Last month we looked at some Friesian specific challenges with their health. This month we will cover some personality traits that are unique to them, as well as some care issues.
While adults are considered very friendly and usually docile (moreso than many other breeds of horse) young friesians can be overly pushy, to the point of being dangerous to an inexperienced handler. They are very friendly, but do not respect/have to be taught the idea of personal space. If left to their own devices, many young friesians will run over their handlers, push them over, drag them to food (they are exceptionally food motivated horses) and/or will choose to jump in the lap of/hide behind their person during stress.
If not corrected, this can result in a very obnoxious and occassionally dangerous adult animal. They generally do not understand their own size and think they are large black labradors that can mug you, walk over you, sit in your lap and otherwise roughouse/ignore the space requirements of a handler. Teaching them personal space between the ages of 6 months-3 years is extremely important and will ensure a life of a well adjusted, well behaved, enjoyable and safe companion and friend. Friesians can tend to be more fat and lazy than hot and flighty. Whilst many people see this as a desirable trait, it can mean that your horse just simply doesn’t respect you and won’t do what you ask of it and worse, get cranky when you ask it to do something that he doesn’t want to do.
It is essential that you teach your horse to respect you and that you are it’s herd leader. There are several trainers who can help teach you specifics however the general gist is that you move his feet, forwards backwards left and right. Make the right thing easy and the wrong thing hard, and you will end up with a respectful horse.
While it is considered “cute” by some, and harnessed by some trainers, food motivation can lead to behavioral quirks and problems. Friesians love their food, which means they will drag their handler in their stalls, get very pushy at feeding time in the open, and be generally rude about food. Teach your young friesians when coming into their stalls for feeding time to:
- Wait and STAND AWAY from the pasture gate.
- Stand quiet for the halter
- Walk in quiet, side by side to their handler, no pulling
- Stop and wait at their stall door
- Stand quiet for unhaltering before allowed to turn to their feed pans and eat
In stalls, friesians can be very aggressive about eating, destroying their feed buckets, pawing the wall, climbing on the feed buckets/up the wall while waiting for the grain to be put in their buckets etc. It takes time and training with young friesians to have them stand quietly, not rush their handler when opening the stall door with feed, stay at a respectful distance and not crowd you when trying to put the feed in their buckets.
In addition, young friesians can hurt themselves on the bucket/feed pan hardware. Be aware of sharp edges, unstable mounting of the bucket/pan etc. We put baling twine “fuses” on the plastic corner feed buckets we use and hang them. That way, if a horse gets too agressive nosing/pawing the bucket and gets stuck, the baling twine will break before the hardware/snaps/horse do! If all else fails, when we have a horse repeatedly breaking buckets, we use a rubber ground pan for feeding.
When going into a field with food, use great caution and teach your friesian to STAND BACK when you have food and not crowd you. Teach them to stand away from you for treats (not on top of you, mugging your pockets/hands/pushing you over/etc) and WAIT at a reasonable distance for their dinners if being fed in a field.
Full Friesian Alert
Affectionately known as “Full Friesian Alert”, this is when a friesian spies something interesting/spooky and does a “four on the floor” jump and leg plant, head craned high, ears perked, totally tense and stares at something. For example when your new import spies his first herd of Kangaroos.
Most friesians just stand, stare, and snort. Some dance away, and a rare group of others bolt right after. While the bolting is not as common in a friesian and most are docile enough to just stare down and snort at what scares them and listen to the reassurance of their handler, it is a distinct possibility and the rider/handler should be prepared for this.
Friesians are not typically great for lesson horses. They will often do as asked very willingly, but will normally only perform best for “their person”. They usually bond deeply with their owner, look for them ( i.e. watch the driveway, know your car, come when called like crazy), become depressed if they haven’t seen them for a while, and have even been known to exhibit jealousy when seeing their “person” handling another horse. They will pick you, not the other way around, and sometimes this can be frustrating for an owner, when your horse picks your husband instead of you……
Stoic with pain
Friesians are typically stoic horses when it comes to pain. It is one of the things that makes diagnosing severe colic in a friesian so difficult and often means that vital time is missed in the beginning stage of a colic episode. They can be stoic to the point of not even having very elevated vitals (BPM, temps etc). Any sign of gut discomfort in a friesian needs to be taken very seriously and a vet should be called/treatment begun immediately and aggressively.
