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At Mardi Gras, the furry feet of the Clydesdales horses fascinated our grandchildren. They wanted to know all about the extraordinary hair and what other horse breeds had long hair around their feet.
Many horse breeds have furry feet, and they come in all shapes and sizes. However, most horses with hairy feet are large draft breeds that evolved in cold climates, and the hair provides an extra layer of warmth. The hair around a horse’s feet is called feathers and often needs special care.
Most people think of Clydesdales and Friesians when horses with furry feet are mentioned, but many other lesser-known horse breeds have this trait.
This article is part of my series focused on horse breeds-I started by writing an introductory piece: Horse Breeds: The Ultimate Guide. It’s a comprehensive overview of the different horse types and breeds.
Horses with long hair and furry feet (feathers).
Most horses have long hair on the back of their lower legs, behind the fetlocks and pasterns. But feathers are noticeably different because they surround the leg and, in some breeds, cover the animal’s hooves.
Interesting fact: All horses carry the gene necessary to produce furry feet. However, this gene reacts to a horse’s bone density. Horses with denser bones have long and thick feathers on their lower legs.
Horses are not the only equine to display this feature; some pony breeds grow feathers. Like the horses that grow long hair on their lower legs, the ponies with furry feet also evolved in cold climates and pulled.
The following is a brief description of the horse and pony breeds that have furry feet.
Clydesdales’ originated in Scotland, more specifically, the Clyde Valley in Lanarkshire. Scotland is typically cold most of the time. During their summers, the high temperatures may only reach sixty degrees Fahrenheit.
In Scotland’s highlands, it’s typical for the snow to be on the ground 100 days of the year. The long hair creating the furry feet may have evolved to protect Clydesdale’s feet from the cold.
Clydesdale horses were developed as a draft breed to pull wagons and carts on cobblestone roads in Scotland’s cold climates. They were very proficient in their duties; however, the advent of the automobile made them obsolete in the early 20th century.
Clydesdale horses are among the largest in the world. They typically reach 18 hands tall and can weigh as much as a small car. Clydesdales are better proportioned than most draft breeds, with longer legs and a slimmer build.
Most have large feet partially or fully covered by long silky feathers. They move exceptionally well for their size and look elegant pulling wagons. Clydesdales are the breed most well-known for pulling the Budweiser wagons during parades.
The most sought-after color pattern is chestnut with a white stripe on the face and white lower legs.
Clydesdales are gentle giants, much like other cold-blooded horses; they are docile and even-tempered. These traits lend well to trail and therapeutic riding.
Clydesdales are likely to suffer from Equine Pastern Dermatitis. Equine pastern dermatitis can affect any horse breed but is more prevalent in horses with feathers. It is a bacterial skin infection, typically below the feathers on a horse’s lower legs.
Clydesdales are also prone to develop scratches, canker sores, and pododermatitis, which affect the skin under their feathers and are very similar diseases. Clydesdales horses with white lower legs are more likely to develop these conditions than others.
The Friesian originated in a cold-weather region, which is common to horses with furry feet. The horse breed started in Friesland, which is a northern province in The Netherlands.
It is a cold rural region that borders the North Sea with a climate similar to Scotland. The temperature doesn’t vary much, it hovers between 32 and 50 throughout the years, and they have a lot of rain.
Friesian horses are used for a wide variety of equine sports. They compete in dressage, make good trail-riding horses, and are often used to pull carriages. And because of their black coats, long feathers, and flowing manes, they are frequently in movies and on television.
A classic Friesian horse has a coat of thick black hair with a luxurious mane and heavy feathering around its lower legs. They strut, moving their legs with exceptionally high knee action.
Friesians have thick bones covered with massive muscles; they are built stout and compact for driving. They typically stand between 15 and 16 hands tall.
There are also Friesian crosses, called sport Friesians, that look similar but with leaner bodies. Sport Friesians are the result of crossing purebreds with warmbloods to achieve a more athletic horse while retaining Friesians’ temperament and graceful looks.
Friesians are even-tempered; they love people and are willing learners. They want to work and please their owners. They have many of the traits found in cold-blooded horses.
Because of their pleasant temperament, they make great riding horses for all levels of riders.
Friesians have a multitude of genetic disorders, from dwarfism to hydrocephalus and pastern dermatitis. They also have a much shorter life expectancy than most other horse breeds.
The shire horse is descended from the “Great horse” used to carry English knights to battle in the middle ages. The Great horse of England was bred to Friesians and horses from Holland and used in central England to clear roads and drain fields.
Many of the areas in the middle of England have names with “shire” as a suffix, such as Leicestershire, Staffordshire, and Derbyshire; thus, the horse quickly became known as the Shire horses.
Like the other horses with furry feet, the region Shire’s come from; central England is typically wet and cold much of the year.
