The Magical Friesian

The true value and beauty of a retreat like Tyrone Guthrie is in the friendships formed. There is nothing more inspiring than living and working among a group of creative, like-minded people. You get to know a bit about everybody else’s projects. We’ve had readings after dinner. Some of the talented visual artists have invited the rest of us on tours of their studios. I’m like the cat that ate the cream here.

Remarkably for a horse-mad soul like myself, there’s also been a bit of an equine theme rippling through the big house. Lots of people have horses, and the breed of choice seems to be Friesians – those stunning jet-black fairy-tale horses so beloved of film makers. Now I must confess I’ve only ever seen one of these horses in the flesh. He lives in a paddock near my house, back home in Australia. Every time I drive by, I check to see whether he’s there or not. If I’m in luck, and have the time, I pull over and stalker-like, admire the stallion from afar. They really are that charismatic.

Friesians have an ancient and proud history. Their strength and size made them excellent war horses.The Friesian horse is well known for its beauty, shining black coat, luxuriant mane, tail and feathering, and powerful, high-stepping gait. It is also beloved for its easy-going temperament and companionable nature. I had read that whether competing in upper level dressage tests, performing on the carriage driving circuit or just going for a trail ride, these horses quickly become members of the family. The besotted Friesian owners I’ve met here, swear all this is true. One woman described her horse as being ‘like a big Labrador dog’ . Although apparently that magnificent mane and tail can take two hours to shampoo and condition, and the mane must remain almost permanently braided to prevent tangles.

Friesians are natural show horses and have been featured in many movies including “Ladyhawke,” “Mask of Zorro,” “Interview with a Vampire,” “Sense and Sensibility,” Emma,” and “Disney’s-Tall Tales.” Many have credited the 1985 movie Ladyhawke where Michelle Pfeiffer rides the gorgeous Friesian stallion Goliath, as being a major influence on the breed’s popularity. In the 2004 movie Alexander (starring Colin Farrell) an amazing Friesian stallion was selected to play Alexander the Great’s legendary horse Bucephalus.

In my dreams I imagine myself riding one of these magical animals. The image is certainly in keeping with the mythic surroundings of the Tyrone Guthrie Centre. Despite his size and strength, my dream stallion can dance with the grace of a ballerina. Maybe when I make my fortune I’ll buy one? Or maybe I should just stick to Australian stock horses. Their manes require just one quick comb through, and you’re done. And anyway, I wouldn’t want Sheba getting jealous …