Clydesdale Vs Friesian Horse (What Are The Differences?)

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Larger horse breeds tend to share some of the same traits and can often confuse those who aren’t familiar with the different breeds. That is especially true when it comes to the Clydesdale vs Friesian horses because both have feathered feet and can even have some of the same colorings. 

Clydesdales are typically larger than Friesians. Friesians are a much older breed than Clydesdale and they come from separate parts of the world. The two have different purposes also. Clydesdales, one of the draft breeds, were bred to pull wagons and used as workhorses while Friesians were created as powerful war horses. 

Clydesdale vs Friesian

Clydesdale and Friesian comparison overview:

ClydesdaleFriesian
AppearanceMajestic, large stature, high-stepping gait, and feathering around the legsElegant, graceful, noble, and strong
HeightBetween 16 and 18 handsBetween 14.2 and 17 hands
WeightBetween 1,800 and 2,000 poundsBetween 1,200 and 1,400 pounds
Speed20 mph55 mph
PersonalityEasy-going, energetic, and highly trainableEasy-going, energetic, calm demeanor, and highly trainable
Suitable for beginners?YesYes
OriginsScotlandNetherlands
Lifespan20 – 25 years16 years

Keep reading to find out more.

1. Appearance And Size

Both breeds are large horses but those who are familiar with both the Clydesdale and the Friesian can instinctively see the physical differences between the two. 

A Clydesdale Percheron can be confusing when thrown into the mix as well. Typically, the Clydesdale weighs less than a Percheron but is taller. The Percheron has solid coats when the Clydesdales have white markings.

2. Height And Weight

The Clydesdale horse is one of the largest horse breeds in the world. It stands between 16 and 18 hands and weighs between 1,800 and 2,000 pounds. The Friesian horse is slightly smaller with a height that averages around 15.3 hands. It can vary between 14.2 and 17 hands tall. Friesians weigh less than Clydesdales with an average weight of between 1,200 and 1,400 pounds. 

The Friesian has a low-set tail and strong hindquarters. Their withers are prominent but not high. Their back and quarters are in perfect proportion to the withers, where nothing is too long, short, or high. 

They also have small heads with short ears, and eyes that have a width between them. 

The Clydesdale has a short back and the shoulder bones are high, where their proportions are not in perfect alignment. While they also have some width between their eyes, similar to the Friesian, the Clydesdale has a flat face and a wide muzzle. 

3. Coloring

Clydesdales are a draft horse breed known for their bay coat with white feet, legs, and some white markings on the face. Some in this breed can also have white markings on their bellies. 

However, Clydesdales aren’t regulated to the bay color. they can also be grey, black, or chestnut. Sometimes, that can cause confusion with other breeds like the Shire

The Friesian is black with no markings. Some claim they can be other colors, like chestnut, but those aren’t recognized within the breed.

4. Gait And Step

The two breeds are similar in the walk as both the Clydesdale horse and the Friesian horse have a high-stepping trot.  

The similarities end there. Friesians don’t have a smooth canter. Some would even call it an ugly pace. 

Clydesdales, on the other hand, have smoothness in all their gaits. 

5. Speed And Racing

Speed, racing ability, and agility are where the Friesian outpaces the Clydesdale. In a Friesian horse vs Clydesdale race, the black beauty would finish twice as fast. 

Friesian horses have a top speed of up to 55 miles per hour while the top speed ever recorded for a Clydesdale is just 20 miles per hour. 

Friesians are notably more agile than Clydesdales, which is one of the reasons they made great warhorses for centuries. However, neither breed make for good jumpers. 

6. Difference In Personality

The two breeds are similar in that they both are easy-going, energetic, and highly trainable. Both are also gentle giants who love human companionship. 

Of the two, horse breeders say the Clydesdales are a subdued breed and tend to be more submissive but tend to give up their will. 

Friesians have a bit more of a fighting spirit without being stubborn. They like stimulation. The Friesian is a more willing learner. Their temperament can work with riders of any level.

Friesians’ calm demeanor made them excellent in war because they were never spooked. 

7. Origins

This is where the two breeds have vast differences.

Friesian History

Friesian Horse Galloping

Friesians are a horse breed originating from the north Netherlands area, in the province of Friesland. They have been there for thousands of years and eventually became the choice mount for knights in the Middle Ages. 

The heavy armor of a knight mandated a strong steed with endurance in battle. Plus, the Friesian, with its long mane and tail, was impressive. 

Friesians arrived in America when the Dutch began settlements in what is now New York in the 17th century. That breed eventually became extinct in America but many believe it developed into the American Morgan.

The Friesian breed was brought back to North America in the 1970s by enthusiasts who wanted to drive them. The Friesian Horse Association was founded in the United States in 1983. 

The Friesian in the U.S. grew to more than 8,000 in 2014. It was pulled off the Livestock’s Conservancy priority list at that time and has more than 60,000 in its global population, according to world records.

Clydesdale History

Clydesdale Horses

The Clydesdale came from Clydesdale, Scotland, and were bred out of farm horses. The breed is still an old breed at 300 years old but is a much younger breed compared to the Friesian. 

Breeders added some improvements to the Clydesdale breed around 1715 by mating local mares with a Flemish stallion. Clydesdales also have Shire blood, which was introduced later. 

Clydesdales make their way to the United States around 1842. They have always been used for carrying heavy wagons and loads and were still used up until the 1960s for pulling vegetable and milk carts.  

North American breeders redeveloped the breed to stand taller so it can be used for show rings and in fancier hitches. Clydesdales enjoyed an increase in North American population until 2010 when the economy’s downward shift impacted the horse market.

