Considered one of the best horse breeds on the planet, the Holsteiner is greatly admired for its looks, human-friendliness and intelligence. Famous for its ability as a performer, the Holsteiner horse is an ideal choice for show jumping, events and dressage.
Originally hailing from the Schleswig-Holstein region of Germany, a Holsteiner horse has a typical arched neck, high-set and regal.
Their hindquarters are energy-packed. Light-weight and perfect as trail horses, they are perfect as ranch workers, taking to the track or show ring with equal aplomb.
The breed can be traced back to over 700 years, to Germany. As history has it, Holsteiners were initially bred at a monastery. The first horses of this breed were recorded in an area in the north of Germany known as Schleswig-Holstein. They were named after part of the region.
As far back as the 13th century, a local monastery was allowed to have horses graze at their property. Here, the first documented evidence of the Holsteiner as a German breed was executed. The horse, originating from here, became popular with local people. Selective breeding by landowners from the whole region became a frequent practice.
With characteristics of strength and grace, Holsteiners were admired in Europe, and exported throughout the continent. The country most interested in the breed was France, and in 1797, over 10,000 Holsteiner horses were exported in a single year. This led to a great deal of cross-breeding, and the Holsteiner has bloodlines scattered around several European equine breeds.
In the 1800s, due to over-breeding programs, wars and poor crop yields, there was a marked decline in Holsteiner demand. In 1833, the German Verband, an association formed to protect the breed, was founded with a view to renew the horse’s legacy in the future. A hundred quality Holsteiner mares were chosen to breed with a few of the stallions that remained.
Holsteiner Breeding Lines
The original mares that were handpicked to breed a new species of Holsteiners were branded with a specific stamm number so that a record of ancestry could be maintained. These “stamps” are in existence even today to establish Holsteiners and their genealogy.
As time went by, the need for bulky carriage horses saw a marked decline, and new breeding projects focused more on lighter sport horses. Till World War II, this demand grew. Nonetheless, the war had a negative effect on the breeding of new horses, and by the 1960s, only 1,000 Holsteiner mares lived.
Thereafter, efforts to breed new lines were reinstated with Thoroughbred stallions being bred with Holsteiner mares. Cross-breeding went a long way in refining traits of speed and elegance that people believe are so vital to sport horses.
Holsteiner Horse Associations
The Verband still exists to this day. Its function is to enforce strict breeding laws and to ensure diligent breed purity and specificity. Stringent assessments of temperament, soundness and structure are adhered to, to confirm a Holsteiner mare adequate for breeding.
The American Holsteiner Association was founded in 1978. This foundation is run on the same tenets of the Verband. It is independent of the Verband, but maintains cordial and communicative relationships with the Verband of Germany.
In a year, approximately 250 new Holsteiner foals are born in North America.
The breed is an overachiever, in spite of it comprising only 6% of the European population of warmblood breeds. They have a good temperament and are great to ride on.
The distinctive trait that they possess is their willingness to constantly work. They are very amenable to training, and they perform well at most levels, unwavering in their dedication.
Extremely trainable, Holsteiner horses are intelligent and loving. They are cool characters and may seem lazy at times. Nonetheless, with an innate flair for competitive sports, these horses are as comfortable in harnesses as they are with casual riding.
Holsteiner horses are known for their immense strength. They are pureblood breeds and are generally hearty and healthy. They feed on good quality hay and grass. Alfalfa grass is quality grass to feed these horses. Adding cereals and minerals to the diet of performance horses will yield positive results in terms of their stamina and strength. They feed well in a pasture or stable stall, and prefer the company of other horses while they eat.
Holsteiners were initially bred in a muddy environment in a monastery. This has, in fact, resulted in the horse’s evolution of possessing big, strong, long legs. Their natural gait, as a result, is exquisite and graceful, and tends towards a canter. This gait is also prone to lameness due to over extended tendons and suspension problems.
Due to a large amount of cross-breeding, Holsteiners have genetics that put them in the forefront of show jumping and competitive horse sport. Holsteiners have dominated the international show jumping scene, most notably in 1976, when gold and silver medal winners were Holsteiners at the Equestrian Olympics. Ranked #1 for consistency in show jumping, the Holsteiner Studbook has held pride of place in the World Breeding Horse Federation.