Often times the “wait and see if they seem better” attitude means the horse sits there and munches on hay, looking fine but passing nothing while the colic worsens. If your friesian has not passed any manure/very watery but not productive manure for 24 hours, BE AGGRESSIVE in treatment and get to a hospital if you can.
Friesians typically do not show their true pain levels until much further into a surgical colic than “normal” horses. The same is true for heat/swelling in the coronary band and any suspected laminitic issue. Get X-rays immediately to confirm coffin bone orientation when there is heat in the coronary band and bilateral (multi-hoof) sensitivity noted.
Unless you have a need to keep your friesian trace-clipped/performance clipped for show, the most rugging typically needed in Australia is a sheet for fly/mosquito/insect management.
Of course, this varies climate to climate.
A reflective white cool summer rug to help keep them cool may be desirable, but for the most part daily grooming will keep them looking gorgeous.
If you are in a cooler climate in Australia and your horse isn’t stabled at night you might need a winter rug to keep them warm overnight in the cooler months
Braids and hoods can help keep manes from snagging on things in the pasture, becoming uncontrollably knotted or being pulled on/chewed on by companions and tails can be braided up to keep them out of the mud and from being stepped on. However some days it is just fun to let them run nude and braid free as in nature and deal with the knots later.
There are many varying opinions on turnout. Generally friesians (and any horse really) do best with the most turnout possible in the largest rock and sand-free area as possible. They need access to well shaded areas in warm temperatures, and should have access to shelter for rain/sleet/snow/wind.
Stalling is not necessary, but will help to maintain their coats and hair. In saying that, if your Friesian is imported, you might find that they prefer to be stalled at night as this is what they are used to.
Excessive stalling ( i.e. only 1 hour of turnout, no exercise) can cause behavior/temperament issues in the mildest mannered friesian. Keep your horse’s happiness in mind and err on the side of turning out more often than not.
Our horses have always been stabled at night and turned out during the day for most of the day, less on rainy days.
As always, individual temperaments may vary, but overall friesians are social animals and seek companionship. Although not always possible, it is best to have a companion horse if you can instead of keeping your horse alone.
Young colts/stallions are best kept socialized with a bachelor herd and if you have a stallion, he will be a much more balanced horse if allowed to run with his herd. I recommend Lesley Skipper’s The Natural Stallion for information on keeping stallions well.
Again, personal preferences and individual situations may vary, but overall the stallions do better being out with other stallions or geldings so they can play and socialize. As stallion temperaments go, they are typically more mild mannered than other breeds, but it all has to do with the proper environment, upbringing, and socialization as well as genetics.
Fillies (like most girls) typically are happier around other fillies close to their age, and mares make great “babysitters” of the fillies and great disciplinarians of rambunctious youngsters in general. Often an alpha mare or an alpha gelding can keep your rambunctious youngster humble (without harm) and respectful.
Fibre, fibre fibre! Keep the gut active with roughage, improved pasture where possible or premium grassy hay otherwise, low sugar/low starch food, and you do NOT need to over-protein a friesian! Friesians not in heavy training do not NEED more than 10% protein in their overall feed. For pasture improvement consult a specialist such as Diamondvale Pasture Improvement Specialist. Improved pasture is ultimately the healthiest and cheapest option in the long term for your horses. Friesians under the age of 3 can have a little extra protein (i.e. 2-4% more), but DO NOT overprotein a friesian or you will risk OCD.
Stay away from a heavy grain diet, fortify with stabilized rice bran, and/or essential oils (like non GMO soybean or cocasoya oil) for overall health. If concerned about essential vitamins and minerals due to a lack of quality grass, you can balance the ration using a supplement from a herbalist like Lisa McCann Herbs.
