Breed Organization Information
About the Breed
The Holsteiner or Holstein horse is the product of systematic breeding that has been ongoing in the northernmost province of Germany, Schleswig-Holstein, since the thirteenth century. This area is one of the most successful horse breeding regions in Germany and the Holsteiner is one of Germany’s oldest breeds of warmblood. The Holsteiner horse traces its ancestry to Neapolitan, Spanish and Oriental foundation stock that was carefully crossed with the native stock of the region. Originally the horse was valued by German farmers for its strength, steadiness and reliability, and by the military for its courage and ability.
The first written records of Holsteiner horse breeding date back to the thirteenth century when the Count of Holstein and Storman, Gerhard I, granted grazing rights to the monastery at Uetersen to the privately-owned land around the cloister. The monks continued to breed fine horses until the time of the Reformation when the properties of the monasteries were transferred to private landowners. Realizing the importance of these horses both on the farm and as dependable warhorses, these landowners continued the work begun by the monks.
As early as 1686 laws were passed in Schleswig-Holstein to insure the quality of the breed and incentives were often offered to encourage good breeding. Throughout the seventeenth and eighteenth century the reputation of the Holsteiner breed grew throughout Europe with over 10,000 horses exported in the year 1797.
As the need for warhorses declined, British Yorkshire Coach horses and Cleveland Bay stallions were used in the nineteenth century to produce a fine, high-stepping carriage horse. After World War II, Thoroughbred blood was introduced to the breed which added refinement and jumping ability to the unique character of the Holsteiner. The breed has emerged as one of the great German sporting horses, particularly suited for jumping, dressage, driving and eventing and has been very influential the the development of other warmblood breeds.
Today, the Holsteiner can be found finishing at the top of the standings in most international equestrian eventing and driving competitions including both the Olympic Games and World Championships.
Traditionally, the Holsteiner has been bay with a preference for no or few white markings. It is a well balanced horse, maturing between 16 and 17 hands with round, generous strides and a natural, elastic movement. A lovely head with large, kind eyes is carried on a nicely arched neck, rising upward out of its withers, producing elegance, lightness and self-carriage. Their temperament is relaxed and willing, with good character and an eagerness for work.
The quality of breeding stock is ensured through the annual Breeding Stock Inspections or Keurings. Horses are evaluated and graded according to quality and to their potential for adding to the breeding pool. For stallions, inspection prior to entry into the studbook is only the first step before becoming a fully approved stallion. The stallion is expected to demonstrate his athleticism through either a 100-day test or through sport. His offspring are also inspected for quality and genetic defects. Only then is he granted a lifetime breeding license. Mares are also inspected and if of sufficient quality are entered into one of three studbooks.
The American Holsteiner Horse Association was established in 1977 to promote and support the enjoyment and breeding of the Holsteiner Warmblood horse in North America and is the registry and studbook for Holsteiners in North America. Its primary goal is to develop the Holsteiner into the world’s most successful sport horse.
The Holsteiner Registry in North America maintains the European studbook model, i.e., that of insuring breeding quality through mare and stallion inspections and strict conformance to its stated breeding policies. The Association is committed to adhering as closely as possible to the selective breeding standards practiced since the 13th century by the Holsteiner horse breeders of Schleswig-Holstein, given obvious geographic and administrative differences. Even as an independent Association, it maintains a strong working relationship with the German Holsteiner Verband. This benefits the breeder through the opportunity to call upon the Verband’s vast knowledge of Holsteiner bloodlines while allowing for the uniqueness of the North American situation. At the same time, it stays abreast of current trends and new developments in equine science, business and equestrian disciplines, while remaining sensitive to the needs of the horse community.
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