Just when my second blog was ready to be published, I heard of the passing of Mr. Harry J. Witteveen. So please consider this blog as a tribute to a legendary man who did a tremendous amount for the Friesian Horse in North America.
In 1989, I was asked if I would like to be a groom on a flight with Friesian Horses. On the plane from Amsterdam to Toronto in Ontario, Canada. Of course! I didn’t even have to think twice about it! Even when I had never flown before. It seemed like a magnificent adventure! As it was said, it was also done. That April I travelled with the horses from Fryslan at the crack of dawn, to the airport, Schiphol. Once there no official customs, but straight to the cargo section.
Travelling with the horses
I had to help unload and load the horses onto the crate in which they would fly across the ocean. The crate was towed by a small tractor and put on a kind of scissor lift. After that we were rolled into the plane. A big Boeing 747. What an experience! I was standing in front of the horses with my suitcase between my legs. During takeoff and landing it was challenging to stay put. You felt the gravity pull you down, making your knees want to buckle. I noticed that the horses were feeling it as well. Kier, the youngest nudged his head on to me. During the flight I was able to go back and forth form the cargo part of the plane to the passenger part. That was something else! I checked on the horses regularly and offered the horses water. They had a hay net in front of them the whole time. When we landed I was with the horses again to help them stay calm. Nowadays the groom does not stay with the horses during take- off and landing. The combi planes are also not in use anymore.
Ladies horse, work horse and show horse
There were three horses in the crate who were my responsibility: Kier, Jaring and Jurjen. All three were destined for Witteveen Friesians. This was in the days that Harry WItteveen, a Dutch immigrant and successful businessman, imported a lot of geldings to use for driving competitions. Drivng was his passion. He drove four in hand, team, unicorn, tandem etc. He loved to participate in combined driving competitions. In 1986 Witteveen was the first to import Friesian horses to Ontario. Later he also was actively involved with breeding and bred the approved stallion Michiel 442.
That same year in the summer I go back to Witteveen to work there for almost three months. Doeke who I know from the local riding club in Fryslan, is working there as well that summer. Together we train Kier fan ‘e Weyert ( Naen 264 x Bouwe 242) and Morris Ster ( Fedde x Ewoud 250) the young ones, to ground drive. We trained “Dutch” (Tsjalling 235, real name Fedde ) and Floris (Tjimme275), Jurjen (Reitse 272 x Dagho 247). And also, Jaring Ster (Jochem 259 x Naen264). Jurjen and Jaring usually are hitched together as a team. Jaring has to be encouraged frequently with a little tap of the whip to do his part. Yes, you have work horses and show horses.. Jaring was a show horse. He was very good at making Jurjen pull just a little bit harder than he did. Under saddle however, he was a totally different horse! A great riding horse! A real show off, beautiful animal, my favorite. And he knew it! Remember he is by Jochem 259… My grandfather sold Ottsje Ster Pref (Gerke 220) when she was expecting Jochem 259 ( Mark 232)). Floris was a ladies horse according to Witteveen. Elegant and good natured.
Witteveen really enjoyed driving! He would drive pairs, unicorn (3 horse hitch) four in hand, participate in combined or pleasure driving competitions, you name it, he tried it. He had quite the assortment of carriages and harnesses. The harness and horses had to be cleaned and polished to a shine, he was very particular. This applied to the competition driving as well. As standard, we had to be the first ones in the ring. So be ready plenty on time, and wait.. All that dedication and hard work paid off, many prizes were won. The Friesian horse was an impressive sight!! Still so unknown!! Everyone asked, “What breed is this?” Some kind of Percheron? This prompted us to have baseball caps made with the word Friesian on it, so we just had to point to our caps. We travelled a lot. Throughout Ontario and even across the border, into the USA. Competitions in Syracuse, close to New York. This way I got to see a lot of Ontario and some of the USA as well.
In 1991my boyfriend Erik and I visit Ontario again. We visit PEI as well. Canada’s smallest province. It is so beautiful here! It looks like a combination of Fryslan and Limburg (hilly province of Netherlands) at the same time, with its green, rolling landscape. The cows can be pastured outside in the summer, because it doesn’t get to hot. The water out the well tastes terrific! And not to forget the lovely beaches! But most importantly, here we can afford to buy a small dairy farm!
We marry a year later and emigrate to PEI. Filled with plans and full of courage. “What the future may be bringing, it is God’s hand that leadeth me”. Those words often provided comfort. Even though it was my dream to build a solid running dairy farm with my husband, I leave behind a lot. My family and friends, and also a way of life. A way of life that existed for a great deal of everything and anything that had to do with Friesian horses. There are no Friesian horses in all of Atlantic Canada yet. The Phryso, I can’t and won’t read it for years to come. .. Out of sight out of mind?. No. Friesians are in my blood. And blood crawls where it can’t go… that’s a fact!
Read here the first blog of Anna: memory’s of my youth with Friesian horses