry Valley had been raising Friesians for many years. To this day, they still use these former neighbors to train and market their Friesian horses.

"Their trainer, Tony Aldana, can coax the best out of a horse," Jill says.

It was Jill's father, George Robbins, who influenced the Cherry Valley move. He was also the one who encouraged their move to New Mexico when California, even Cherry Valley, became too crowded for their Friesian farm.

When they saw the Mimbres Valley, they decided this was the place. The wide open space appealed to them, Doyle and Jill agree, as well as the slower pace of life, friendly people and beautiful views. They also believe the Mimbres won't suffer from a population explosion like California's.

While still in California, they purchased a model mare (the highest rating for a Friesian mare) named Lederwyntsje. She is a prominent feature at their New Mexico Friesian farm today, and one of only 12 model mares in the United States.

There are many other attractions at DJ's Farm, however. The Beasleys have Djura, a star mare (another Friesian rating), with a new filly named Hermione at her side. A total of 13 horses roam the property, including one Appaloosa, one Clydesdale-Belgian cross and a huge Clydesdale roan purchased from Anheuser-Busch. (The company keeps only matched chestnuts for its famous Budweiser team of horses.) There is also a little Welsh pony who loves to romp and play with the huge Clydesdale, another reason it's fun to be an observer at this Friesian farm.

Then there are nine dogs, two cats and two large birds, plus gardens and a privacy fence surrounding the Beasleys' elegant 3,000-square-foot, red-roofed home. Oh yes, they also have two children and two grandchildren, and at least one more baby Friesian on the way.

According to the Friesian Horse Association of North America (FHANA), the Friesian breed is relatively unknown in New Mexico, though the Beasleys' aim to change that. There are approximately 10 Friesians registered in the entire state, and the Beasleys own eight of them.

Friesian horses come from Friesland, a province of the Netherlands. Originally bred as a working horse, the breed was graceful, strong and intelligent, and soon developed into a nobleman's steed. In medieval times, it was in great demand as a destrier (a war horse) because its great strength and size enabled it to carry a knight in full armor.

The breed almost died out at one time, with only a few surviving. But when the Netherlands and Spain linked in the 12th and 13th centuries, the breed was carefully brought back. Andalusian blood was added when the demand for heavy war horses dropped. The Friesians also have short-eared, Spanish-type heads. In Spain, they are called Black Andalusians.

Friesian horses are an enduring breed with a gentle temperament. They became popular in Spain and France for high dressage (an Olympic sport where riders guide a horse through paces without using reins or noticeable signals). In the 18th and 19th centuries, they also became popular for harness and trotting races. The breed dwindled again in the early 20th century when gas-powered vehicles and farm implements came into use, but became popular again when World War II gas rationing revived horse power.

Friesians, averaging 14-17 hands tall at the withers and weighing well over half a ton, resemble draft horses, but they're nimble for their size. Due to their flashy looks, they have even become movie stars, with roles in Ladyhawk and The Mask of Zorro.

These jet-black, gentle giants, with a wavy, flowing mane and feathers (long hair near their hooves), elegant arched neck and spectacular floating trot (where all four feet are off the ground at once), turn heads anywhere they go. Jill says even if she takes one to the vet in a horse trailer, people stop and ask, "What kind of horse is that?"

"The Dutch are very interested in keeping Friesians a pure breed," Doyle says.

Rigorous inspections (called keurings) and ratings take place through FHANA and the original parent organization, Friesch-Paarden-Stamboek (FPS) in the Netherlands. Friesians came to North America in 1974, and it didn't take long for them to catch on across the continent.

The Beasleys encourage buyers to have baby Friesians inspected and rated, because this helps advance the mother's rating.

"Many people will buy Friesians as 'lawn ornaments' or for status," Jill says. Like the Dutch, the Beasleys feel it is important to keep the breed pure.

"We like the old, baroque-style horse that you could see a knight ride up on," she adds. In fact, Doyle is a collector of medieval armor, and someday Jill hopes he might ride one of their Friesian horses in a parade, wearing a suit of armor.

"When you think of Friesians, you think of the majesty of the breed — the black coat and mane, the arched neck," Jill says.

"Plus the temperament and intellect," Doyle adds. "In general, it's a gentle, easy-going breed."

"We like people to know we're here," Jill adds. Visitors are welcome at DJ's Farm.

After 15 years in the business, despite the work load, they both agree, "It sure is fun."

For more information about DJ's Farm Friesians, call (575) 536-9466 or see www.djsfarmfriesians.com


Pat Young is a retired journalist who lives
in the mountains near San Lorenzo.

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