Warmblood Horses of the World
The Holstein (Holsteiner) breed of horse is the result of systematic breeding in one of the most successful horse breeding areas in Germany. This area is the northernmost province, Schleswig-Holstein. The Holstein is a German sport horse. Purebred Holsteins have a brand on the left hind leg. The brand features the letter 'H' within a crowned shield. Two numbers below the brand signify the life number.
The Holstein is thought to be the oldest of the warmblood breeds, tracing back to the 13th century. Holsteins are now a dominant force in the show-jumping arena. They are found at the top levels of dressage, jumping, eventing and combined driving.
Organised horse-breeding in the area was first conducted by the monks in the Uetersen monasteries. In the Middle Aged, the most literate people were often the monks and record-keeping was left to them. The Uetersen monks started with the small native Haseldorf marsh horses and developed these into larger animals which were more suitable for use in the wars and for agriculture.
By the 16th century, horses from Holstein had a high reputation and remained in demand until the 18th century. Once cavalry took over from hand-to-hand combat by knights, more stamina and agility was demanded from the war-horse. The influence of Neapolitan and Spanish horses can be seen in the high-set necks, Roman noses and active gaits. King Philip II of Spain routinely purchased Holsteiners for his Cordoba stud. Twelve black Holsteiner stallions were purchased in 1735 for the Celle State Stud. These became the foundation of the Hanoverian breed.
Then, in the 19th century, compact, strong Baroque type horses were replaced by the English Thoroughbred. Development of steam and road improvements meant that there was less coaching but an increased demand for elegant, attractive carriage horses. Cleveland Bays and Yorkshire Coach Horses were imported to refine the Holsteiner.
State-owned stud farms provided local private horse breeders with access to top stallions at a reasonable price. The Holsteiner Stud Book was founded in 1891 with the Elmshorn Riding and Driving School being established five years later. The two World Wars resulted in more demand for artillery horses. The state studs were dissolved. After World War II, the breeding direction was reshaped.
The Holstein has a medium-sized frame. They average between 16hh and 17hh. To be approved, stallions must be a minimum of 16hh and mares 15.2hh. The general impression is that of an athletic riding horse. The neck is arched and rather high-set. The hindquarters are powerful. The heavy neck continues in modern Holsteins. A very influential stallion in the history of the breed was Ladykiller xx. His son, Landgraf I, was also and important sire. Both had enormous crests and the trend continues. However the convex profile has been replaced by a smaller head with a large, intelligent eye.
Landgraf I has been called 'the' stallion of the century by some. His offspring have won over seven million dollars mainly in show-jumping. Landgraf I had an imposing appearance and a marvellous disposition. He was a fantastic jumper, able to bascule well. He was careful and talented and he has passed on these characteristics to his many progeny.
The Holstein has good balance and elegant movement. They have round, generous, elastic strides with good impulsion. The breed retains its elastic and slightly elevated action, a relic from its days as a coach horse. The canter is typically light, soft and dynamic. Its strongest asset is its ability as a jumper. Almost all Holsteins exhibit scope and strength. As well, they now exhibit good technique and carefulness. The older, heavier Holsteins jumped well but lacked adjustability, bascule and speed. Similar to the nearby breeds of Oldenburg, Groningen and Friesland, the tradition is for dark colours with minimum amounts of white markings. Black, dark bay and brown are most sought after with chestnuts and greys also permitted. Large white spots suggesting pinto blood or leopard-type spotting are excluded from registration.
The temperament of the Holstein is dependent on its ancestors with some lines producing sensitive, bold horses and other lines laid-back, level-headed horses. Many are a combination of desirable traits while some critics believe that strong selection for performance may have been at the expense of rideability.
The Holstein has a history in agriculture, coaching and riding. The closed stud book and careful preservation of female family lines has ensured that Holsteins have a unique character. The active paces, arched neck and attractiveness in harness remains in today's animals but thanks to the breeders' commitment to meet current issues, the Holstein continues to hold a place in the list of top sport horse breeds.
The last 15 to 20 years has seen continued improvement in refinement and aesthetic appeal. The high-headed jump and faults in the legs have all but disappeared following the use of sires with exemplary conformation.
While the Holstein is numerically not very strong, they represent a large proportion of successful show-jumpers. They also excel in dressage, eventing and combined driving.