Shires were initially used as draft horses to clear farmland and pull plows and carriages. In both world wars, they were instrumental in moving equipment over harsh terrain.
Today’s Shires continue to display their strength by pulling carts or carriages for special events, but they also are used for pleasure riding horses and other equine activities.
Shire’s are massive animals, stallions typically stand over 18 hands tall and weigh well over 2,000 pounds, but they remain graceful and athletic. Shire horses exude strength with their broad shoulders, stout barrel, and powerful hindquarters.
Accepted coat colors for registration are bay, brown, black, or grey, with white markings. The horses have substantial feathers on their lower legs.
Like the other horses with feathers, Shires are calm, patient, and easy to work with. They are people-oriented and often are kept as companions. Because they don’t easily spook, they make excellent trail-riding horses.
Large draft breeds have some common medical issues, such as Equine Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (EPSM), and Shires share those, but otherwise, they are healthy horses. Of course, they are prone to develop skin irritations and infections below their feathers.
The Ardennes horse breed is from the Ardennes area in Western Europe and includes parts of Belgium, Luxembourg, and France. The Ardennes region is a low mountain range with rough terrain, forest, and rolling hills.
It is also a cold, wet section of Europe with snow on the ground for approximately 100 days of the year. The Ardennes breed is thought to be the oldest draft horse originating from Europe. Both Ceasar and Napoleon used them strategically in battle.
The original Ardennes horses were war horses or used for farming. Modern Ardennes are still used in a similar fashion, not ridden to battle but used as a riding horse and for pulling. They are a versatile and hardy breed.
Ardennes horses are heavy-boned with wide frames and strong shoulders. They typically have short backs and thick legs that are lightly feathered. They also have small ears, which are in contrast to most large draft breeds.
Acceptable coat colors for registration are roan, grey, chestnut, palomino, and bay; black is expressly excluded. As stated above, Ardennes originated in a harsh environment, and because of this, they are exceptionally hardy and easy keepers.
A typical Ardennes stallion stands about 16 hands tall and weighs close to two thousand pounds.
Ardennes horses are incredibly docile and can be handled easily. They are perfect for beginners and therapeutic riders. They are people-oriented animals.
Ardennes are hardy horses; however, because they have feathers, they are prone to develop bacterial skin infections below the hair surrounding their lower legs.
The Gypsy Vanner is considered a “British” horse breed; however, they were developed by the Romani Gypsy, which wandered through most of Europe.
The Gypsy developed this special breed to pull their wagons called a vardo. The horse is a descendant of draft breeds, including The Shire, Clydesdale, Dales Pony, and Friesian, crossed with Irish mares.
Gypsies needed a multipurpose horse, one that they could ride, pull a wagon, and be gentle around the children. Through many years of selective breeding, the Gypsy Vanner was perfected.
Interesting fact: Gypsy Vanners were formerly solid colors. However, during World War II, horses were confiscated and used to support the military unless they had white color patterns because they stood out on the battlefield.
Soon the Gypsy Vanner was a horse with a white pattern coat.
Gypsy Vanners are small draft horses primarily bred to pull carts and wagons. However, modern Gypsy Vanners are used in many equine events, including jumping, dressage, western pleasure, and English eventing. They are very athletic horses.
Gypsy Vanners’ are small for draft horses; their average height is 14.2 hands tall; however, they range from 12.2 to 16 hands. Their height distinguishes gypsy; ones that are less than 13 hands tall are minis, horses 14 to 15 hands are classics, and horses over 15 are grand-sized Gypsy Vanners.
The most widely recognized color patterns of Gypsy Vanners are piebald (black and white) and skewbald (brown and white), but they can be any other color with a white splash and primary colors.
Gypsy Vanners typically have a short back, broad chest, and heavily well-rounded hips. They, of course, have extensive feathering that begins at the knees and extends over the hooves.
Gypsy Vanners are intelligent horses that are kind, docile, and willing workers. They are people-oriented animals and have patience with children. Gypsy Vanners are suitable for all levels of riders.
Gypsy Vanners are prone to contract diseases like Chronic Progressive Lymphedema, pastern dermatitis, scratches, and other skin irritations caused by their thick feathering.
Swedish Northern Horse
As the name suggests, the Swedish Northern Horse originated in Sweden, more specifically, the county of Norrland. Norland is the northernmost section of Sweden and is extremely cold, hilly, and mountainous.
The North Swedish Horses are descendants of the ancient Scandinavian horse. However, the North Swedish Horse breed is relatively young; the first official association was established in 1924.
North Swedish Horses are incredibly versatile, race in harnesses is used for agricultural and forestry work, and are suitable for riding in a wide range of equine events.
The North Swedish horse is small and compact but very strong. They have short, muscular necks, long backs, and deep barrels. Their legs are short with substantial feathering, furry feet.
The North Swedish horse has a calm and even temperament, much like most other cold-blooded breeds. They are willing workers and easy to train.
