Tuesday, January 13, 2009

German warmbloods: A little history

A non-authoritative history from a non-historian, non-expert
Disclaimer: As I write this little summary of German warmbloods I'm muttering a prayer that it's more or less accurate. Please think of this section as a conversational discussion with a friend/acquaintance who's done a little reading, and take it with a big grain of salt.
Most warmbloods are associated with countries (e.g., Dutch, Danish, Swedish), but an important exception is Germany, where registries are associated with regions. Warmblood horses are named for the region or kingdom that produced them, as Germany as a nation did not really emerge until modern times. Regions such as Han(n)over and Westfalia are about the size of a county in the U.S.

The modern German warmblood registries trace their origins as far back as the Middle Ages. Early horse breeders were generally nobility, sovereigns of the region who bred horses for military, carriage, or farm work. For example, in the late 1500s Graf Johann XVI von Oldenburg set up stud farms in his region to produce war horses. Foreign-bred stallions from Spain, Poland, Barbary, the orient, and elsewhere were imported to introduce lighter type horses to breeding program.

Because travelling to other regions for breeding was impractical, each region used its own stock and over time, the horses within a region tended to share certain characteristics. For example, the early Hanoverians were heavier types, while the Holsteiners tended to be lighter. This is not to say that the two types were never cross-bred (they were). Here's an interesting side note:In the Netherlands, regional differences also influenced horse breeding. Two types of Dutch horses emerged as a result of the soils of the regions: a lighter horse for working sandy soil of the central Holland, and a heavier horse to work the heavy clay soils of northern Holland.

Between the 16th and 18th centuries, various state studs were established to make quality stallions available to farmers and breeders. The Lower Saxon state stud of Celle, established in 1735, is perhaps the most influential stud and it is also where the Hanoverian bloodlines formally began. Stallions were often transported from one stud to another, making new bloodlines available across regions. Breeding standards were established and a mechanism for evaluating stock was put in place. Directors for the state studs had a great deal of influence on the breeding programs and the type of horse produced.

State studs kept records of their breeding and pedigrees, but eventually state studbooks were established to formally record horse pedigrees and track bloodlines. In the late 19th/early 20th century, associations like the Hanoverian registry began to take over this responsibility. The Oldenburg Society (which did not have a state stud affiliation) was established in the 1923.

From the late 19th century to the middle of the 20th century, the need for farm and carriage horses was declining. Breeding programs slowly evolved focusing less on heavy work horses and more on leisure riding and competition horses. An infusion of blood from lighter breeds (e.g., thoroughbreds) helped to accomplish the transition from beast of burden to recreational riding partner. As transportation means improved and breeding technology advanced, it became easier for registries to introduce bloodlines of other registries. For example, the Hanoverian Absatz and his approved sons can be found in the pedigrees of many warmblood horses that are not Hanoverian. Some registries permitted this "cross pollination" from other registries, while others (such as the Trakhener) are closed to other warmblood registries.

What can be concluded from this?
My white bread American never-set-foot-in-Germany conclusions are:

  • Wow! The German government really influenced its horse breeding programs. State sponsorship! Standards! Govermental control! There were few private breeders out there doing their own thing. No wonder the state of their breeding programs is so advanced.
  • While it's true each region developed a somewhat unique type of horse, it would be easy to overstate this. Even early on, bloodlines were shared among regions.
  • The difference between a registry and a breed is rather striking. Most Americans aren't terribly familiar with how registries operate.
  • I include myself in the above statement :-). The present role of the registries and the state, and the state stud(s), is a bit unclear to me. How do they work together? Who has the upper hand, or is it cooperative? Who funds what? What is the role of the private breeder?

I know I have some readers in Germany, and maybe even some German readers -- can anyone address this last point?


Warmblood information
from Sonesta Farms

What is a warmblood?
from Americanwarmblood.org

The state studs in Germany
from Horse-gate.com

German warmbloods from World of Horses

Green Acres Stud's Warmblood Index

Warmblood registries from Citizen Horse Blog


  1. Interesting stuff!! There is something kind of romantic about all of the European stuff to me - not sure why. Maybe it is the history and tradition...???

    I have a friend in Sweden that is starting to breed Lippizaners - it has been neat talking to her about bloodlines and stuff...

  2. Great post! I have a Hessen gelding and I find all the German breed history and distinctions pretty interesting...

  3. Excellent post that I'm going to keep as a future reference.

  4. Can you help me understand the difference between GOV and Oldenburg NA? I'm confused!

  5. Now there's a blog topic anon! My understanding is that the Oldenberg NA broke ties with the GOV (german) Oldenburg Society over what might be called artistic differences. I dont think it hurt the GOV much and the NA doesn't have quite the reputation of the GOV. Most of what I know I learned from COTH posts, which are the place to go for the "real scoop," but you get lots of opinions. I'll do the Oldenberg Society in an upcoming post...

  6. Thank you, it's a start!


Hi Guys, Your comments are valued and appreciated -- until recently I never rejected a post. Please note that I reserve the right to reject an anonymous post.