It’s no secret that we’re very fond of our Clydesdales horses. But another horse we’re a great fan of is the Friesian. This Dutch charger is very different from Scotland’s big brave heart, yet the two breeds are similar in some charming aspects.
In this article, I get into the performance ring with these two amazing animals to compare their qualities and characters.
This is not about which horse is best, since they’re both winners in my eyes. Your preference for one breed will come down to your personal riding preferences and aspirations.
Read on as we compare the equestrian attributes of each horse breed and the skills and disciplines for which they’re best renowned.
King Edward and Tilly, two fine examples of a Clydesdale and a Friesian horse we are lucky enough to have at Strathorn.
Draught Horses and Warhorses
The two breeds were developed for different purposes and one has graced the earth a lot longer than the other.
The Clydesdale was developed as a draught horse and originated in the 18th century. The breed was used for carriage driving and hauling heavy loads in agricultural work. Read more about the origins of the Clydesdale horse in our artice here
The Friesian has a long association with the wars of the Middle Ages. Friesian ancestors carried armoured knights into battle over 1,000 years ago.
Friesians left the battlegrounds behind when were harnessed for agricultural work in the 18th and 19th centuries.
Today, you may well see Clydesdales taking part in military parades where their impressive size and proud carriage add dignity to the occasion.
Size and Body Type – Clydesdale vs Friesian Horse Breeds
The Clydesdale is a genuine draught horse, while the Friesian is often considered a light draught (draft) breed.
Clydesdales stand between 16 and 18.2 hands, with the tallest animals exceeding 20 hands.
Adult Clydesdales weigh in at around 1,600-2,000 pounds, with a few larger lads straining the scales at 2,300 pounds!
Clydesdales are big in body with heavy bones and powerful hindquarters. They are a broad and powerful across the chest with good necks. We’re talking about one of the strongest draught horse breeds in the world here, folks!
Their faces are flat or slightly concave and fairly broad between their endearingly friendly eyes.
Friesians are medium-sized equines that stand between 15.1 and 17.3 hands and tip the scales around 1,200 to 1,500 pounds.
Friesians are sturdy, well-muscled, and also have a strong bone structure. Put this down to a history of rigorous – and dangerous – pastimes.
It’s fair to say the Friesian is more elegant and athletic than the Clydesdale in appearance. They are certainly more nimble and agile on their hooves. But their smaller hooves aren’t as sure-footed as the Clyde’s big cloppers.
Friesians boast the classic Spanish-style head – long and narrow with a refined bearing.
Watch our video comparing the two breeds below. Note Edward is at the top end of the size range for Clydesdales at 18.2hh, while Tilly is a small Friesian at 15hh
Colour and Appearance of the Clydesdale and Friesian
You’ll see Clydesdales in a number of colours. Bay is the most popular, with chestnut, brown, and grey also common. The sabino look of white splashes and speckles is another feature. White legs and white facial markings are very popular.
Many of the breed sport delightfully long shaggy manes which can grow up to 12 inches in length (periodic grooming is required to prevent the Highland Cow look!).
The Friesian breed is renowned for its striking black coat and flowing mane. Due to rather strict registry requirements, purebred Friesian horses are predominantly solid black.
Unlike Clydesdales, white markings are not typical or desired within the breed. Only a small white star or marking on the forehead is allowed.
A glossy solid black, high-stepping Friesian with its lustrous mane is a glorious sight to behold.
- Are there black Clydesdales, did you ask? There are indeed, though these magical creatures are quite rare.
- Both horses benefit from amazing feathering – that’s the eye-catching flowing hair on the lower legs covering their hooves.
- While the ‘feather’ is another part of the horses’ appeal, this hair also provides extra warmth in the nether regions during cold winters. Very handy up north!
History and Ancestry of Friesians and Clydesdales
These horses boast a rich genetic heritage dating back to 18th-century Scotland. The modern breed originated in the Clydesdale region when Flemish Stallions from Belgium were bred with local breeds.
England’s Shire horses were long admired among the draught breeds. This prompted the later introduction of the Shire horse bloodline into the Clydesdale pool.
The Clydesdale was always intended to pull heavy loads like ploughs, carriages, and other farm equipment. This equine Pride of Scotland hasn’t shied away from hard work ever since.
The Friesian horse originates from the Friesland region of the Netherlands and is still found in small numbers in that country where it is rightly prized.
Over its proud and storied history, this noble animal has been employed on the battlefields, as an agricultural draught breed, and more recently in equestrian competitions and on film sets.
When farms became mechanised last century, many draught breeds became rarer or even faced extinction. The Friesian is no exception. However, determined efforts to preserve the fine horse ensure there are many thousands to be appreciated today.
Temperament and Personality of the Clydesdale and Friesian
People are often surprised by the docile nature of this super-sized draught horse breed.
Clydesdales have a calm temperament and are well-known for being gentle giants. We see this virtually daily: how wonderfully they relate to children, how successful they’ve been as therapy horses, and how forgiving they are with novice riders.
They are known to possess an independent streak but this should be seen as self-sufficient rather than stubborn.
Friesians have a similarly caring and even temperament. They are intelligent horses that are very receptive to patient training.
There’s no question that they appreciate human company. Their relaxed and steady nature makes them a pleasure to be around (no tense mood swings from these steppers).
They are overall more energetic and demanding of stimulation than their Scottish counterparts but don’t mistake this for them being high-maintenance though!
Training Clydesdales and Friesians
Clydesdales are rightly renowned as a highly intelligent horse breed. Horse-powered brawn with brains we say.
