The Hosteiner is known throughout the world as a jumping horse par excellence. Even though the breed is only one of thousands of different breeds of horses in the world, they regularly dominate the medals tables in jumping competitions.
As its name suggests, the Holsteiner comes from Schleswig-Holstein in North Germany. More specifically it is believed to have its origins in horses bred by monks in Uetersen in the 14th century. This area of Germany is essentially marshland where the ground can turn from soaking wet mud to solid, baked mud (or vice versa) in a matter of hours. There is believed to have been an indigenous pony resident in this area, which was of small stature and hardy. These are thought to have formed the basis of the Holsteiner breed. The aim of the monks, was to create larger horses, which could be used for agriculture or for war, but which retained the strength and robustness of their predecessors. The Holsteiners of this early period, which lasted up until the end of the 18th century, were what would now be called Baroque horses. These were essentially animals bred for power rather than great speed or agility.
By the 19th century, however, lifestyles had changed and with it the role of horses. The development of the railways offered an alternative to long carriage rides, which meant that carriage horses became used as shorter-distance transport, often in cities. This in turn led to a demand for animals whose appearance reflected their owner's status. Holsteiner breeders therefore turned to the English Thoroughbred and lighter carriage breeds such as the Cleveland Bay to create lighter animals which were still recognizably Holsteiners.
The 20th century saw huge changes in the world and particularly in Europe. While the heavier horses were still in demand in the early years, by the middle of the century, horsepower had taken on a completely different meaning. Fortunately equestrian sport filled the gap left by cavalry regiments and the Holsteiner was lightened yet again with more Thoroughbred blood. Recognizing the demand for jumping horses, Holsteiner breeders brought in stallions with proven jumping talent such as Cor de la Bryére and Ladykiller xx, both of whom had excellent temperaments as well as outstanding ability.
Although Holsteiners have the same general characteristics as other warmbloods, they have a distinct individuality which makes them immediately recognizable. Holsteiners are considered to be the oldest of the warmblood breeds (they were used as the foundation for the Hanovarian breed) and were created in the era of the Baroque horse. Baroque horses were essentially cobs of various degrees of refinement. Their sheer muscularity meant that they were never going to be capable of the same sorts of speed as modern horses. Up until the 19th century this was accepted as the main requirement was for power, the sheer raw strength to carry a knight in full armour, or pull a canon or a plough. Even though modern Holsteiners have been made lighter, largely through the use of Thoroughbred stallions, they are still on the heavier side of middle-weight horses. The modern Holsteiner is taller, lighter and generally more graceful and refined than its early counterparts, it has kept the key features of the original breed. These include its famously high-set and thick neck and the powerful quarters which give the breed its jumping ability. It has also kept its energetic and elegant gaits, which mean that the breed also performs respectably in dressage events.
To be approved for breeding, stallions must stand a minimum of 16HH and mares 15.2HH although for both genders average heights tend to be around 16HH and 17HH. In theory they can be any whole colour. In practice dark colours are preferred, although grey is also fairly common. Although dun and palamino Holsteiners are excluded from the breed registry, there is a decent minority of them as one of the stallions brought in to improve the breed in the 20th century was a dun Thoroughbred called Marlon xx. Traditional Holsteiners were noticeably Roman nosed but the rebuilding of the breed in the 20th century has largely resulted in this disappearing in favour of a straight profile. The large eyes however still remain and show the breed's high intelligence.
Describing the Holsteiner temperament is a little complicated since there is a fair degree of individuality. Many Holsteiners have excellent, equitable outlooks on life that make them wonderful riding horses as well as competition animals. In particular those who trace their lineage back to Cottage Son xx are noted for their gentle, willing attitude to life. Some are more suited to experienced riders, such as those who trace their line back to Ramzes AA and Anblick xx, who were excellent performance stallions but did not have the same sweet natures as Cor de la Bryére and Ladykiller xx. Horses who trace their line back to Marlon xx have notably tougher natures. This gives them the necessary mental discipline to manage challenging eventing courses but can place more demands on the rider. Some of the top-level competition horses do need top-level riders and would be quite unsuitable for even experienced amateurs.
In spite of the infusion of Thoroughbred blood, Holsteiners have remained largely free of genetic disorders. They are as robust as can be expected from horses. Obviously any animal used for serious competition work is going to be susceptible to injuries.
Caring for a Holstein
Holsteiner care requirements are about average for a refined horse. They are going to need stabling and feeding commensurate with their work. Holsteiners are active horses and require plenty of exercise, which means their owners will need either to be prepared to ride them out in all weathers or to make arrangements for someone else to do so. They will also need plenty of turn-out time and suitable companionship. Coming from North Germany Holsteiners can happily spend time in the field in winter, as long as they are suitably rugged-up, but will need to come in at night.
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