The North Swedish horse breed is a hardy breed. They aren’t prone to diseases other than those of any horses.
The Irish Draught horse is a horse breed that was developed in Ireland. The breed was created by crossbreeding native Irish ponies with draft horse breeds from Continental Europe.
The resulting horse was larger and stronger than the ponies but still retained its sure-footedness and hardiness. The Irish Draught horse became popular for farm work, transportation, and carrying heavy weights in battle.
Today, the breed is still used for agricultural work but is also prized as breeding stock for Irish Sport horses. The Irish Draught horse is known for its calm temperament, athleticism, and versatility.
The sight of the Irish Draught horses pulling carts up hills on Inis Oírr, an Island off Ireland’s coast, is one I will never forget. They are an iconic part of Irish history, and it was great seeing them in person.
Pony breeds with furry feet (feathers).
Fell ponies originate from Northern England and likely have roamed the British Isles since pre-historic times. They are named for England’s fells, which refers to a high barren area where the terrain is rough and forage sparse.
The Lake District of England is the most likely birthplace of the Fell ponies; it is over 3,000 feet above sea level and has an unpredictable but cold climate.
Fell ponies have proven their worth in many ways. The Vikings used them to work the land and transport goods. Fell ponies were the breed of choice to use pack horses. They continued to move merchandise around the country for hundreds of years.
Ranchers used fell ponies to protect their livestock from predators. Because of their high stamina and soundness, these ponies make exceptional animals for endurance riding.
Modern Fell ponies are typically used for trail riding, performing light forestry work, and protecting farm animals from predators. Fell ponies have a nice smooth pace and are sure-footed, which makes them indispensable to trail riders that want to traverse rough terrain.
Fell ponies typically have a black, brown, bay, or grey coat, although chestnuts, piebalds, and skewbalds are acceptable. They average roughly 13.2 hands tall.
Fell ponies have a barrel chest, muscular legs, and short pasterns; in other words, they look like a pony. They also have furry feet with long manes and tails.
Fell ponies are willing learners, level-headed, and forgiving. They don’t back down from a challenge and are suitable for all levels of riders. Because of their easygoing disposition, they are often used as therapeutic horses.
Fell ponies are hardy animals and easy keepers, causing them to be susceptible to founder and Equine Metabolic Syndrome. However, they do have a breed-specific disorder called Foal Immunodeficiency Syndrome (FIS).
FIS affects foals from 8 to 12 weeks of age and can be prevented by not breeding two carriers of the condition to each other.
Dale ponies are a mixture of many pony and horse breeds and originate from the lead mine area of Dales in Yorkshire, England. The modern Dales pony can trace their roots to the 17th century.
Dales were used in transporting lead, coal, and other raw material from the mines to the cities in England. Today they are more commonly seen in the show arena than pulling carts.
Dales ponies are used in equine events such as show jumping, dressage, cross-country, and trail riding. Because of their endurance and hardiness, they make excellent endurance riding mounts.
Dales ponies typically stand 14 hands tall, have a short back, and broad barrel chest. They have muscular hindquarters and strong sloping shoulders. And, of course, they have furry feet.
Most Dales ponies have black coats, but brown, bay, grey, and roan are also acceptable for registration. The only white marking allowed is a star or snip and a small white below the animals’ fetlock.
Dales ponies are even-tempered and kind. They are willing workers and want to compete. Because of their small size and temperament, they make the perfect mount for children; however, because of their strength and surefootedness, they are exceptional adult mounts.
Like the Fells pony, the Dales pony is a carrier of foal immunodeficiency syndrome (FIS). Foals with FIS have a deficient immune system and anemia, which causes untreatable infections and death.
How do I treat pastern dermatitis?
If you decide to purchase a horse with feathers, you need to learn how to treat pastern dermatitis. Remember, prevention is the best method to deal with equine skin infections.
To prevent infection is simple, keep the area dry. When you wash, use a medicated anti-bacterial shampoo and blow-dry the long hair; when the lower legs get wet, blow-dry it. Keep the area dry!
If your horse has pastern dermatitis, clip the hair and clean the affected areas. Place your horse’s legs in a bucket of water, soak for at least 10 minutes, remove all the scabs with a soft cloth, and then dry it with a blow dryer.
Below is a YouTube video about horses with furry feet that you will enjoy.
- 12 Horse Coat Colors: Patterns, Genetics, and Pictures
- What’s the Best Horse Breed For Me? Top 3 Breeds By Activity
- 10 Differences Between Ponies and Horses: Size, Breeds …
- War Horses: Discovering the Unique Breeds Used in Battle
- What Are Friesian Horses Used For? 5 Uses That May Surprise!
- Discovering the Andalusian Horse: Facts and Characteristics
- Click here to read about Palomino horses
I love animals! Especially horses, I’ve been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn’t make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines.