California Riding Magazine • November, 2014

Friesian Focus
Breeding, importing and training program reflects the breed's best.

by Kim F. Miller

Monte 378 Sport: World Champion FPS Approved Breeding Stallion.
Photo © Terri Miller

If a picture tells a thousand words, then our cover image, of Friesian Focus stallion Monte 378 Sport, enables this to be a very short article. This poster boy for the modern incarnation of his breed, Monte stands for everything his owners strive for.

Let's start with the obvious: the hair! Flowing, gleaming mane, tail and feathers and brilliant black coat are the Friesian's hallmarks. Then there's that appealing certain something that's equal parts nobility and glamour. "Whether they are in a movie, a competition or a backyard, people are just drawn to these horses," explains Joan Fernandez, who owns Monte and his stablemates at the breeding and importing headquarters in Riverside County's Murrieta,

All the good looks are packaging for the most important Friesian qualities: athletic abilities, a "gentle giant" nature and desire to please their owners. Monte especially represents that. "He is such a sweet stallion," Joan reports. He's as cooperative with novice adults and kids as he is with his professional handlers and is well behaved in a variety of situations.

Friesian Focus began importing the breed when they were still extremely rare in the United States. Joan had not intended to get into the breeding business, but when Monte arrived she had a change of heart. "I didn't think I was ready for a stallion or to go down the breeding road," she says. "But I realized after he arrived what a really great gift he was. We were really lucky to get him."

"He epitomizes the lighter, modern sport type of the breed," Joan explains. "His babies have a good aptitude for the sport disciplines, including the fancy footwork needed for dressage." Like all Friesians, Monte and his offspring are also ideal for carriage work, both in the show ring and on a rugged obstacle course in the exciting sport of combined driving.

The Friesian Focus program has long been a star of the pleasure and exhibition driving circuit, and more recently they've made their mark in combined driving. They had most of the necessary equipment already, so Joan and her team of trainers Lance Bennett and Sandra Williams Nefzger decided to give it a go. "Our horses are really well suited for this discipline," Joan reports happily. "They are very reliable and so solid. You know they're never going to stop short of the finish line." Another perk is that they're fearless crossing water, which is a big deal in a cross-country horse. "Our horses don't even flinch at water."

Friesians were originally bred in Holland to carry knights into battle and for the hard labor of plow work on the farm. Even as the breed has undergone refinement in its conformation, they remain very strong horses. Pulling a wagon or cart, for work or show, is a natural for them. "Hands down, there is simply not a better horse for driving than a Friesian," Joan asserts. "And, in my opinion, nothing makes a prettier driving horse than a Friesian."

Joan has a background in molecular biology and she has greatly enjoyed the breeding process and helping Friesian Focus' mare owners optimize the odds of a successful pregnancy and producing a foal with the characteristics they'd hoped for. "It's exciting and challenging," she says of putting her science expertise in the service of fellow horse owners.

In addition to breeding services and importing, Friesian Focus also produces young horses. Although there is plenty of demand for weanlings, Friesian Focus rarely sells its youngsters until they are "user friendly," typically around at least 3 years old. A Friesian's brain typically develops relatively fast, but their bone structure and physical growth is slower than other breeds, typically not finished until they're 5 or so, Joan explains.

During that time, the Friesian Focus horses get a solid introduction to the ways of the world. "We like to do a lot of groundwork with them," Joan reports. "We handle the heck out of them!" From very early on, the horses get comfortable with having all parts of their body touched, walking quietly on the lead line and standing still for various care providers.

Beautiful Barns

Headquartered at a drop-dead gorgeous barn in Murrieta, Friesian Focus has racked up national and world titles throughout its existence. It's a major player on the International Friesian Horse Show Assn. circuit, in saddle seat, pleasure driving, western, hunt seat and dressage classes, just to name a few.

Friesian Focus has opened its stable doors to the public on many occasions. Joan is particularly excited about hosting the November 1 launch party for a transcontinental horse-drawn and under-saddle journey called "The Caravan." The organizers, Michael Muir of California and Gerard Paagman of British Columbia, are experienced horsemen and are planning an average of 25 miles a day, on a route through the southern portion of the country and ending in Weirsdale, Florida in March.

It's not a race or a fundraiser, Joan notes. It's a challenge and a fun way to showcase and celebrate the role horses have played throughout America's history. Joan plans to accompany the Caravan for its first day, and guests are welcome along the entire route – for a $15 fee that helps offset the cost of the undertaking. Having ridden a bike across the country several years ago with her husband, Joan wasn't tempted to go all the way with the Caravan, but she loves the spirit of the adventure and was happy to lend Friesian Focus' support. For more information, visit www.thecaravan.me.

The breeding and sales program also supports several equine charities, including Saving Horses, Inc., the Saving America's Horses documentary and the Foundation for the Care of Indigent Animals.
More exciting news includes the inclusion of Friesian Focus stables on a spring 2015 edition of Wild About Barns, a show on the Ride TV cable network. The beautiful Murrieta stable is one of three Golden State facilities to be featured.

The Cleveland National Forest nearly surrounds the Friesian Focus operation and its location on the border of San Diego and Riverside counties. Joan has enjoyed staging very popular open houses in the past and promises to resume the tradition soon. Visits are available for prospective buyers and breeders by appointment and everyone can enjoy Monte and his stablemates at this year's Jingle Bell Horse Show, Dec. 4-7 at the Del Mar Horse Park. Joan particularly recommends the "High Tini 'n' Tea" party on Friday, Dec. 5 and the Concours de Elegance carriage class on Thursday, Dec. 4.

For more information about Friesian Focus, call 951-304-7945 or visit www.friesianfocus.com.