The Hanoverian is a fine example not only of what a horse can be, but also of what can be achieved when a breed is actively managed to adapt to changes in buyers’ requirements. Although it started out as a carriage horse breed, the Hanoverian avoided the issues which affected other carriage breeds by quickly showing what it could do in other areas. Today they are known as world-class sports horses and are regularly chosen to represent their respective countries at the most prestigious events in the world, including the Olympics.
The breed was founded in the early 18th century by George II, who wanted to create the ultimate all-rounder. By the standards of the time this meant a horse which was strong enough for agricultural work, while still having the presence to pull a carriage and being good enough under saddle to work as a cavalry mount. The success of this breeding programme saw the Hanoverian being exported throughout the whole of Europe during the 18th and 19th centuries.
Hanoverians survived the depression of the 1920s by becoming heavier and hence more suitable for agricultural work, while still retaining the bearing and movement required of a good carriage horse. After World War Two the breed was reinvented yet again to meet the demand for sports horses. This meant making the breed lighter and more athletic, while ensuring that it maintained the poise of a great show horse. Thoroughbred stallions were instrumental in this process with Anglo/Arabs and Trakehners being used from time to time.
Unlike many warmblood horses, Hanovarians are regarded as a true breed rather than just as a type. This means that pedigree is currently a necessary condition for entry into the breed registry. In order for animals to be selected as breeding stock, however, they have to pass a rigorous grading process, which starts in foal-hood and extends over several years. The tests can last literally months and check every aspect of an animal’s confirmation, health, temperament and performance. To give an idea of just how strict they are, of the 9000 or so Hanovarian foals born each year, possibly 12 of the colts will ultimately be approved as breeding stallions. Hanoverian breed societies are also noted for their extensive and detailed written archives which help breeders to find the very best breeding combinations in a process of continual improvement.
As a result of this careful management, the modern Hanoverian is one of the mounts of choice for top competition riders. They are particularly known for dressage, but also perform well in show jumping and eventing.
Hanoverians have the typical appearance of warmblood horses. In theory they can be between 15.3HH and 17.2HH although in practice most are around 16HH to 16.2HH. They can be any whole colour although excessive white markings will prevent a horse from being formally registered. The modern Hanoverian is an equine athlete with long legs which are strong without being overly thick and a muscular, powerful body which is still refined. Their profiles are very clearly of horse type rather than showing any pony influence and they are typically straight in the muzzle showing that Arabs only played a very minor role in the creation of the breed. Registered Hanoverians have an H branded on their left hind-quarter, this is often accompanied by the last 2 digits of the horse's life number.
Hanoverian breeders pride themselves on producing horses with excellent temperament. They are willing, docile and biddable horses, who are also intelligent and learn quickly. Notwithstanding this, they are unlikely to be ideal beginners' mounts. Leaving aside the fact that Hanoverians command high prices, meaning that there are far more affordable choices for those who just want a gentle, novice ride, Hanoverians do expect to be able to work in partnership with their riders. This means that they expect their riders to give clear instructions which effectively say what they mean and mean what they say. This is particularly important when bringing on younger horses as it is just as easy to teach an intelligent horse bad habits as it its to teach them good ones.
In spite of the significan use of Thoroughbred blood in recent years, Hanovarians are generally healthy and robust horses. This is in no small part due to the fact that horses must meet strict health requirements in order to be licensed for breeding. There is however one recurring health trait that Hanoverian breeders have been, as yet, unable to eliminate and that is Osteochondrisis. This is a health issue which has been noted in animals which grow quickly and is also observed in humans. This is not actually believed to be a genetic disorder but it is considered to have hereditary components, for example in horses conformation (which is largely inherited) is thought to play a role. OCD itself has relatively mild symptoms such as minute fractures, but in sports horses any sort of physical discomfort will affect an animal's performance. Furthermore OCD can progress to more serious disorders such as navicular. Hanoverians have to be tested free of OCD before being licensed to breed, this is done by Xray. Anyone thinking of buying a Hanoverian would be well advised to request proof that the animal has been checked for this disorder.
Caring for a Hanoverian
On the one hand Hanoverians need a level of care commensurate with the work they typically do, or at least for which they were bred. Competition horses need to have their diet and general lifestyle carefully managed in the same way as human athletes do. This means that they will probably need access to stabling and feeding all year round. At the same time however, they also need to be allowed plenty of rest and relaxation and time just to be a horse. This includes turn out time in a secure field and hacking time. There's nothing to stop owners slipping in a bit of training on hacks but overall playtime should be kept for play.
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