By Adriana van Tilburg
Photography: Digishots, courtesy of KFPS
According to Marc-Peter Spahn (45), “The Friesian we need is not necessarily the best Friesian from a breed-specific conformation approval.” Growing up in Belgium, this well-known dressage rider met his first Friesian by happenstance.
Now based in the Netherlands, Marc-Peter Spahn rode his first Grand Prix at the age of 17 and has since become an ambassador for Friesian breeding and dressage horses. He and his partner, Ykje Baron, now work to promote Friesians as sport horses, and the KFPS (Royal Friesian) studbook was officially recognized as a member of the WBFSH in 2020.
Q How did you first connect with Friesian horses?
I grew up in Belgium and my neighbor happened to have Friesian horses. I knew he had those black horses but I wasn’t really thinking about them, until someone asked me if I wanted to ride one. I was rather confused because at that time nobody was riding a Friesian in Belgium. I thought they were only suitable for being in-harness and driving. So I went to ride this Friesian, who was Adel 357 (Ludse 305 -Adeldame x Tsjalling 235, bred by the Gevers family). I was very lucky that I got to ride him as being my first Friesian. He felt almost the same as a Warmblood, and maybe even better because Friesians are very friendly and kind and he started to communicate with me in a very good way. This is how I started with Friesians. I was at that time 22 years old.
When I was 17 I rode my first Warmblood in Prix St. Georges and, to make a long story short, I had exams at the time so didn’t have time to train, so I put the horse with someone else to keep him in shape as I wanted to progress to Grand Prix. However, the horse developed laminitis and I lost him. One of my neighbors tried to comfort me and suggested I ride one of his Friesians, Adel 357. He was already competing at advanced level but that rider had stopped with him, so Adel was available and we were a great match.
From then on, everything moved very fast. I immediately had a good feeling, and my neighbor said that his wish was to have the first approved Friesian breeding stallion who would start in Prix St. Georges. So, I started riding him and he did very well. I’d ridden a lot of Warmbloods, and you always had to be very special if you wanted to draw attention [in competition]. So, it was very big news when Adel 357 started in Prix St. Georges. Every newspaper was reporting that I scored 63% with him. This is how I started to organize competitions for Friesian horses, to bring more into the sport.
Shortly after that, KFPS celebrated their 125th anniversary and that is how I came to the north of the Netherlands and had meetings here with studbook people. For example, with Jolanda Schreuder and Sybren Minkema who are doing a very important job for the image of the Friesian horse in the Netherlands and Europe.
We then started the Fryso Huys foundation/project with the goal of having the first Friesian compete in a World Equestrian Games, an Olympic Games, or the World Breeding Championship for Young Horses in order to promote the breed. We started in 2004, but stopped in 2013 as it was a time of great crisis and difficult to get sponsors. There were results but not much involvement from the studbook. We had a passionate group of people but didn’t feel supported by the breeders. We had a top location at ‘Stoeterij het Swarte Paert’, but maybe it was too much for the normal breeder. The ones who had some money wanted to invest, but we wanted to be there for everybody. Some of my students from that period are now breaking through in Grand Prix with their Friesian horses.
I was riding Anders 357 (Adel 357 - Hanneke van de Hoogstraat x Ouke 313, bred by M. Reinders) in 2010, but I couldn’t ride at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. At that moment Anders 357 stood in 87th place on the world ranking list, so that was rather good. He competed for 10 years at Grand Prix level from when he was eight to 18. That was his good interior, his strength... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber
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