Holsteiners are horses with history! While not as commonly owned or well-known here in the US as other breeds, such as the Quarter Horse or Thoroughbred, this beautiful breed is a classy mount, with a flair for eventing, especially.
Holsteins are noted for their power and elegance – you may not know it, but you probably have seen this beautiful breed as a modern Olympic sport horse. With a graceful confirmation, Holsteiner horses are built for elegant carriage and flashy moves.
Holsteiners are light bodied warmbloods, meaning they weigh in at no more than 1,500 pounds and reach heights of between 16 and 17.1 hands.
They are tall but graceful with a natural balance. They are muscular, with an arched neck, strong joints and deep hind legs and are known for having a powerful hind end with good, sure feet. Holsteiners are generally broken down into two categories:
- Classic: Larger boned and heavier
- Modern: Lighter and more refined in confirmation
As light horses, Holsteiners fall into the hunter type class. This means they are bred for performance and elegance. They are well suited for competition activities such as eventing, dressage, show jumping and hunter jumper events.
Holsteiners are traditionally solid colors with minimal markings at most. They favor darker colors, with browns, bays, and blacks being the most common. Chestnuts are also found relatively often. Lighter colors, such as grays and whites, are less likely to be found, but still do occur and are permitted by breed standards.
Holsteiner Breed Personality and Temperament Traits
Holsteiner horses are widely regarding for possessing a good temperament, excellent rideability and an unwavering willingness to work – and to work hard, performing at high levels.
These agreeable qualities make the Holsteiner breed perfect for a wide range of riders, from beginners to amateur competitors to high level national and international riders.
Beyond a trainable demeanor, Holsteiners are also very intelligent and loving animals, easily becoming a horsie friend and willing partner. Their warmblood temperament, while allowing them to be trainable and a bit chilled out, can make them a little lazy from time to time.
Originally, Holsteiners were in high demand for pulling plows and carriages. When that time passed (thanks to tractors and cars), they evolved into pleasure horses, emerging into competition and dedicated rider horses.
As that competitive edge developed, Holsteiners evolved from heartier horses to more refined sports horses and from being responsive to driving commands to being more perfectly suited under saddle.
Though Holsteiners are known for their strength, they, like any pureblood breed, have their own unique set of health concerns. Though generally a hearty and healthy breed, their afflictions tend to focus on their extremities.
Since they were bred in an area that was originally quite muddy, they evolved to have big, strong legs – which is mostly a good thing, until it comes to the demands put open the legs and their body by competition and continuous work. Further, their strong legs have a natural gait that is more inclined to lameness, thanks to tendon over extension and suspensory issues.
For these reasons, special attention should be paid to the condition of Holsteiners’ legs. Protective wraps should be used when jumping, boots worn at their feet during dressage and they should be given enough time to properly cool down.
If a Holsteiner is showing signs of lameness, be sure to consult your veterinarian for proper treatment. The breed, like any other horse, usually benefits from proper time off and routine monitoring of their leg and hoof condition.
The History of the Holsteiner
Holsteiners can trace their ancestry back over 700 years to Germany, bred by a monastery. About 750 years back, the first Holsteiners were recorded in an area of Northern Germany known as Schleswig Holstein, which is where the Holsteiner name comes from.
Still to this day, with over 5,500 registered broodmares, the Holsteiner is the fifth largest breed in Germany.
In the 13th century when a local monastery received permission for horses to graze their lands by the Count of Holstein, the first written record of the Holsteiner was made. From there, the horses in the Holstein region caught on in popularity with local landowners, breeding them ever more and more selectively.
Admired for their grace and their strength, Holsteiners were soon exported throughout Europe, especially to France, in the late 1700s. In 1797, over 10,000 Holsteiners were exported in one year alone! That has led to undeniable breeding crossing, meaning the Holsteiner has bloodstock all throughout many European equine family lines.
In the 1800s, overbreeding, multiple wars and suffering crops contributed to a decline in Holsteiner interest and owning. But then, in 1883, a new association, the German Verband, was formed in order to protect the breed and improve their standing again going forward.
100 excellent broodmares were selected to breed to the few remaining stallions that existed. These original mares were each assigned a unique stamm number to record ancestry. These numbers are still in existence today, as they are passed down from mare to filly.
As the demands for sturdier carriage horses were also falling, these new breeding endeavours began focusing more and more on sport horses with the introduction of some Thoroughbred blood.
Tjis new initiative worked for a while, until another series of world wars took another toll on them. By 1960, only a few more than 1,000 Holsteiner mares existed.
Efforts were reignited and, in the next twenty years, 2,000 mares were added to that total, thanks in part to the introduction of a select group of Thoroughbred stallions being brought in to breed with the Holsteiner mares. This mixing of blood helped refine the desired speed and elegant qualities that people were interested in Holsteiners for as sport horses.
The Verband is still in existence today and has strict breeding guidelines to ensure breed purity and specificity. There is a rigorous evaluation of soundness, temperament, confirmation and structure in order for a Holsteiner mare to be accepted for breeding.
In 1978, the American Holsteiner Horse Association (the AHHA) was founded on the same principles of the Verband. It was set up as an independent organization and American entity, but remains on good terms on in communication with the German Verband.
As of 2005, over 5,500 Holsteiners were officially registered in North America with an average of 250 new foals being born a year.
1976 saw Holsteiners as the belle of the ball at the Equestrian Olympics where both the gold and silver medal winners were Holsteiners. The three day eventing and show jumping silver medal winners were also Holsteiners.
The breed is a constant overachiever in competition, despite only making up approximately 6% of the European warmblood recorded population.
They dominate in International Show Jumping! In fact, the Holsteiner Studbook is ranked as number one consistently for jumping, according to the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses.
Common Disciplines for Holsteiners to Compete in
The Holsteiner horse is especially well suited to excel in high level equestrian events. They are particularly seen in dressage, show jumping and eventing, hosting a variety of skill levels in their riders. They compete in the Olympics but are just as at home at a local show – or hacking along on a trail with a novie rider.
Holsteiner horses are gorgeous, graceful creatures with a breeding and confirmation made for modern competition. Thanks to strictly enforced breeding qualifications, a determination to keep the breed float and a natural loving temperament, they are a favorite breed of many riders.