I need help - some input from folks experienced in putting young Friesians to work.
My guy will turn 6 this summer. I’ve had him just over two years and his training has been a challenge. At one point I nearly had him on a trailer to the New Bolton Equine Hospital for a complete diagnostic – preliminary blood work showed him to be marginally anemic and to me he appeared “exercise intolerant”. Supplements made no difference. We tweaked his diet, finally putting him on a sweet feed (Safe Choice) and it seemed to help.
Still, I have to say that despite a year-and-a-half of serious training and daily work, his fitness level isn’t increasing, significantly. Typically he comes out of the stall, warms up and is ready to rock, but often we reach a point (about 30 minutes in) when he has all the impulsion of a paperweight … I feel like I’m working harder than he is and leg, whip and spur make no impression.
What do you do when you’ve run out of ammunition?
He’s young, has his whole life ahead of him and I want him to be happy in his work.
Right now, I can see him associating being tacked up with an impending flogging.
I know there is a segment of the Friesian community that would say, “A Friesian does not work if he’s bored …A Friesian does not work if he’s tired”, but I can’t afford to feed a horse that is only capable of growing hair!
SO – I’m wondering, what benchmarks should I be looking for? Am I asking too much, too soon?
I know he’s not a Thoroughbred (many of whom have already HAD careers by age 5) but I need him to start earning his keep.
I also know Friesians are out there that are fox hunting, eventing and doing well at upper level dressage.
I need to put him on a reasonable training schedule. I’ve been experimenting with various exercise protocols (short and intense followed by long breaks, or keep going til he can’t go anymore; or ending the session, regardless of time – as long as we end on a good note)
Any ideas for getting a lazy boy fit?
What should I expect, what should I demand and what is a realistic timeframe to see results?
... It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that Shwung
I'm surprised the sweet feed was better for him. I'd be more likely to feed him a low carb, high fat diet, as many of the "drafty" breeds do better at putting on muscle on that diet (think weight lifter vs sprinter). I would do what the eventers do to leg up their horses -- trot and canter sets out on varied terrain of possible. I had a draft cross who was hard to get fit (and lost fitness QUICK) and he got the fittest by doing that, and also doing lots of sensitizing exercises. Perhaps it's not fitness but resistance? Does he react swiftly to your leg/seat aids at the beginning of the ride? Also, how varied is his workout? If he is doing endless 20 meter circles (as I have been sucked into as well) perhaps he is just saying he's done?
I have been training and riding Friesians for their IBOP tests (both German and Dutch judges) for different clients for a while now...I ride dressage and eventing on hotter warmbloods or TB crosses for my own personal horses.
Friesians were not bred to do endurance type work other than trot...and any that I have ridden (top quality ster stallions and mares) have all been exactly as you have described...and they all have varying diets, training levels, fitness levels....etc. Personally I believe that they are mostly useful as a carriage horse (what they are bred for)...and those that you have seen to be very successful in dressage are the exception, not the rule. They are very beautiful horses and have a purpose, but in my opinion the general population are not dressage horses. I wouldn't even consider one for eventing, except at the very lowest levels for fun.
Now, thats not saying that your horse can't go out and look beautiful and pull off the tests, but they are not going to ride like a hotter, more forward type horse. The aren't as a rule forward, generous workers...they have a great temperament and some are nice movers, but as far as just loving to go round and round working on Dressage for an hour (like some of my warmbloods just thrive on)...I don't believe they enjoy that....or are actually able to do that physically or mentally. I think your best bet is to find a trainer locally that works with Friesians and understands how they tick...and come up with a training plan that suits you and your horse.
I have never herad that before about Friesians, but it wouldn't surprise me if it were true. All that I have come across to this point have had no wind or work ethic....that could explain it I suppose. I can't say that they don't TRY to please you, because they do...it is almost as if after 20 minutes they just CAN'T do it.
I have a coming 13 yr old Friesian that is doing 3rd/4th level work. he used to have less stamina and I took about 150 pounds off of him. that helped a lot. He is a tryer and never quits. I vary the work load and do have lots of transitions in all of his work. I might work him 30 - 50 minutes in his session it all depends. If he does really good of all I ask, I end the session. His breathing is heavy especially in the summer, it is part of the breed. I love my horse and have never had a partner that tries harder.
I have trained two Friesians for a client, and they have been total opposites. The first was a young stallion who sounds like your horse, only worse. He had no stamina, no motivation to work, and no nerve endings. You could beat on him with a whip and he wouldn't even move. I do not like beating horses!! You could poke him with a horse shoe nail and he would act as if he didn't feel it. A large gelding kicked him hard with both hind feet in the chest in the pasture and he just stood there like he didn't feel it. It was just him. I swore I'd never ride another Friesian.
Now I'm training a young mare for her IBOP test and she is a pure delight! She is forward, wants to work and wants to please, seems to have some stamina although the canter wears her out pretty fast, but she isn't relaxed in it yet and I think it's partly due to the excitement. She is very intelligent and learns quickly. It's just her, and I am looking forward to my time with her.
Maybe your horse just needs another job. I hate to say that, but the stallion I rode would obviously never have changed no matter what we did He is a gelding now, by the way!
I've had mine for 12 years. He is and was always that way. I started out thinking that he would make a good dressage horse but that just didn't work out. He really does try. It's not a work ethic thing, he just poops out after the 20 minute mark.
I think Alianna is very correct about the trot. He seems capable of doing that for extended periods but the canter work (like riding a derailing freight train) just wipes him out.
