The Holsteiner traces back over 700 years to the Schleswig-Holstein area of northern Germany, where horses were carefully bred at a monastery to be suitable for riding into battle and agriculture duties. Under King Christian I (1460-1481), Holstein operated a state stud department. Breeding eventually included the insertion of Thoroughbred blood with the goals of more expressive movement, substance and bone.
By the 1800s the breed had reached a level of renown as good driving horses with their ground-covering and high-striding gaits. But the farmers who continued to breed them also appreciated the Holsteiner horses for their willing attitude and hardiness.
World War I and World War II affected the Holsteiner breeding programs, as powerful horses were needed to pull the artillery wagons. In 1926, the Federation of Horse Breeders of the Holsteiner Marshes were forced to turn over their stallions to the state stud, and two local societies merged in 1935 to create the Holsteiner Verband.
After World War II, farmers abandoned horse breeding, but the breeders’ federation stepped up and purchased 30 Holsteiner stallions and refined the breed with Thoroughbred and French stallions to create a Holsteiner that was faster, more agile, taller, and a better jumper ‒ like the athletic sport horses they are today.
Holsteiners have medium frames, standing between 16-17 hands with arched necks and powerful hindquarters. They have an attractive head with large, intelligent eyes. Their conformation adapts itself well to “self-carriage,” allowing good balance and elegant movement with round, elastic gaits and superior jumping ability.
Coat colours include grey, bay, brown, chestnut, and black. Holsteiners tend to have even temperaments, and are spirited, smart, and compliant. Depending on the individual, they can be an uncomplicated, reliable mount for an amateur or a bold, sensitive athlete for a professional.
Although the Holsteiner studbook is one of the smallest in Europe (just 6% of the total equine population) it has produced some of the world’s most successful international horses in show jumping, dressage, and eventing at the highest levels. They also make outstanding show hunters and can be used for general riding or combined driving.
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