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.

Pushiness

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.

Food Motivation

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.

One-Person Horses

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.

Rugging

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.

Turnout

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.

Companionship

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.

Diet

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.

Coat enhancement

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.

Training Issues

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.

Tack

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.

8 thoughts on “Friesians Dream or nightmare (part II)

  1. Hello! Searching for info.on age appropriate
    training for our Friesian/Qtr. 3yr. old Filly.
    We had 2 months basic barn training, handling,
    english saddle (no backing) and ground work
    done at 2 years old last April.
    Very bright, inquisitive we turned her out till fall
    and had her backed just enough to walk around
    for 15 min or so, and then turned out till spring.

    My concern is: How old should they be before
    going for the “90” days suggested training?

    She will be used primarily for regular trail riding,
    and I DO NOT want to ruin this amazing young
    horse…any suggestions or link referrals would be
    greatly appreciated!
    Her grandfather was Tietse 428 and Father is
    Frans out of Alberta Canada, Mother is stunning
    Dble Reg.Qtr.Horse
    Thank you so much!

    1. Hi Jacqueline,
      when to start your horse is unfortunately a very horse specific question. Your girl needs to be ready both mentally and physically. It is really best that you discuss it with your trainer. We have a chiro assess our horses before starting, part way through and then again and the end and advise of any changes that we need to make or if they are ready or not. I hope this helps.

  2. I have to say I disagree with a lot of this. I don’t have a sluggish Friesian in my heard not even my 20 year old stallion. I don’t have any problems using them for lesson horses, I have taught regularly and randomly and have visitors come ride them and have no issues having the horses love the strangers. My friesians have total respect for tiny children and me and anyone that they are around, they do like hugs and being near people but they are never dangerous about it. They spook appropriately at items that startle me.
    I agree they don’t need rugs in AU.

  3. I am not sure what you mean regarding a Friesian might “shut down” to get the rider to remove pressure. All I know is that my half Friesian half Quarter is difficult to get moving forward at a good pace. She lags way behind the other horses on the trail and doesn’t seem to care. Sometimes, she’ll just stop and start backing up, refuses to move forward when there is absolutely nothing visible to be afraid of. I hate to use spurs on her but I do (at the advice of two trainers who say she has a rhino hide). She seems pretty unaffected by spurs, anyway. I need to get her moving forward at a faster pace and wondering if this “shutting down” has something to do with it. Please clarify what this means and how to fix. Everything else I have read fits her to a tee.

    1. Shutting down and Spurs
      For us the horse has been a total joy but some issues were a little tough…as a careful owner we continues to work with our Friesian Girl knowing that too much repetition for her makes her bow her head with eyes like she was sleeping../ planting her feet and .cranky and refusals spinning in circles absolutely refusing to go forward under saddle.

      Quickly realised how smart they really are and don’t seem to need to do the same things 10 x over and over
      And mixed up her routines and challenged her with new experiences sooner rather than later as we had with our young qtr.horses.

      I tried using English spurs that had no effect and was reluctant to use Western (No experience)

      Finally refusal on the trail to go forward and spinning in the Bush prompted me to take a few lessons and learn what I was doing right and wrong LOL!

      I did don the feared spurs and learned how to use them as (all the trainers had used before me)
      The difference was night and day….she sure had my number….

      So, as she would refuse or balk we went to the old tried and true, ask, re affirm TELL and got a cranky response about 2x until she realised her passive rider meant business! Never overdone or too harsh she is a very sensitive and sensible beast that quickly had figured out I was a pushover like any teenager!! (I have 3 LOL! L

      Now 5 yrs. She has been coming along nicely,
      A few constructive lessons here and there we most ride on old cattle trails, mountains hills and rivers,
      Cattle introduced this spring was a trial for me as I was anticipating some action when none have ever came and she calmly carried on thru and showed her common sense and trustworthiness.

      This will be a big year for her exposure, every blade of grass, every change in dirt color, log, had her pausing and searching she is now moving out nicely with much less refusal as her confidence grows she is a total joy to ride as her gaits are like riding a cloud.

      Bathing, clipping, loading, shoes for the first time she loves being handled and I swear she loves going out as LOADS in trailer before we get there!!
      What a character, I often leave the trailer to air out in front of the barn and have found her in there waiting to close the gate too funny.
      Love this animal and look forward to years and years of her amazing personality.

      Now if I can just figure out the diet for her as she seems to look at a member and gain 20 pounds !
      Always an easy keeper, green grass has been a night mare…have gone to an hour in the morning and night with hay in a small diameter net for nibbling thru the day and night lock ups in corral. Seems to be working.

  4. Re ‘ Shutting down’
    Our Friesian cross Qtr. horse filly now 4 yrs.old,
    is always a joy and a real ‘Character’ who has personality plus keeps us enthralled as she calls to us, is always the first to come investigate anyone entering her space,
    so naturally careful around small people it’s amazing!

    Thru some of her training, I noticed she would literally have a mental shut down, lowering her head and having her eyes half close as if dozing, even at the beginning of a warm up ! She would still go thru the motions requested under some pressure to keep working, but not in an attentive, engaged way…I would not like to have this under saddle and wake up or engage at the wrong moment!

    ..I am no trainer, but noticed this odd behaviour and have decided that she being very intelligent needed to be stimulated with ‘changing up’ the typical routines and expectations, meaning that just lunging for example would put her into sort of a robot mode with no enthusiasiam or interest per say.

    We went to free lunging at the beginning instead which showed her really waking up! After which she seemed to be more engaged and not just going thru half heartedly routines.
    We have found that when tired she tries to ‘quit’ and back up, but with patience and firm insistance she will complete her task (s) no different from other young minded equines

    She really does seem to thrive on ‘new’ routines or requests, whereas the old standards once accomplished are are a bore to her lol!
    We also found giving her a break from training really rejuvenated her enthusiasim, even if a day or two or a week…almost a ‘soaking period’ wherein she never forgot a single thing even after weeks of freedom!

    Highly intelligent, you’ll need to keep on your toes no to be hoodwinked by this and other evasive behaviours

    Throughly enjoying this unique breeds movement of grace and personality
    impossible to resist once exposed….

  5. we have a friesan work horse in neighbourhood . he now pokes his tongue out & also taps the teeth together a lot . he is about 8 yrs . could he be playful or teething or ‘finding himself’? it is stressful as well somewhat there. is it trauma ?

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