Their smarts and friendly, gentle temperament make them a delight to train, ride and drive.
For hundreds of years, Clydesdales have been trained in different activities. Their willingness to please together with their adaptability and versatility sees them successfully perform a whole variety of equestrian skills today.
Friesians aren’t just a pretty face either.This breed is another example of a muscular horse with a good head on its shoulders.
They are pretty quick studies and pleasantly responsive too. They display a positive willingness to work and an eagerness to please their handler.
Riding Clydesdales and Friesians
Both Clydesdales and Friesians are superb horse breeds under saddle.
What’s not to love about a strong dependable mount with a sweet temperament and plenty of patience with beginners?
Admittedly the draught horse breed may appear imposing through a kid’s eyes, but children can feel safe in the saddle taking a gentle walk on the back of this magnificent animal.
Cold bloods like Clydesdales are in fact highly recommend for learner riders.
Clydesdale are delightful pleasure-riding horses who don’t need an extensive training program to remain fit. They are also adventurous trail-riding or hacking horses, happy to explore with you to your heart’s content.
Strathorn Farm owners George and Ruth Skinner’s drive to diversify Clydesdales as ridden horses have led to some of the most popular ridden classes at the Blair Horse Trials and the Royal Highland Show.
Strathorn took champion-ridden Clydesdale at the Blair Horse Trials in 2022 with King Edward. As the honorary president of the Clydesdale Horse Society, this was the pinnacle of George’s life dedicated to Clydesdales since the 1940s.
George also competed on his 84th Birthday at the World Clydesdale Show with his pair of Clydesdales and his drey, hand built by himself and local craftsmen.
An agreeable character and versatility make Friesians well-suited for riders of varying skill levels. They are usually forgiving with beginners thanks to their sensitive aware side.
A small Friesian at 15 hands is not much bigger than a large pony, so little ones nervous about sitting up in the clouds may feel more comfortable on the back of this lighter Dutch draught horse.
For more confident riders, the breed’s willing nature and agility make them excellent for pleasure riding. Riders who give their energetic mount its head will be amply rewarded with a lively gallop.
This graceful mount is pretty decent at hacking too. With an ancestry including war horses, you can expect tons of stamina and a courageous heart. These black beauties also don’t spook easily.
Both horse breeds have a high-stepping walk and trot but Clydesdales have an overall smoother gait when cantering and galloping.
Disciplines and Skills of the Friesian and Clydesdale
We said both breeds are very versatile. Let’s look at each horse and it’s special fortes and best disciplines.
- Pleasure and trail riding.
- Great horses for novice riders.
- They can be trained for riding disciplines such as dressage and display teams. The horse has a lovely gait and carriage and has performed well in lower-level dressage.
- Excellent in the area of heavy haulage, carriage, and driving.
- Great competitors in draught horse pulling and driving competitions.
- They are also popular parade and show horses where their carriage and white feathered hoofs captivate crowds everywhere.
- They are lovely companions and are also used in therapeutic riding programmes.
- Great riding and hacking horses.
- Friesians are fabulous and much sought-after dressage horses.
- Driving disciplines in the show ring.
- Their gentle nature and forgiving demeanour make them good therapy animals.
- They wow as carriage horses for weddings.
- While not typically show jumping horses, several have made the jump to show business. A dashing Friesian featured in the movie ‘The Mask Of Zorro’ playing the masked swordsman’s faithful steed Tornado.
Friesians are fairly fast horses but aren’t generally bred for horse racing where they are outpaced by Thoroughbreds and other breeds.
Maintenance of a Friesian and Clydesdale
Both horse breeds naturally require loving care and an appropriate maintenance regime.
You’ll appreciate that caring for your pride and joy involves accepting a number of responsibilities, including:
- Providing food and nutrition
- Vet care
- Hoof care
The cost of keeping a Clydesdale or a Friesian ranges from £2,500 to £8,000 per year for a good quality adult.
Both horses are fairly well adapted to living outdoors for much of the year so that may save some stabling costs. Though adequate shelter is essential!
The smaller Friesian typically won’t need as much food as a Clydesdale so the food bill can potentially be lower. But do expect to fork out a fair deal more to buy a purebred Friesian.
How Long Do Clydesdales and Friesians Live?
Clydesdales can live a long and full life of between 20 and 25 years.
Similar to some of the other draught breeds, the Clydesdale has a hardy disposition. A hardy Clydesdale horse in good health may even get close to its 30th birthday.
It’s a tad sad to see the Friesian only reaching half that age. Generally, this lighter horse has a shorter life expectancy. Some pureblood Friesians go to that pastoral meadow in the sky after only 16 years.
Happily, many Friesians can expect to enjoy life for closer to 20 years.
Friesian also have featherd legs
Why do Friesians have a shorter life expectancy than Clydesdales?
Their shorter lifespans are due to many factors. They are affected by four genetic disorders including dwarfism and aortic rupture. They are also thought to be prone to compromised immune systems, insect bite reactions, and digestive system disorders.
How many European draught horse breeds are there?
There are over a dozen recognised European draught horses. The most well-known include the Belgian Draught Horse, Shire horse, Clydesdale, and Percheron, as well as the Ardennes horses from France, Luxembourg, and Belgium.
Is the Friesian the same as a Belgian Black?
The Friesian horse which originated in Friesland in the Netherlands is also known as the Belgian Black or Frizian. Friesian horses shouldn’t be confused with Belgian draught horses or Dutch draught horses.