Condition Friesians With Unique Physical Challenges in Mind

Scientists say Friesians benefit from specific exercise regimens and warmups based on their anaerobic threshold.
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The research confirms what some dressage riders have already discovered on their own—that Friesians don’t do as well with long preparation times before competitions, Delesalle said. | Photo: Courtesy Ids Hellinga and Dr. Cathérine Delesalle

The Friesian horse, with its shiny ebony coat and thick flowing mane, tail, and feathers, has gained popularity recently as a show horse—specifically in dressage. South Africa’s Adelprag Anders, ridden by Chere Berger, wowed audiences in Caen during the Fédération Equestre Internationale’s 2014 Alltech World Equestrian Games as the first Friesian horse to compete at world championship level. Meanwhile, Dutch international dressage rider Peter Spahn has ridden his Friesian stallions for the past decade throughout the world in events and training clinics, and Susan Bouwman-Wind has made an international name for herself training and showing Friesians around the world.

But for all its splendor in the show ring, the Friesian is no “traditional” dressage horse. Neither Warmblood nor draft, the Friesian faces its own particular set of physical challenges in training. Dutch scientists say that doesn’t make it weaker or inferior to typical warmblood dressage horses. Just special.

“Friesian horses need to be managed in a different way when compared to Warmblood horses, with respect to both training and nutrition,” said Cathérine Delesalle, DVM, PhD, Dipl. ECEIM, of the Ghent University Department of Comparative Physiology, in Belgium, and visiting professor at Utrecht University, in The Netherlands

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Passionate about horses and science from the time she was riding her first Shetland Pony in Texas, Christa Lesté-Lasserre writes about scientific research that contributes to a better understanding of all equids. After undergrad studies in science, journalism, and literature, she received a master’s degree in creative writing. Now based in France, she aims to present the most fascinating aspect of equine science: the story it creates. Follow Lesté-Lasserre on Twitter @christalestelas.

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