To “keep the black horse black” and a shiny overall coat, you can use various suppliments. Ground flax is best for overall shine and a natural source of omega fatty acids in the diet. Paprika helps some horses retain their coat color when fed before the sunfade starts ( i.e. early spring). It does contain capsacians, though, and will cause a horse to test positive for them and most be taken out of feeds 2 weeks prior to recognized competition. Black Oil Sunflower Seeds are also helpful, but come with a few caveats.
Copper deficiency has a lot to do with black horses turning red/orange, especially during time of the year when coat fade is not typical. Do not overload on selenium, as it can have serious if not fatal complications. Be aware of the selenium content of your grass before choosing any suppliment. Here is a selenium deficiency map.
More on BOSS: (Black Oil Sunflower Seeds, for those not familiar with the acronym) Many “friesian people” feed it with great results. Between that and the paprika, a black/dark horse is less likely to fade. The cons are that it is a REALLY high fat, high calorie food, and my friesians are already butterballs as it is. It also is a bit pricey, depending on what grade of seed you get. If you don’t get better milled seed, you get bin run sunflowers that often contain sticks, dirt, cocklebur and other debris. In addition, they often contain up to 20% hulls with no sunflower meat. So it’s inconsistant and filler if you get the cheap stuff, and expensive to get the better grade sunflower. It does include a high natural copper content, so that’s likely why it works so well to fight the fade. It does include selenium (it’s ok to feed SOME selenium in the diet–just have to be careful not to overdo it in the total feed content, as horses can suffer from selenium poisoning) and phosphorus.
You have to be careful not to feed too much of it and throw off a horse’s calcium to phosphoros ratio. Remember you want at LEAST a 1:1 ratio of calcium to phosphorus. Sunflower seeds (and most cereal grains) are VERY high in phosphorus and very low in calcium. What this means is that for every gram of phosphorus ingested in the diet, the body must match that with another gram of calcium before the phosphorus can be absorbed through the intestinal wall into the bloodstream.
If the required calcium is not available from the diet, the body will obtain it from wherever it can—such as from the storage deposits in the bones. So, feeding something so high in phosphorus can be detrimental to a horse’s bone health later down the road. While you can balance alot of it out with grass, grass based hays and beet pulp, for those horses who are on rice bran and regular grain (which usually inverts a calcium to phosphorus ratio) it can be just enough to push the ratio under 1:1. You can balance out an inverted calcium to phosphorus ratio by feeding alfalfa (I feed soaked cubes), beet pulp, grass hays, and vegetable oils.
You are best to consult an equine nutritionist in your local area who can comment on your soil, your pasture as well as the hard feed and supplements you are feeding your horse.
Friesians are typically a cold blooded fat lazy breed, although many will comment that their horses are very willing to work, when they don’t want to do something they let you know. Friesians will also often shut down to get you to remove pressure, and this can sometimes be mistaken for relaxing. It is important when pressure and release training to be very aware of the difference between shutting down and relaxing as a horse that shuts down to get you to remove pressure will end up with behavioural issues.
While Friesian endurance can be worked on and strengthened, overall it is not a strong point of the breed. Judicious conditioning can be done to increase the endurance of a Friesian, but typically the purebreds are not the horse of choice for sports requiring long/high levels of endurance, such as endurance riding, combined driving etc.
It’s not completely out of the realm of possibility, and individuals in the breed vary, but overall Friesians typically have lower than standard endurance and/or require more often conditioning to improve or maintain it to more athletic levels.
In saying that, with the right training the Friesian is an incredibly versatile breed and can perform well in a number of disciplines.
Friesian backs can be harder to fit, especially due to the connection of the base of the neck to the shoulder/wither. Pay special attention to the make of your saddle and its impact on your horse’s back. Take note of wear patterns on your saddle pad and any pinching at the wither/sitting of the pommel on the scapular bone. Shoulder movement can be greatly restricted by this and will reflect in your horse’s work/gait. If you have any doubts about your horse’s performance or movement, have your saddle fit checked. If your horses muscle tone is changing due to the amount of work he is in ensure to get your saddle fit checked. For fabulous dressage and all purpose saddles designed for Friesians, check out the Fryso range.