Having lost faith in New Year resolutions, I’ve decided to let 2020 take it’s own course with a ‘let’s see what happens’ approach this time.

Between wish lists and crystal ball gazing this crazy world in which we live is predictably unpredictable, so we have to look to those little golden nuggets to come along to excite, enthuse or, if nothing else, amuse us.

Within the first fortnight of the new year, I’d already found some – the best of which came last weekend when a wet Saturday afternoon found me switching from National Hunt racing on TV to live streaming of the Friesian stallion grading event in Holland, thanks to the Internet.

When it comes to horse breeding, few countries round the world can match those of Continental Europe, Holland being no exception. Within the last 60 years, or so, the breeders there have taken a fairly ordinary product largely used for work through a process of improvement to become a much sought-after product designed for sport and competition.

While there are probably as many ways to breed a competition horse as there are breeding organisations with which to register them, a high percentage of the horses competing internationally (particularly in show jumping and dressage) emerge from a common breeding policy based on selection.

By careful selection and strict governance (by traditional British standards quite draconian) a variety of Dutch stud books have grown under the stewardship of organisers, each led by a small group, which has the ultimate power over which animals are allowed entry to the stud books for breeding.

Named ‘The Jury’, the term says it all. Under EU rules, all animals with the appropriate breeding are eligible for registration within a breed, however most stud book societies will only allow those meeting strict grading criteria through an inspection process entry for breeding purposes.

Once a horse is graded, the offspring of these animals are then entitled to pedigree papers provided that the other parents also graded in to the same stud book, thus ensuring quality and continuity of breed character.

It is the time of year when the major breed societies in Holland conduct their stallion gradings, a process by which new entrants are deemed eligible for entry into the stud books through a vigorous approval process. Without exception, The Jury appears to be ruthless in its assessment and high drama ensues during the process when unsuccessful candidates are ceremoniously ejected from the judging arena.

Last weekend, it was the turn of the Royal Dutch Friesian Studbook Society (KFPS) founded by farmers and landowners in Friesland – one of 12 provinces of the Netherlands – which is situated in the north west. As the only province to have its own recognised language, it is no wonder that it boasts a strong cultural agricultural heritage best known for its dairy cattle and work horses both of which adopt the province’s name.

The Friesian horse, characteristically black in colour and standing around 15.3hh, for a long time has been associated with harness work and no wonder, since its routes are based on that working heritage.

In Britain, the breed was selected to pull a hearse and for a while it was well known as the carriage horse of the famous London department store, Harrods. However, times are changing and a role within the equestrian competition world is witnessing a re-branding of this breed as one suited to riding, dressage in particular.

Conformationally, its long, elegant neck, well set on head, elevated action in front combined with activity behind are attributes well suited to its new purpose. Modern breeders – significantly with approval from The Jury – are keen to build upon these without losing breed characteristics,which sadly includes a lack of middle.

Such is the strength of Friesland’s cultural heritage that its regional TV station opted to provide live coverage of the stallion grading, which has developed into a three-day extravaganza bringing together popular entertainment and equestrianism.

Based at a large venue situated in the province’s capital of Leeuwarden, it had all the qualities of the Horse of the Year Show, or Olympia. It was packed for all performances, the only main difference being the knowledge and enthusiasm of the audience for the actual grading process itself.

Needless to say, with the clapping of hands and stamping of feet to lively music, the stallions themselves grew in stature the more excited the crowd became. It was great theatre, the likes of which we just don’t witness in Britain, let alone Scotland.

I’m confident that The Proclaimers’ famous song ‘I’m gonna be (500 miles)’ would have been an instant hit with the organisers had they known about it and I’m tempted to send them a copy for future events.

Ultimately, it had to be the stallions themselves that were the stars of the show and there were so many superior ones from which to choose.

The three ‘Jurors’ had an unenviable tasks on hand and in traditional continental fashion, each exhibit was given a verbal critique before a final selection was made. You could hear a pin drop as the critique was read out as individual stallions awaited their fate at the exit of the ring.

Hopes were, understandably, dashed as rejected stallions were dismissed and much jubilation and celebration erupted as acceptance was announced. It was all very exciting, even for those unfamiliar with the process and the breed.

The stallions themselves looked magnificent and in marvellous condition for the time of year. Traditionally, their manes are left long and their silky feathers reveal their agricultural past.

Most were shown in white leather bridles in hand, although a few trot out in long reins. Largely produced and handled by professionals, who present a very clean-cut appearance, all with a short ‘back and sides’ and similarly dressed in their whites as is the Continental way.

An excellence of performance and movement was achieved by two in the ring simultaneously, one who held on to the stallion with a short rein and ran like the wind and the other aiding and abetting with a long whip raised high as he ran in front.

The pre-grading preparation was more then obvious as balanced performances brought out the best of active and elevated movement. The overall champion stallion, Matthys, was as breath-taking in his beauty, as he was in his performance.

In Britain, it would be the performance of Welsh cob most akin to that of the Friesian and its enthusiastic following both inside and outside the ring. Few cob handlers share their Dutch counterpart’s understanding of a balanced performance and too many of them demonstrate evidence of too much beer and meat pies between shows.

Interestingly, the Dutchmen don’t appear to need studded boots to run at speed as the cob runners seem to, in fact, my Dutch friend tells me that some of them even run in clogs.

It goes without saying that all of this is foreign to exhibitors and breeders of Scotland’s native breeds, with their fate firmly set in history and little or no vision towards the future. I suppose this is what sets tradition apart from one country to another, as it does region to region.

Saturday’s event also celebrated the versatility of the breed with ridden displays, including dressage. A driving display of eight pairs driven to traditional two-wheeled vehicles, known as the Fryske Quadrille, was a real highlight and yet another endorsement of the Friesian’s great temperament.

Amazingly, the group’s chairman was awarded the equivalent of a knighthood from the King of the Netherlands for his contribution to his work with the Friesian breed and within Friesland.

It was also a mark of respect for a stallion and his breeders that a special presentation was made to the 25-year-old, Jasper, a former star of the grading whose many championship-winning sons and grandsons were brought into the ring.

Jasper is recognised as the stallion which has made the greatest improvement in the breed with movement singled out as a special feature.

I can’t imagine a British equivalent when the achievements of both man and horse would be celebrated in such magnificent style.