In its native Germany the Westphalian comes second only to the Hannoverian in terms of popularity. Even though the breed has competed at top level for many years, it has only been relatively recently that the breed has gained any widespread degree of recognition outside of Germany.
Like many of the German warmblood breeds, the Westphalian has had a varied history, essentially moving with the times. The origins of the breed date back to the early 19th Century when a stud was founded in Warendorf under the auspices of the Prussian Stud Administration. This organization had been created some hundred years earlier by King Friedrich Wilhelm of Prussia who clearly understood the importance of an effective military as part of his strategy for keeping Prussia from being swallowed up by its many European rivals – particularly the mighty Austro-Hungarian Empire. Consequently the Warendorf stud initially concentrated on breeding cavalry horses, which were also quality saddle mounts for the nobility. Over time however, the ligher, more agile Trakehner came to become the favoured cavalry mount for Prussia's fearsome army. The Rhein area, however, became a centre for agricultural activity and therefore needed heavier horses, draught types, for farm work. The Westphalian was therefore cross-bred with cold-blood, draught horses to create a light draught breed, which was still suitable for general riding and driving work. Of course, the need for draught breeds was reduced (although by no means completely eliminated) in the 20th Century. While the heavy breeds were used in in World War One and to a lesser extent in World War Two, mechanics was rapidly overtaking old-fashioned muscle in many areas of life, with both manual workers and working animals seeing their traditional roles being taken over by machines. Westphalian breeders recognized that the new market was for horses with the qualities necessary for leisure riding and competition and took the breed into a new direction, or perhaps it would be better to say, began to return to the original style of the breed. The breed was lightened up with help from the Hannoverian. Most probably this was due to a combination of the Hannoverian's reputation for quality and the fact that, quite simply, its main breeding centre was geographically close by.
The mid-20th century saw a particular challenge to the Westphalian. Their prized breeding records were completely destroyed. These had been kept since the foundation of the stud book in 1888 and had been enhanced by the inspections which were introduced in 1889 and the performance test which came in 1905. Local breeders had worked hard to ensure that only the finest stallions and mares were used to perpetuate the breed and the historical records were documentary evidence of successful pairings. They provided invaluable guidance to breeders when selecting the right stallions for their mares. With the records lost, breeders had to rely on their memory and their overall judgement to continue with their breeding programme. They restarted inspections in 1946 and began to focus on horses with rideability as well as athletic ability. Although Westphalians have competed at top level, Westphalian breeders have been shrewd enough to make their horses attractive to amateurs who want to have a horse with an attractive personality for leisure riding.
In some ways the Westphalian is a fairly typical example of a German warmblood. They stand between 15.2HH and 17.2HH and can be any whole colour. The breed standard requires an athletic horse of aesthetically pleasing appearance, with a good outline and clean, energetic paces. In other ways, however, the Westphalian is unusual in that these days many warmblood stud books allow horses to be of dressage type or jumping type with the differences in physique corresponding to the requirements of these disciplines. The Westphalian breed society, however, requires breeders to produce all-rounders. While this may arguably limit their chances at top-level competition, it also makes them more appealing to amateur riders, who may enjoy trying out different disciplines without any intention of trying to take any of them to top level.
Although temperament is generally used as a criteria for judging whether or not a horse may be accepted into any warmblood registry, other warmblood types often register horses which are highly unlikely to be suitable for an amateur rider. This is because many warmblood societies tend to breed for competition first and rideability second. The Westphalian by contrast, is bred to be suitable for amateur riders. They tend to have very friendly and affectionate personalities to go along with the intelligence associated with warmblood types. Many Westphalians would make perfectly suitable mounts for taller children or young adults with a moderate degree of experience. For all their likeable personalities however, they may still be a bit too much for casual riders.
As is typical of warmbloods, Westphalians tend to enjoy good health. It is worth noting however that they are very closely related to the Hannoverians. While Hannoverians are also, for the most part, healthy and robust horses, they have had issues with Osteochondrosis which causes lesions in the leg. These can end the career of competition horses for whom complete soundness in the leg is essential. Osteochondrosis can also lead to more serious issues such as navicular. Research has indicated that genetics plays a role in the development of this disorder and so the Hannoverian breed society is working to eliminate it by mandating that all horses have XRays before being issued with breeding licences. It should also be noted that as energetic horses with strong movement, Westphalians can pick up their fair share of leg injuries, but this risk can be mitigated with appropriate protection.
Caring for a Westphalian
Overall they are easy to keep but they do like their hay so owners had better be prepared to supply plenty of it. They will also need stabling in colder weather. As energetic horses, however, generally they prefer to be out in the field or under saddle to being in a stable. They need plenty of exercise, company (both of horses and humans) and general stimulation to be happy and stay free of stable vices.
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