My bigger complaint about him is that he is so slow off the aids. To get a canter depart you have to ask waaaaaaaaay before you normally would on any other horse. It's as though he is thinking, "I know she wants me to do something, but...... I'm not sure what, what, Ohhhhhh .........c..a..n..t..e..r.."
Once, I rode him in a clinic with a very blunt Russian trainer. I was warming up and he took one look at him and said, "Makes good pet".
I switched to driving him and I'm having a great time. He just loves it. He is very proud of himself and BTW he really does make a good pet!!
My experience with Friesians is limited to two, but I didn't have trouble with their energy levels once we figured each other out. They were both on outside board...not sure if that helps? I also found that repetition was not useful with them; they would get bored and heavy, so I tried to vary the work and included trails (sometimes a walk about the yard in the middle of a session), poles, and some silly things like weaving through pylons. I also found I could pick up their energy by being very positive and excited/obvious with praise and doing things like scratching their crest seemed to do a lot to re-energize their spirit.
I also was very careful to never nag them to go...as nagging can suck the life out of anyone!
They do tend to have limited fitness levels, but that can be improved with work. And their work ethic CAN be improved, but it's not a fun process. You have to have a strong sense of go means GO, and stick to it. You also have to plan a fitness plan carefully and give them regular work.
I brought one back from a very devastating surgery that impacted his fitness levels horribly. He went from being able to trot for maybe 15 minutes on a GOOD day, to an hour plus lesson today. He still tires more easily than the other horses I ride, but we work within his limits. I do my canter work at the beginning of the ride, and try to vary things (he likes to jump, strangely enough).
I find that a higher fat, lower carb feed seems to work best, and smaller amounts of it (he is on the Seminole Wellness performance with supplemental rice bran - basically the EPSM diet is good). You might try adding a vitamin E supplement (have the levels tested and supplement with Se as well if that's low - his was a bit but not horribly so).
But it's mostly just slow and steady progress, and don't let them get away with it. Vary the work, and demand instant response. They do have a "delayed response" button, but plan a bit ahead to cope with it . Have a plan when you ride your tests, and enjoy the laid back personality for what it is.
Clicker training has made all the difference in motivating our young Friesian. She couldn't care less how hard she gets wacked--and I'm not willing to Go There anyway--but she will turn herself inside out for a little piece of Blue Seal Hay Stretcher (healthy, cost effective, conveniently sized, and benign when you forget and run pocketfuls through the laundry LOL) Clicking her for great forward responses brought out beautiful impulsion in our lazy "hair grower."
Also tons of variety. Lots of hills, cavaletti in various patterns and heights, obstacles, etc etc etc. We also feed her hay in the far corner of the field at the top of a hill-built in conditioning.
Having seen quite a few at our barn with our instructor I would say that most of them are like the OP's horse. Our instructor has taken several to the FEI level, and won extensively in the open dressage rings. However, it has been a difficult process for most of the horses. Most of them have very little go, and that go has to be developed very sharply to get to the FEI ring. It is an aerobic workout for rider, with the horse wanting to be anaerobic.
ps- most of them do not care how hard you hit them with a whip, not from the saddle, nor from the ground
I have not discovered that harder whip or sharper spurs (not that I would use them) is of any use. What does seem to work is harder WILL. I must be absolutely resolute that the horse will obey now, and if he does not, a sharp spank will follow. It's the sharpness of my response, not the pain of it, that gets the forward. It took a while, but now when I put my legs on, I get a jump. He has a good forward attitude now, but then I expect him to and don't allow him to have anything else. And he's from a forward-moving bloodline, so that may have something to do with it - his sire went to PSG level.
FWIW, I had the same problem with my big warmblood - he was not sharp enough off my leg, and it's a common problem. Just a matter of degree with this one. And the increasing fitness helps, too. It's no use expecting him to act like my old thoroughbred, of course, but he CAN act like a horse.
And also, most of the vets I've come in contact with (and there have been many, as he has had several serious health problems including a hernia repair and some skin issues), have indicated that they CAN have reduced stamina due to small heart capacity, but that you can work within those parameters to increase fitness.
I have a 4 year old Friesian cross that also gets very winded with work. My trainer (who is also a vet) said the main thing is conditioning. She said young horses need to develop their lungs and their strength.
She suggested a conditioning program that will start with long walks up and down hills. Not a casual stroll, but a forward march. It can be the same hill 20 times if you dont have lots of hills. (For us, this has to wait a bit for the snow to melt!)
Its the same suggestion that Jane had -- Thanks Jane!
P.S. I love this horse's personality and work ethic. He definitely wants to please!
Just to digress slightly- but, since when is Safe Choice a sweet feed? I have been feeding it for years- it is very similar to Purina Strategy. Both are recommended as controlled-starch/sugar feeds...
Well, I'm just going by the recommendations of Dr. Sarah Ralston, the equine nutritionist at Rutgers University. While Safe Choice may not be the classic sweet feed, it is a more calories, less fat product.
She also steered us away from the EPSM-type diet I had him on for the previous 6-8 months.
... It don't mean a thing if it ain't got that Shwung
That's an interesting statement- "less fat". With minimum 7% fat, it's definitely not a low fat diet. that would be down around the <3% mark. I'm not knocking your vet, just a bit perplexed! "Sweet feed" is generally used to describe a feed that has a relatively high molasses content (around 10%). Most extruded feeds don't contain nearly that amount.