Currently, less than 5,000 Clydesdale horses exist among horses in the world.

8. Warm-Blooded vs. Cold-Blooded

The Friesian is a warm-blooded horse because it was likely the result of a draught horse bred with the Arabian, which is a hot-blooded horse. The draught horse, which is the category containing the Clydesdale, is a cold-blooded breed.

The blood referencing doesn’t relate to the actual blood temperature, but rather the climate the horse can endure. The Shire and Clydesdale, the Belgian draft horses, and similar horses like the Percheron were all bred to withstand colder climates and harsh weather. They are hardier with heavy bones. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the Arabians are meant for hot weather, and Friesians, with a warm-blooded status, can live in moderate climates. 

9. Lifespan

Clydesdales have a solid lifespan of between 20 and 25 years. It is one of the hardier horse breeds although other breeds can live up to 30 years old. 

The pureblooded Friesian has a much shorter lifespan with a life expectedly of 16 years. Their shorter lifespans are, in part, due to four genetic disorders. 

Breeders use selective breeding for the Friesian and that decreases the bloodline. Inbreeding led to a higher than the normal number of genetic defects like hydrocephalous and dwarfism. All of that results in a reduced life span.

10. Uses

The modern uses of both Clydesdales and Friesians are similar. Both are impressive giants, making them excellent representations in commercials, movies, and for showing. 

Clydesdales are often used in parades and ceremonies to represent the best of hard work and toughness. 

The Friesian, with its flowing main and tail, is a more beautiful breed to the eye so it often becomes the top selection for shows, television, and movies. 

Friesians are the top pick for dressage, which is a style of competitive and exhibitive horse riding. In dressage, the rider and horse perform a series of required movements that both must pull from memory and make look effortless. 

11. Price

Clydesdale horses are less to buy and less to maintain than Friesians. Most Clydesdales can be purchased for between $2,500 and $5,000 although that depends on quality, size, age, quality, color, and markings. 

Some of the lesser quality Clydesdales sell for as low as $1,000. Extremely high-quality horses can cost much more than $5,000. 

It would cost around $150 to $175 a month to feed a Clydesdale, as they eat between 25 to 50 pounds of hay daily along with three to 10 pounds of grain. They can east more if they work. 

There is also the cost of maintaining their coat, mane, and tail, but Clydesdales require some extra grooming because of their heavy manes and for their sheer size. Their feathered feet will need to be washed regularly, but not like the Friesian.

Friesians are expensive to acquire and maintain. The average cost of a pureblooded Friesian is $30,000 and that depends on age and training. Competitive horses that are ready for the ring will cost a lot more. 

Friesians don’t eat as much grain or hay as Clydesdales. They enjoy a simple grain mix. They eat mostly hay equating to between 20 and 24 pounds daily, depending on body weight.

Friesians are gorgeous animals but that comes with high maintenance. They require a lot of grooming to keep their coat, feathers, mane, and tail looking show quality.  That includes washing feathers daily.

12. Training

Both Clydesdales and Friesians can be trained for pleasure riding. Their training will be different.  

Clydesdales are sure-footed and you will feel good in the saddle. The disadvantage is they are larger horses so getting in the saddle and dismounting will be more of a problem than with a Fresian. 

The Fresian is easier to mount and dismount. They take turns well and make sharper moves.

The Clydesdale, being a coldblooded horse, will move more slowly and deliberately. You will need to take more time for the horse to process your instructions. They will be more reluctant. 

They are not impulsive and there are no surprises. They are a great horse to work with if you are training for the first time. 

Friesians, being warm-blooded horses, are athletic. This horse isn’t as sure-footed. Their feet are smaller and his body is slimmer so he will have more grace. 

The Friesian is more responsive yet remains calm. The Fresian takes directions well and is more forgiving of errors than the Clydesdale, who gets confused with errors. 

13. Health

Of the two breeds, Clydesdales have better health. Drought horses by nature are built tougher and comparing them to a Friesian is like comparing a pickup truck to a high-end SUV. 

Clydesdales are typically healthy but are prone to some health issues like lymphedema. That’s a disease associated with swollen legs. They can also have skin infections, common under thick leg hair, but proper maintenance will reduce it. 

The Friesian can suffer from several health problems. Besides dwarfism and hydrocephalus, it can have an aortic rupture which is a heart problem, megaesophagus which can cause choking, and digestive system problems that are similar to colic. 

Friesians are also highly sensitive to insect bites and tend to have bad reactions to horseflies and mosquitos. 

Which Horse Is Right For You?

Several issues fall into play when you are considering the type of horse breed to go with.

Those issues include:

  • Use of horse
  • Amount budgeted to spend on the purchase
  • Amount budgeted for maintenance
  • The amount of time you have for grooming
  • Your view on investment versus life expectancy of the horse

The use of the horse is a clear indicator of which breed you should pursue. After all, a Clydesdale isn’t meant for dressage and a Friesian isn’t made for pulling carts. Both are suitable for riding the amount of time you want to put into training will also play a role in your decision. 

For pure monetary value, Clydesdales are a good long-term investment. However, the Friesian is more majestic. Those who want to show horses prefer the breed for that very reason.

Conclusion

Both the Clydesdale and the Friesian are wonderful examples of the drought horse and riding horse categories. Either one will draw attention from a crowd for their sheer size and bold beauty. 

Either breed makes for good riding horses, is intelligent, gentle, and adores humans. It would be a hard choice to pick between the two as both have positive and negative attributes.

References

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