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What’s so Different About a Friesian?

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Do you own a Friesian or are looking to purchase one?

I’ve worked with and trained a few Friesians during my time and I have to say that they have always been my dream horse. I have loved every horse I have ever owned or trained. But there was always something different about a Friesian. To me that is.

There are a few things I’ve learned about why the Friesian breed of horses is different from others. I found these rather interesting. I learned many of these little nuggets from the owners of the Friesians I have trained.

Even though these differences sometimes mean a higher maintenance horse, I still thought it was worth it to finally purchase my own. As you’ve seen in some of my earlier blog posts, I purchased a 6-month-old Friesian colt a few months ago. He just turned 1 years old last week. His name is Merlin.

Because of the new colt in the family I have been doing even more research into the breed. And I wanted to pass on these tidbits to you as well just in case you are working with or thinking about getting your own Friesian horse.

General overview:

Friesian Horses are one of the oldest horse breeds in Europe, dating back to Roman times. They were originally bred in Friesland, in the Netherlands. That’s where they get their name.

Friesian horses are a tall, big-boned equine breed that typically has a black coat, long thick manes and tail, and long hair on their feet called “feathers”. They have a very distinct gate and natural grace.

Friesians trot with extreme power and action, bending well and deep at the joints. Steps are high and long with a lot of “air time”. The walk is straight, forward and springy. The canter is lively with a strong pushing power from the hindquarters that creates a thrusting, rocking canter.

They are differentiated into three body types of Friesians as well – Sport, Baroque, and Classic. These are also distinguished as Lightweight, Medium Weight, and Heavyweight.

The Knights during the medieval era chose Friesians to ride because of their beauty, commanding presence, and elegance. Also because they were big and strong and could carry the knights with all their armor.

Because of their well-mannered temperament, they are suitable horses for both beginners and advanced riders. Friesians are used for many types of riders including trail, sport, pleasure, dressage, and driving.

Unlike most horses, Friesians are cold-blooded horses. The original foundation Friesians can be traced back to a cold-blooded Native forest horse. During times of war, Friesians were influenced and refined with barb blood.

Later during the crusades with battle mobility in mind, Andalusian blood was added. The Friesian in its turn has provided the foundation blood for many European breeds.

Some of which are: The Shire, Gelderlander, Olderburger, Fell ponies, Old English Blacks, Dutch Warmbloods, The Holestiner, just to name a few and here in America they are thought to have been the ancestors of the Morgan horse.

Friesians are not good jumpers. Friesians can be used for recreational jumping and are easily trained to jump; however, their heavy build prevents them from competing at higher-level jump competitions.

Friesians have been described as being mischievous, loving, and playful. Often they are described as being majestic with a commanding presence. It takes a handler with experience and patience to train Friesians since some of them tend to be strong minded.

And a very large, strong-minded horse that makes you earn his trust does what he wants. So he has to want to work with you. That is why bonding with a Friesian is so important.

I’ve noticed in training them; they really make you earn your place in the herd and their trust. But once you earn it, it’s there for life. They are beautiful, gentle creatures but like any other horse they can be insecure at times.

But that doesn’t mean they spook easier; it means that they really need to trust you or else they feel insecure.

With the Friesians that I have trained, they all tend to spook much like a cat when you are riding them. They stand stock-still puffing themselves up to look “big”.

I’ve found that Friesians do not tend to bolt but they can sometimes spin in a circle coming back around to face what they are afraid of. And all that power turning in a circle can be hard to stay on.

Friesians are also much more sensitive than any other horse I’ve worked with. So my cues can be more subtle. This sensitivity also brings out a gentle giant in the training experience. But this sensitivity also allows them to see all your fears and anxieties, but also your hopes and dreams.

Friesians are brilliant, beautiful horses that are not only sensitive but they have the ability to learn quickly when handled by someone experienced with a genuine love for horses. One trait that many horse owners love about them is that they develop strong attachments to their owners.

I would actually say that the Friesian breed bonds deeper and prefers to be with their human owner more so than another horse. Friesian horses usually have a calm temperament, a pleasant disposition, and are eager to please their owners.

