You’ve likely seen them before at the Olympics or soaring over obstacles in competitions — it’s a bird… it’s a plane… nope, it’s the Holsteiner horse!
Known for its jumping prowess, the Holsteiner is much more than your normal horse breed. They are wonderful sport horses that compete at the top level of many international competitions. But where did they come from? What makes the Holsteiner horse so special? Read on to find out!
Holsteiner Horse Characteristics (physical)
The Holsteiner mare is a pure sport horse. They’re known for being athletic and strong but with good balance and surprisingly elegant movement. The breed has an arched, high-set neck and powerful, sturdy hindquarters. They have angled shoulders that lead up to a heavy neck with a small head and large, intelligent eyes.
The Holsteiner has a conformation (bodily structure) that is well-suited for self-carriage. Self-carriage is the term used to describe excellent ride quality and balance in a horse, and this quality of movement makes the Holsteiner perfect for equestrian competitions.
Interestingly enough, there are two different body types found in Holsteiner horses:
- Classic: Heavier and larger boned
- Modern: Lighter and a bit more refined
Holsteiner Horse Size (Size + Weight)
The Holsteiner is a medium-framed warmblood horse that averages between 16 and 17 hands (64 to 68 inches) measured at the withers, which is approximately the shoulder blade. In order to be approved by the breed association, stallions must be at least 16 hands tall and mares at least 15.2 hands tall (62 inches).
Holsteiners are considered a light horse breed, meaning they typically weigh less than 1500 pounds. Light horse breeds are known for being agile and light on their feet, making them good for leisure or trail riding, performances, and competitions. They can also be found on a racetrack, ranch, or show ring.
Holsteiner Horse Personality
They have a warm-blooded temperament, which usually makes them quiet, easy-going, and a little lazy.
However, this is not a hard rule because no horse has a perfect temperament. Many Holsteiners can be more sensitive or lazy than others. Most of the time, however, they’re cooperative, reliable, and bold horses.
Holsteiner Horse History
The Holsteiner horse can be traced back to the 13th century, which makes it one of the oldest warmblood breeds. They have been bred in the northwestern region of Germany of Schleswig-Holstein for over 700 years. As typical of warmblood breeds, Holsteiners evolved throughout the years to meet the ever-changing needs of the times.
The coastal marshes of the Schleswig-Holstein region influenced the initial characteristics of the Holsteiner. The environment is characterized by rich, wet soil dries out and turns into hard mud within hours. Consequently, a breed had to be developed that was small, sure-footed and could handle the climate.
The first organized breeding of the Holsteiner was conducted by monks in the monasteries of the town of Uetersen. The monks kept accurate breeding records and eventually developed the small marshland horse into a larger breed more suited for agriculture and riding in times of war.
For there, the breed went through several slight variations to meet the demands of the market. Here’s a quick rundown of changes throughout history:
The need for cavalry horses in warfare required an agile horse with better endurance. As a result, the Holsteiner came from Baroque horses from Spain and Naples.
After the invention of the automobile, horses no longer needed to pull coaches for long stretches. To accommodate this, the Holsteiner bred with the Yorkshire Coach horse because of the demand for an elegant, attractive horse that is hardy enough to pull a carriage.
World War I and II created a demand for strong, powerful horses to pull artillery wagons. However, shortly after World War II, the breeding of the Holsteiner almost completely stopped.
To save the breed, the Board of Directors of the breeder’s federation bought 30 Holsteiners and changed the direction the breed was going. Instead of being a strong horse that emphasized pulling power, the breed transformed into the modern Holsteiner, which is agile, refined, an excellent jumper, and more rideable.
Holsteiner Horse Achievements
Despite the breed’s long history, it’s the modern-day achievements of the Holsteiner breed that make it famous. They only make up around 6% of the horse population in Europe, yet they represent a large proportion of successful competition horses, in particular show jumpers.
Here are some of their most notable achievements:
- In 2008, the Holsteiner studbook — a book containing the pedigree of the breed — was ranked third in international show jumping by the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH).
- In the 2008 WBFSH rankings, 10 of the top 30 showjumpers were Holsteiners.
