Sport Horse Breeds—The Holsteiner

In the fall of 1982, I spent a month riding at Stal Tasdorf, Walter Christensen`s dressage stable in the tiny, picture postcard village of Tasdorf, near Neuminster, in the Schleswig-Holstein region of northern Germany. Most of the horses there were Holsteiners, my first chance to ride a number of these powerful warmbloods. Some of them were massive, others more refined, and I can remember Walter`s explanation for the varying characteristics within the breed as deriving from “the invention of the horse trailer.”

Before horse trailers, Walter explained, a breeder basically had to breed his mare to a stallion within horse walking distance of the stallion, so regional differences were quite distinct. But after World War 2, as the highways got repaired, and the country struggled back on its feet, the breeding industry became more oriented toward the “modern” or “sport type”, a lighter Holsteiner with more resemblance to the thoroughbreds like Marlon and Ladykiller, stallions from England or Ireland, being used for breed refinement. This worried Walter, I remember. He said that if some “heavy” stallions were not bred to similarly “heavy” mares, to get young “heavy” fillies, the breed would gradually lose what Walter called “its seed corn.”

I`m not a Holsteiner breeder, so perhaps some who are might wish to comment to Walter`s point. He died just a few years later, so that incredible source of knowledge is lost.

What I do know is that the modern Holsteiner is not only THE dominant force in modern Grand Prix Showjumping, it`s the warmblood breed which is increasingly showing up in the pedigrees of modern event horses. Mark Todd`s 2011 Badminton winner, Land Vision, has two crosses to the Holsteiner foundation sire Landgraf. Heinrich Romeike`s 2008 Olympic gold medal winner, Marius, is a Holsteiner. Mary King`s Fernhill Urco is part Holsteiner, as is Buck Davidson`s Ballynoe Castle. One of the leading eventing sires in Ireland, Cavalier Royale, was a full Holsteiner, and so it goes.

Many of the “Young” and “Future” event horses in the USEA classes are at least half Holsteiner, and as more of them win, my assumption is that more of them will be bred for eventing. The crosses that I`ve seen remind me of bigger, stronger thoroughbreds, and so many have that famous Holsteiner “big jump.” They can move, and are surprisingly fast on cross country, and that old “Dumblood” label that eventers once used to scornfully dismiss them  is being replaced with growing respect and the acknowledgement that Holsteiners and Holsteiner crosses can get it done at eventing`s highest levels.


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