Friesian horses are not fast. A fast horse can run up to 55 miles per hour. Friesians are not known as slow horses, but compared to other horses, they are not fast. Friesians do have a slower heart rate too. They do not get a second wind. Therefore they are unsuited to disciplines of speed or endurance.

Here a list of ways that they are different from other horse breeds:

Good –

  1. They prefer to be with their human over another horse once they’ve accepted them Into the herd.
  2. They bond deeper to their owner than another horse. Because of this, once bonded, they love to please their owner and are very willing to try new things.
  3. They are very intelligent. So again, once bonded, they learn quickly and are easy to train.
  4. They are very sensitive to everything going on around them. This can be good and bad depending on what you’re doing. The good part is that they respond quickly to very subtle cues in your body language. The bad part is that they can be strong-minded if they don’t trust you and this can be dangerous with such a large horse.
  5. Their big black bodies with the flowing long black mane and tail and feathers is absolutely beautiful and majestic to watch. Their gate is amazing as well.
  6. Friesians enjoy shoving you with their nose, this is not a personality fault. This is the way Friesians say I love you. You just need to refrain from reprimanding this behavior or you may lose his or her loyalty.
  7. The temperament of the Friesian horse is loyal, Willing, placid and cheerful. Friesians are very people oriented and highly intelligent with an uncanny ability to retain knowledge.

Bad –

  1. They are more prone to colic than other horses because of their super sensitive nature.
  2. They have a higher risk of choking as the breed is prone to dilation of the esophagus. So no carrots or chunks of food for this horse that could get caught in their throats.
  3. They mature slower than other horses and take about 6-7 years to fully mature. This means that they should not be backed until they are at least 3 or 4 and then only by an average weight person and only for a brief walk here and there. Before any hard riding, performance-based training on their backs, their knees should be x-rayed to make sure they have fully developed and won’t be damaged by use.
  4. They have beautiful “feathers” on their feet that need to be well-maintained and cleaned on a regular basis. If not they are prone to fungus and diseases which will damage their feet.
  5. Their sensitivity relates to how they react to medicines and bug bites as well. So use a vet that understands how a Friesian is different and may need less medication when something is needed. And be very diligent when bug bites become skin problems.
  6. Friesians are hard to groom and this can be a high maintenance issue. To keep your Friesian looking like the ones in photographs you have to put in some serious time grooming their coat, mane, feathers, and tail.
  7. Friesians have dry skin and develop rashes quickly. Because of this propensity to develop skin disorders, they need to be groomed daily.
  8. Friesians are best kept in cold weather climates. They don’t tolerate heat well. Friesians are prone to suffer from anhidrosis, lack of sweating. In hot environments, this can cause serious problems. So you should make sure to add electrolytes to their diet in the summer.
  9. Friesians have a higher rate of genetic disorders than most horse breeds. The high instances of a genetic disease are likely caused by years of inbreeding.
  10. Pure Blooded Friesian horses typically live only 16 to 18 years. Most other horse breeds’ lifespan is between 25 to 30 years old. My Quarter Horse Jazz lived 34 years.
  11. Because Friesians are cold-blooded, they can overheat quickly if ridden too hard, too long, or in the summer heat.
  12. Friesians are thick skinned and they have a very high pain tolerance so keep in mind when you’re Friesian displays symptoms of sickness or lameness the injury or illness is most probably fairly advanced.

This can be a good thing or a bad thing depending on you. But I’ve noticed Friesians really love water! Their breed being native to Friesland, which is surrounded by water, they are by nature water babies. Exercise caution when crossing streams and rivers or you might find yourself going for an unwanted swim.

So the long and the short of it is that Friesians are high maintenance horses and there is a lot to think about and do that are different than any other horse I have ever owned or worked with.

But if that breed is your dream horse, like it is with me, then every second is worth it. They are incredibly loyal, beautiful, sweet, and absolutely amazing to ride.

If you’re interested in following my new colt’s progress, you can follow my Instagram – Teddie Ziegler Horsemanship. He is growing up fast.

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