- Similarly, in the Olympics for show jumping, Holsteiners have helped achieve 7 gold medals, 4 silver medals, and 3 bronze medals. Most notably, there were Holsteiners on all three showjumping teams that medaled at the 2008 Beijing Olympics.
- They’re also great to show hunters; in the 2008 WBFSH rankings, 9 of the top 20 show hunters were Holsteiners.
- They’re also regularly competing in international dressage competitions, international eventing competitions, and the sport of combined driving.
How to Care for a Holsteiner Horse
Holsteiner horses are a relatively easy breed to care for. They’re adaptable to a stall or a pasture but do best in a setting where they have social interaction with other horses. As with any horse, they need adequate exercise, nutritionally balanced food, and regular grooming.
Holsteiner Horse Training
As a sport horse that consistently excels in international competitions, the Holsteiner horse is typically not for casual riders. From a young foal, these horses get professionally trained for the sport. As a result, you will most likely not be training them.
If you come across a Holsteiner, it’s a rare horse meant to be an athlete. Most of the time, Holsteiners are more suited for professional riders or serious amateurs who want to compete in show jumping, eventing, dressage, or other disciplines.
Nutrition and Feeding for a Holsteiner Horse
Generally, feeding an adult horse requires around 1.5 to 2 pounds of hay per every 100 pounds of body weight every day. In addition, they need around 0.5 pounds of grain per every 100 pounds of body weight.
Holsteiners enjoy a mix of alfalfa and hay, along with the required grain and mineral supplements. However, please consult a vet or nutritionist for specific dietary recommendations for your horse.
Holsteiner Coat Color And Grooming
Holsteiners can come in many colors, but the most common colors are chestnut and shades of grey with dapples.
The grooming practices for Holsteiners are pretty standard. Brush daily to remove dirt, matting, and debris buildup on the coat. Wash and brush their manes often with a detangling shampoo to maintain the health of the hair.
Another good practice is to clean out the horse hooves and horseshoes after long rides. Ideally, clean out the hooves daily after the horse’s daily exercise because dirt buildup in the hooves can lead to infections.
Holsteiner Horse Health Problems
Holsteiner horses are usually strong and sturdy horses with few health problems. As a result of selective breeding for hundreds of years, they have developed sure feet and a strong disposition that can handle all kinds of harsh conditions.
However, Holsteiners are not completely free of health issues. Some common health problems include:
- Lameness and Leg Problems: Because they often participate in competitions (in particular, showjumping), this puts a huge strain on their legs. The repeated jumping and extreme extension in their gait can sometimes result in leg problems. In order to prevent this, make sure to not overexert your horse and always wear proper leg protection when jumping or participating in dressage.
- Equine Metabolic Syndrome (EMS): EMS is common in overweight horses and can cause obesity, laminitis, insulin resistance, infertility, and increased appetite. Luckily, treatment is pretty simple: changes in diet and more exercise.
- Polysaccharide Storage Myopathy (PSSM): PSSM results from too much sugar in the horse’s body. Some symptoms include muscle stiffness, sweating, and slow movement. You can prevent PSSM in your horse by reducing sugar intake and maintaining a healthy weight.
How to get a Holsteiner Horse
Holsteiners are relatively rare when compared to other warmblood breeds, so they can fetch a hefty price on the market. Serious riders and competitors fancy this athletic animal, which makes them difficult for the casual horse enthusiast to afford.
On online international horse marketplaces, such as eHorses and EquineNow, Holsteiner horses average around $15,000 and can go as high as $45,000!
More About The Holsteiner Horse Breed
Not sure if a horse is an approved and officially recognized Holsteiner? Don’t worry; there are a few easy ways to identify them:
- A vet inspects the hot brand left under the shield. The store the last two digits of their life number.
- Many males have a name that starts with “C” or “L” because of their relation to several famous Holsteiner sires: Cor de la Bryére, Cottage Son, or Ladykiller.
With over 700 years of heritage, Holsteiners are wonderful horses that have adapted to the changing times. They’ve gone from being primarily farm animals to cavalry to coach horses, and now to one of the most dominant breeds in show jumping and other competitions.