BRILLIANT BREED: Diane Todd is a huge supporter of the Friesian horse as well as being an accomplished animal portrait artist
BRILLIANT BREED: Diane Todd is a huge supporter of the Friesian horse as well as being an accomplished animal portrait artist

The Friesian horse is a strikingly beautiful animal with a high-stepping trot and a placid temperament. Excelling at driving and dressage, it is bred in very small numbers in the UK. Wendy Short went to meet breed champion and accomplished artist Diane Todd on her parents’ smallholding, near Butterknowle

LIKE many horse owners, Diane Todd has a “day job” to support her passion for animals and she works in a local factory, tending to her horses in virtually all of her spare time.

Two stallions are kept on the smallholding and these serve only the family’s own mares. Miss Todd’s father Peter, a retired builder, is involved with the horses as well as her mother Sheila, who used to own the Royal Oak public house in Butterknowle. Meanwhile, Miss Todd’s sister Deborah owns and rides Friesian cross Fell ponies.

“Friesians have what I call a ‘Labrador’ nature,” states Miss Todd.

“They do go through a silly stage when they are young but once they have matured they are generally very quiet to handle and they have fantastic personalities.

“The breed was developed in the Netherlands, where the climate is similar to our own and so they are very hardy. Our horses are grazed without rugs all year round, although they are stabled when the weather is very bad.”

Miss Todd’s love affair with horses began as a very young child, when she had an Arab cross gelding called Sam.

Later on, she worked at a riding school and then at the late Denys Smith’s racing yard, where Grand National winner Red Alligator was trained.

The nearby pub that was named after the racehorse has kept its name. It is in South Church, near Bishop Auckland.

It was not until the late 1990s that Miss Todd had her first encounter with the Friesian and she has been hooked ever since.

She keeps mainly the baroque type and is one of only 200 registered owners in the UK.

“We took one of our Arab mares to a Friesian stallion and I was immediately impressed. The resulting foal was very nice and within just a short time we had a couple of stallions of our own,” she says.

“At one point we had quite large numbers, but we only keep half a dozen purebred mares now, due to lack of time. For the same reason I no longer ride the horses.”

She adds: “It is very expensive to register foals with the Friesian breed society, as every animal is required to undergo DNA testing.

“Therefore, we do not have a prefix, but there is very good demand for both registered and unregistered Friesian foals.

“I had well over 30 enquiries for youngstock this year and we have only bred four purebred foals and four part-breds.

“It is always very difficult to part with youngstock but otherwise what is supposed to be a hobby can get out of hand.

“Our breeding horses have a home for life, so we have to keep a strict limit on numbers.”

The show ring provides an excellent training ground for young horses and the family take their youngsters to some of the local shows to further their education in the in-hand classes.

The horses have also been shown in ridden classes in the past, as well as turning their hooves to dressage.

Rosehill Fine Arts

IT was the death of much-loved Friesian stallion Watse in 2016 that prompted Miss Todd’s return to the artwork at which she had excelled at school. She has since gone on to specialise in painting animals.

“I wanted to commission a very large painting of Watse, but having made some enquiries I decided that it would be better to produce the painting myself,” she said.

“That way, I could depict Watse in exactly the way that I wanted and it would be the perfect size to hang in a particular spot in my house. The final version also features another of my family’s stallions, Rolland, who is now 22.”

Acrylics are her preferred medium, as she has yet to fully learn the techniques of using oils and watercolours.

With her time taken up by her job and her horses, she has little opportunity to attend painting classes, but she plans to experiment and is confident that she will learn with practice.

Saunders Waterford 300lb HP watercolour paper is used as a base for the acrylic paintings and it takes her about 20 hours to complete a standard picture.

Several commissioned portraits have already been completed, including paintings of a boxer dog and one of a grey horse, using a good quality photograph as reference.

She is preparing to step up a gear and turn her hobby into a small business and has recently taken delivery of a sign-written van for Rosehill Fine Arts.

Friesian Horse Facts

THE Friesian was originally bred as a war horse and was later used in trotting races and as a draught animal.

It is predominately black in colour although it does have a chestnut allele, which is a recessive genetic trait.

The breed is thought to have influenced the development of both the British Shire and the Fell pony. It may also have been used as foundation stock for breeds like the Norfolk trotter (ancestor of the Hackney) and the Morgan.

Friesians can range in size from 14.2hh to 17.3hh but most fall within the range of 15.3hh to 16.2hh.

The Friesian breed is divided into three distinct types: The classic has more bone and profuse feather on its legs.

The baroque is compact and muscled, while the sport is generally taller and lighter in the bone.

Horses crossed with the Friesian are given specific names: Warlander – Friesian cross Spanish blood; Arabofriesian – Friesian cross Arab; Friesian Sports Horse – Friesian cross Thoroughbred or other Warmblood.