In a Sea of Black Horses… the 2018 IFSHA Friesian World & Grand National Championship Horse Show

Tirzah Bolin Urbanis showing her sporthorse colt by stallion Wibo. Photo courtesy of Lori Gale Photography

As one enters the main gates of the Champions Center in Springfield, Ohio, it is not immediately evident the extent of grandeur that awaits once inside the ring. The show grounds, which double as a 4-H park in the summer, feature a modest covered outdoor dressage arena as well as an indoor arena with stadium seating. However, once you enter the barn area, you know something special is about to occur.

While walking through the barns, one sees striking black horses from every direction. They are not small – the average friesian horse is around 16.2 hands, and they are intimidating. However, the friesian and its close cousin, the friesian sporthorse, are some of the most personable, loyal breeds of horses known to man.

Sally Miner-Allgaier and Karsten in costume class. Photo courtesy of IFSHA

The championship event, which spanned the course of a full week in early October, was the culmination of the 2018 season of IFSHA qualifying shows and featured several events including in-hand showmanship, driving, dressage, saddle seat, english and western pleasure and the ever popular costume class. At the start of the week, the Ohio Valley Friesian Association held a Keuring, which is a Dutch term for an evaluation of the horse. When a horse is judged on both confirmation and temperament, it may be awarded a “premie” (premium), which is the highest compliment to the breed.

According to the IFSHA Show Manager, Sandy Jacob, “The IFSHA foundation is built on the camaraderie of our members. We are all part of an association through which we can genuinely appreciate our peers for their talents and share the love and dedication we have for our wonderful equine partners.”

Many of the horses competing were well versed in a variety of events, and went from under saddle early in the week to driving near the end of the show. Bruce Griffin of Griffin Sporthorses, a well known trainer of the breed located in Virginia, competed in nearly every available event at the show and excelled across the board. Another well known trainer, Michelle Sumner of Dark Knight Stables, brought her fleet of magnificent horses to show in a variety of riding and driving events.

Michelle Sumner and one of her many friesians ready for Country Pleasure Driving class. Photo courtesy of IFSHA

On Saturday evening of the event, show attendees were encouraged to participate in the All Glory Honor Ride, which honors veterans and their families. This event, sponsored by Elizabeth Shatner, wife of actor William Shatner, is a fan favorite and horses may be ridden or driven in any discipline. The All Glory Project was created to promote and support programs that utilize animal-assisted therapies in aiding military veterans and their families, and is a 501c3 public charity.

The event, sponsored by the USEF and USDF, included nearly 300 classes and was extremely well run and enjoyable from a competitors point of view. There were many opportunities for learning, as seasoned competitors were eager to share knowledge and offer advice. The IFSHA will return to the Champions Center in Ohio the first week of October, 2019 for their 16th year. For more information on the event and the organization, visit


Daina Behe holds a Master of Science degree in Integrated Marketing Communications from West Virginia University as well as a certificate in User Experience Design, and is well versed in many areas of digital marketing and design. Having been involved in the horse industry for years, she specializes in equine marketing as it brings her passions together. While not working behind a computer, you can find her training her Moriesian horse in the Western Dressage discipline, or teaching riding lessons to young equestrians.