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Black Friesian horses in Cartmel

PUBLISHED: 00:00 10 August 2015 | UPDATED: 20:54 19 April 2016

Friesian Experience beach gallop at sunset

Friesian Experience beach gallop at sunset

Sandy Kitching theearlybirddesign.com

Striking Friesian horses may be big but they are also graceful and fleet of foot and they will be coming to Lancashire this month. Mike Glover met one owner. Photography by Sandy Kitching

Tracey Venter (second from right) leads a Friesian Experience hack in the Cartmel countryside Tracey Venter (second from right) leads a Friesian Experience hack in the Cartmel countryside

BLACK Beauty, as portrayed in the novel by Anna Sewell, probably wasn’t a Friesian. But he should have been - the title perfectly describes the breed of horses named, like their bovine namesakes, after their homeland in northern Holland.

They have the look, with long-haired mane and tail and the sort of dignified, proud bearing that commands attention. They have the personality - kind, willing and people-orientated. And they are, of course, black and beautiful.

For such big animals they also have an expressive movement with an animated, elevated lifting of the hooves developing into an extravagant trot.

But these attributes don’t come by chance. They are fiercely guarded by the Dutch breeders and this month their British aficionados are gathering at Myerscough, near Preston, to put their treasured horses through their paces.

Droomwals the Friesian stallion Droomwals the Friesian stallion

The Friesian Horse Association of Great Britain and Ireland is holding its annual inspection to monitor standards and ensure the breed is retaining all the characteristics that horse owners around the world love.

British FHAGBI President is Tracey Venter, who with her husband Rynardt, set up Black Horses at Greenbank Farm, near Cartmel, eight years ago. The couple specialise in what they call the Friesian Experience.

‘We aim to make people’s dreams come true,’ she says. That can mean anything from riding across the fells and fields or along the beach, to driving them before an exercise carriage. ‘Whatever people want to do, I try to accommodate them. Some people have admired Friesians for years, others want to be educated.’

But Friesians are not for people who are complete novices. ‘They are easy to look good on, but are not necessarily easy to ride well,’ said Tracey. ‘They are strong, athletic, supple animals that need competent handling.’

The versatility of Friesians has led to a variety of business opportunities for the Venters. The horse and carriage can be hired for a ride around Cartmel and surrounding areas. Some customers are one half of an intended couple hiring them to propose marriage in a romantic setting. For weddings, Tracey and Rynardt, will don top hats, full traditional livery coats and white jodhpurs.

They can be hired for all sorts of occasions, and there is a nine-seat break, pulled by three Friesians for larger parties.

Tracey’s family roots in Cartmel, and the link with matters equestrian, go way back. Her great-grandfather, Tom Dixon, bred racehorses at Greenbank Farm, which occupies 120 acres just a mile out of the village.

Tracey’s parents, Sandy and Sylvia Alexander, run a bed and breakfast at the farm. She and Rynardt started the Black Horses business ten years ago with three stallions and a mare in foal. They now have a dozen horses.

One new dimension involves partnering photographer Sandy Kitching, who also lives near Cartmel. She took the pictures for this feature.

Sandy had been working in public relations for Lakeland Arts and Holker Hall before setting up her business, Early Bird Design, in 2007. It provides design, illustration and photography services.

‘The photography side really started to take off and I found myself being commissioned to take pictures of everything from a farmer’s Cashmere goats to prize-winning gun dogs.

‘When I asked Tracey if I could photograph her horses she gave me access to all areas of her business. I found it became addictive and most weekends I spent learning to catch the essence of these beautiful animals.’

When Sandy posted her photographs on Facebook, Tracey’s customers started to ask for this to be part of the service.

‘For some people this is a once in a lifetime experience and they want to have a special memento. Sandy blends into the background, to she gets the horses and the people looking totally natural,’ said Tracey.

The entrepreneurial friends have come up with a very particular joint venture. When Cartmel Priory celebrates its connections with Magna Carta with a flower festival in September, Tracey will play the part of Priory founder William the Marshal.

She will ride into the village dressed as the medieval knight. Pictures of her practising, taken by Sandy, already feature heavily in promoting the event.

The horse in question is Tracey and Rynardt’s only stallion, Droomwals, who is an absolute sucker for Sandy’s lens, posing whenever she appears with camera in hand.

But strangely he won’t be featuring at the Myerscough inspection, which grades the horses on different levels for how well they match the breeding goal.

Although he scores well on looks, he is not fluent, supple or athletic enough for the judges’ ideal. There are only 100 qualified stallions in the world.

Instead Tracey has to develop her herd with artificial insemination or by sending the mares to Holland. It is this attention to detail that keeps Friesians special. In some parts of the world, especially South America, they are prized for their love of music and are known as the dancing horses.

Looks are not enough for these black beauties. Only those with brains and balletic athleticism are allowed to perpetuate the breed. w

The FHAGBI inspections are open to the public and take place at Myerscough on Monday, August, 31. Tickets are available at www.FHAGBI.co.uk.

More information on www.blackhorses.co.uk and

www.sandyanimalphotographer.smugmug.com

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