While the feathering on a horse's feet and legs requires extra care for cleaning and health reasons, there's no question that all that hair is quite attractive. Feathering is the presence of long, silky hairs skirting the horse's legs and feet. While the majority of horses with feathering are draft breeds, not all draft breeds boast feathering.
The Shire breed standard calls for "fine, straight and silky" feathering. These immense horses, averaging 17.1 hands tall, generally bay or brown in color. Grays, blacks, roans and chestnuts are rare but acceptable. Shires often possess so much feathering on the legs that it's actually excessive.
Because of its high profile promoting Budweiser beer, the Clydesdale is arguably the best-known feathered breed. Originating in Scotland and named for the River Clyde, the Clydesdale combines strength with high action when moving. Most Clydesdales are bay with white blazes and feathering, but brown, black, chestnuts and grays turn up occasionally. While the Clydesdale and the Shire look somewhat alike, the former is smaller and more refined than the latter. Even so, a Clydesdale can grow to 18 hands or more, though most are in the 16- to 17-hand range. As far as feathering, the Clydesdale's feathering tends to have a somewhat silkier texture than that of the Shire, but less of it.
The Gypsy horse goes by a variety of names, including the Gypsy vanner or cob, the Romany horse, the tinker, the Irish cob and the colored cob. Whatever the name, this type of spotted, heavily feathered horse was developed by the Romany, or Gypsies. Because his bloodlines are so mixed, the height and weight of the Gypsy horse varies, but feathering is a must for Gypsy aficionados.
While considered a draft horse, the jet black Freisian is seen in the dressage ring as often as pulling a carriage. More animated than other draft breeds, the Freisian standard calls for a long tail, mane and feathers. Freisians range in size from 15 hands to more than 17 hands.
Those equines over 14.2 hands aren't the ones possessing feathers -- a few pony breeds have them, as well. These include two British breeds, both of which are becoming increasing rare. The Fell pony is all black, including feathers, while the Dales pony comes in black, brown and occasionally bay or gray. Feathers are black, with the exception of small amounts of white allowed on the hind leg feathers, not to rise above the fetlocks.
Other draft breeds, such as the Belgian and its cousin the Brabant, along with the Percheron, feature lighter amounts of feathering. Individual animals might exhibit quite a bit of hair on the lower legs.
- Oklahoma State University: Freisian
- Virginia Draft Horse and Mule Society: Draft Breeds and Definitions
- Feathered Friends Horse Society: All About Feathers
- Washington State University Extension: Draft Horse Handbook
- American Shire Horse Association: ASHA Standard of Conformation Guideline
- The Dales Pony Society of America: Breed Standard
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Jane Meggitt has been a writer for more than 20 years. In addition to reporting for a major newspaper chain, she has been published in "Horse News," "Suburban Classic," "Hoof Beats," "Equine Journal" and other publications. She has a Bachelor of Arts in English from New York University and an Associate of Arts from the American Academy of Dramatics Arts, New York City.