In 1970, when the Verband was looking to breed Holsteiner mares with stallions, it chose a Selle Francais (French stallion breed) called “Cor de la Bryere” to sire Holstein foals. He was discovered by chance. He was a sport horse and deemed “not good enough” as a breeding stallion.
Proving all the “experts” wrong, the stallion with the Holsteiner mares sired some award-winning horses in show jumping history. His handsome son, Corrado, gray and gracious, has been an international star. One of the most well-loved Holsteiner stallions, he sired a daughter, Corradina, a silver-medal (2009 Windsor Europeans) and gold-medal (2011 Madrid Europeans) winner in international championships.
In the 19th century, Yorkshire Coach horses and Cleveland Bays were placed in the breeding programs of Holsteiners. These gave the horses the elegant stance we witness today. Originally, as these are robust animals, they were used for pulling plows and horse-drawn carriages. Thanks to tractors and cars being invented, people perceived them as horses for riding pleasure. Gradually, they developed into equestrian event horses, suited best for the competitive ring today.
Light-bodied and warm-blooded, these horses weigh in at a maximum of 1,500 pounds and reach heights between 16 and 17.1 hands.
These are some of the tallest horses you will see today, with a hint of the Thoroughbred in them. With strong builds and hardy deep hind legs, they have powerful hind ends and are sure-footed.
Breeds That Make Up The Holsteiner
Two types exist, based on size:
- Classic Holsteiners – Larger boned and heavy horses
- Modern Holsteiners – Lighter horses and more refined
Resembling horses in the vicinity of the region where Holsteiners were bred, these horses were traditionally dark-hued like their Oldenburg neighbors.
Over years, the traditional dark colored horses still exist, and you will find typical Bay, black, and dark brown coats in Holsteiners. Lighter gray and chestnut shades also exist.
What Do They Look Like?
Majestic and regal as all racehorses and show horses are, these are graceful and have an elegant demeanor. The simplest way to recognize a Holsteiner is from the sign on the left hip. This is an international brand given to foals of the breed when they are evaluated for pedigree and horse standardization.
This is an athletic riding horse with an arched neck that is very high-set. Holsteiners, now, have smaller heads than their ancestors, but their intelligent eyes speak more than words.
What Are They Used For?
Holsteiners, today, are valued for their ability in competitive sport. They have rounded, almost elastic strides and their natural balance gives them a top position as show horses.
The horses have character and speed, and though their walk is not of the best quality, their canter can’t be beat. Moving with a light, balanced and soft touch, they still manage to portray a dynamism that is well-matched in the competitive arena.
The best asset of a Holsteiner is its jumping prowess. With an innate technique that is precise and has great scope, this horse excels at most show jumping events.
Where Do They Live?
Most are native to Northern Germany, from where they originally came, but there are several Holsteiners living across the world, in North America and in France, in Europe.
How Long Do They Live?
Holsteiner horses have an average lifespan of 35 – 40 years, more than other horse breeds. Depending on their diet and lifestyle, Holsteiners that have been trained extensively may live shorter lives, as they tend to exhibit muscular and tendon problems.
How Fast Are They?
Holsteiner horses are built for speedy runs on courses that are timed. They maintain top speeds in ranges of 399.0 to 445.2 m/minute.
How Much Do They Cost?
One of the most sought-after and expensive horses in the world today, well-bred animals can cost up to 50,000USD. Lineage traced back to original and pedigreed horses always cost more than recently bred lines.
Are They Good For Beginners?
With a great personality that encourages human contact and loyalty, the Holsteiner gets on well with all kinds of riders. Beginners and accomplished riders won’t find it hard to bond with these horses, and they can canter very mildly to ease the beginner’s ride.
The Holsteiner is a prized animal by today’s breeders and trainers. Starting from humble beginnings in marshlands, Holsteiners have won the hearts of many a rider by consistently winning in major show jumping events, including being in all Olympic horse teams.