In the 70s of the previous century a series of random events happened in North America: Tom Hannon imports a four-in-hand of Friesian horses, Frank Leyendekker brings two mares and stallion Laes to California and various other Friesian horses cross the Big Pond to start new lives in North America. The lives of the people in whose yards these black pearls started their new adventures took an interesting and inspirational turn, which culminated in the foundation of FHANA.
In 1973 Tom and Theresa Hannon from Ohio visited the Windsor Horse Show in the grounds of Windsor Castle. One of the carriages was drawn by four shiny black horses: Friesians. Tom: ‘With arched necks and long, flying manes. Theresa too was completely in awe.’ These black pearls belonged to Elizabeth Korthagen-Van Til from Breukelen, better known as ‘Aunt Bets’. A well-known and colourful lady where four-in-hand driver Leo Kraaijenbrink learned the tricks of the trade. He was also the coach man of the four-in-hand team driving along Windsor’s Smith Lane.
When the Hannons got into a conversation with Aunt Bets she told them about her dream of trekking through the United States with her team of four Friesians. ‘Before the day was out we were the owners of these four Friesians. We agreed that I would drive them through America for her’, says Hannon. In 1974 it was for the very first time that Friesian horses set foot in New York Harbour. Aunt Bets did the honour of accompanying them on their voyage. It was at the Carriage Association Convention of 1974 when Aunt Bets finally got to realise her dream.
In 1976 Hannon met Mr Hofstra from Friesland, who supplied the Friesian Studbook stallion Bouwe 242 for his future breeding programme.
Meanwhile, Frank Leyendekker was another promoter of the Friesian breed in the making. He emigrated from Witmarsum to Visalia in 1948. He decided to bring the horses to California by plane. In 1977 Foalbook stallion Laes (Kasper 229) arrived, together with two mares. Laes was approved as Studbook stallion in 1983. Leyendekker’s first performance took place at the California State Fair in Sacramento in 1980. Together with four-in-hand trainer Clay Maier and a team of four horses he then started to frequent various shows and competitions.
Back in Friesland for a family trip in 1980, Fred Hekstra also caught the bug for the horse from the old country. He had two pregnant Star mares shipped over to his home. In 1981 California again welcomed new arrivals, this time at Fred and Jennie DeBoer’s yard. Like ripples on the water, the craze for Friesian horses kept spreading, even as far as Canada. Jack Botma, originally from Marrum and now settled in Sarnia Ontario, purchased two mares in Heeg in 1976, a year later a stallion and he had them all shipped to Canada.
In June 1982, our then reigning Queen Beatrix visited a place called Holland in Michigan. Hannon and his son Tim took the Queen and Prince Claus for a spin around the country. Ottawa-born Princess Margriet and her husband Pieter van Vollenhove paid a visit to Brampton in 1983 on the occasion of the official opening of a home for the elderly. They toured around the place driven by Jack Botma and his team of Friesians.
More or less at the same time John and Anita Mellot from Mountain Center, California, also caught the Friesian bug. In Pennsylvania they made the acquaintance of four-in-hand driver Tjeerd Velstra, one of Aunt Bets’ protégés. Full of enthusiasm they travelled to the World Championships in Apeldoorn where Velstra introduced them to various breeders. Very soon a couple of Friesian mares were on their way over and in 1983 they purchased Sander 269.
On December the 2nd 1983 a first, initial meeting was organised in Visalia by a group of enthusiasts. Frank Leyendekker was appointed Chairman and Fred DeBoer as Vice-Chairman of the FHANA. Also on the Board were Treasurer Dirk Dunnink, Jack Botma, John Mellot, Ronald Humason and Beverly Clementsen.
Their aim was to secure the recognition and approval of ‘Het Friesch Paarden-Stamboek’ (FPS) for their local breeding policy. The North Americans declared to abide by the policy and regulations as set by the FPS. In 1989 the total number of Friesians in Canada was 41. The total of Friesian horses in the United States was 296 and that same year both continents could boast 82 proud owners and breeders.