Although the Holsteiner studbook is among the smallest in Europe, in the 1976 Olympics this breed dominated the Equestrian Olympics!
The Holsteiner is an old German breed of warmblood horse originally bred by a monastery. The monastery was located at Uetersen, north of the river Elbe in Schleswig-Holstein, and west of the city of Hamburg. The Holstein horse is a powerful and elegant breed, which has seen enormous success as a modern Olympic sport horse. It has a confirmation designed for self-carriage, an essential quality in the movement of international equestrian athletes.
In the 1976 Olympics, Holsteiners dominated the Equestrian Olympics. The gold and silver medal dressage winners were both Holsteiners. Holsteiners were also the silver medal winners in Three day eventing and show jumping. The breed consistently excels in international competition today, even though the Holsteiner studbook is among the smallest in Europe with only 6% of the sporthorse population.
The American Holsteiner Horse Association was founded in 1978, dedicated to the same principals set out by the German Verband. The AHHA is an independent organization, but maintains a friendly informal relationship with the Verband. It conducts breeding inspections based on the same principals as the German breeders. There were 5,543 registered in North America in 2005, with approximately 250 new foals each year.
The Holsteiners are a light horse breed and one of the warmblood breeds from Europe. Light horse breeds generally weigh under 1,500 pounds. They are typically used as riding horses for leisure and trail riding. Being agile and swift, many are also used on the racetrack, in the show ring, and for work on the ranch.
Light horses are grouped in a couple of different ways, one being the continent or country where they originated from. They are also grouped according to training, classified as either a stock type, hunter type (sport horse), saddle type, or 'other'. A body type is generally attributed to each class, with the 'other' classification being a bit of an odd ball. It includes those that are color breeds or those that may fit a body type of one of the training classes, but not be used for that type of training. In some cases the 'other' types can also include those that may fit into more than one of the type groups.
The horse class the Holsteiner fits into is the 'hunter' type class. It is bred for performance and developed for activities such as eventing, dressage, show jumping, as well as driving.
The Count of Holstein and Storman in the Schleswig- Holstein area of Germany gave permission in the 13th century for the monastery to graze their horses on their land. Thus we see the first written record of the Holsteiner breed. After the reformation, landowners continued to breed horses of surpassing quality. They passed laws and offered incentives in order to promote the high standard of the breed.
The Holsteiner horses were admired for their strength and dignity and were exported to all the rest of Europe, particularly France, who bought thousands of the horses in the 1770's. In 1797, ten thousand Holsteiners were exported, and in 1781 breeders began to brand their horses with the distinct shield and crown still seen today. Thus, the Holsteiner put his stamp on much of the European stock; including the stallions used by George II to found his famous stud in Hannover.
The breed fell into decline in the 1800's due to overbreeding, poor crops, and a series of wars. In 1883, a new Verband (association) was formed to improve the remaining horses. They selected one hundred quality mares to be bred to the few remaining stallions. Eventually though, there followed a decline in the demand for heavier coach horses. The emphasis changed to breeding the modern sporthorse with the infusion of some thoroughbred blood. The world wars took a heavy toll on the breed and in 1960 there were only 1,300 holsteiner mares. The Verband purchased the stallions belonging to the state when it disbanded its studbook and by 1980, there were 3,100 mares.
The Germany Verband adheres to strict guidelines for breeding. Only a very few horses go on to be breeding stallions or premium mares. They must pass rigorous evaluation for soundness, temperament, and ridability.
Holsteiners are a large, deep bodied horse averaging between 16 and 17.1 hands high. They are well muscled with a graceful arching neck and a short flexible topline. They have strong well angled joints with the hind legs stepping deep under the body. They are of two general types of Holstein horse:
- Classic type - The classic type is heavier and larger boned.
- Modern type - The modern type is lighter and more refined.
Both types display a great deal of suspension in their movement and have natural balance and elasticity. They are of a warm blooded temperament, being quiet and easy going and occasionally a little lazy. They come in all solid colors; however bay and chestnut are the most common.
The Holstein horses are easy keepers. They do well on a mix of alfalfa and grass hay and regular grain and mineral supplements. Adaptable and good natured, they do well in a stall or pasture setting. However they do prefer to be in a setting where they can socialize with other horses.
The Holsteiner breed consistently excels in equestrian events in international competitions. Due to the strict guidelines set by the German Verband for soundness, temperament, and ridability, only a few horses are eligible for breeding. Therefore, the Holsteiner is uniquely suited for the professional rider or the serious amateur seeking to excel in the disciplines of show jumping, hunters, eventing and dressage.
The Holsteiner is a strong and powerful horse. Left to his own devices, there would be very little unsoundness in this breed. The soil where they were originally bred is muddy in winter and hard in summer. This horse has had to develop robust, resilient feet and legs to survive.
However because of the enormous demands put on these horses in competition, as well as the extreme extension and collection bred into the natural gaits, there is some incidence of lameness due to tendon and suspensory troubles. Proper care should be taken to avoid these problems. Leg protection should be used when jumping, as well as wraps or boots for advanced dressage work.
The Holsteiners are not as commonly seen as other warmblood breeds and are generally more expensive, with prices beginning around $15,000 for a foal or yearling. The majority of these are found in California. They are recommended for the serious minded competitor.
Ms. Gina Economou
Judith Dutson, Storey's Illustrated Guide to 96 Horse Breeds of North America, Storey Publishing, LLC, 2005
Corinne Clark, A Pocket Guide to Horses and Ponies , Parragon Inc., 2007
USDF(United States Dressage Federation) Connection, September 2007 Edition Author: Joan Childs