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You’re likely familiar with Oldenburg horses because of their extreme elegance, lofty height, and superior athletic ability. But do you know the interesting facts, origins, and characteristics of this fascinating horse breed?
Oldenburg horses are a superb warmblood sports breed whose roots reach back to 18th-century Germany. Their ancestors were powerful but smaller horses typically used for plowing fields. Oldenburg horses are most commonly black, brown, bay, or grey.
Many people looking to buy a warm-blood sport horse usually consider the Oldenburg breed. They are impressive-looking animals, but there is a lot to choosing a horse, and looks are just one consideration.
Oldenburg Horse Breed Origins
Oldenburg horses can trace their roots back to the 17th century when hearty Spanish stock was introduced to native mares from the Oldenburg region of Germany. Graf Johann XVI von Oldenburg (1573 – 1603) is the earliest known person to invest in refining the Oldenburg breed.
He used Frederiksborger horses, an ancient Danish breed that was popular in the Renaissance period, crossed with Andalusian, Barb, Neopolitan, and Friesian horses. Frederiksborger horses’ were top echelon horses of their times; today, they are rare but still in existence.
The next person to impact the development of the Oldenburg horse breed is Graf Anton Gunther von Oldenburg (1603 – 1667). He sought out the best stallions in Europe and brought them back to Oldenburg.
These superior stallions were bred to the Oldenburg mares and produced offspring that were tall and powerful yet elegant. These dashing horses became the symbol of excellence across Europe and were in high demand.
Later in the 18th century and early in the 19 century, King George I, introduced Thoroughbred blood to Oldenburg stock to refine the breed further. A couple of unique factors that played roles in the development of the Oldenburg are the breed registry wasn’t state-owned, and private breeders had access to Oldenburg studs.
The lack of a state-owned stud farm allowed private breeders the freedom to grow the breed quickly and mold their horses to the demands of the marketplace. However, a law passed in 1820 required all stallions to be government-approved for breeding.
In 1861 the Oldenburg Studbook was formed, and in 1897 the Oldenburg breeding society was founded. These registry rules helped the breed regain its luster and popularity. In the early 20th century, Oldenburg horses were primarily used to pull elegant carriages.
However, they were sturdy enough to work on farms. With the advent of the automobile, their usefulness for transportation diminished. So breeders of Oldenburg horses started developing their animals to perform other tasks.
Breeders decided it best to develop a superior saddle horse to compete in equine sporting events. To achieve their goal, the breeders’ introduced more Thoroughbred blood to the Oldenburg line. This cross further refined the horses and increased their speed and agility.
The offsprings of the crosses were mated to Hanoverians, and Trakehners, to add even more athletic ability to the Oldenburg breed. Today Oldenburg breeders continue to crossbreed their mares; private breeders seek the best stallions across many breeds to mate with Oldenburg mares to produce the highest quality warmblood sports horses in the world.
Oldenburg Breed Characteristics
Oldenburg breed registry accepts stallions outside of their breed, but they must meet specific criteria. All studs must be approved for breeding by an official commission from the breed society.
To be an approved Oldenburg stallion, they go through a rigorous evaluation of their conformation, which lasts three days. If they make it passed the conformation stage, they are allowed to move on to stage two.
Stage two is an evaluation process that spans approximately 100 days. During this time, the prospects’ character, disposition, willingness to work, and temperament are evaluated. Horses that successfully complete stage two advance to the final test.
In this stage, studs demonstrate their athletic ability. The young stallions compete in physical trials of endurance, speed, jumping ability, courage, manner of going, and rideability. Studs must pass all three stages to become an approved Oldenburg breeding sire.
Temperament is an animal’s personality. Although horses are individuals, breeds have common personality traits. The Oldenburg breed is very social, smart, and hard-working.
They are willing workers and strive to please their riders. Like Thoroughbreds, they can be high-strung and impatient with unsure riders. These personality traits are more prevalent in Oldenburg horses bred for jumping.
As stated earlier, Oldenburg studs are chosen for their steady demeanor and temperament, so expect a well-mannered horse when you sit on an Oldenburg.
Oldenburg accepts studs from different horse breeds, so there is no strict conformity among the animals. The German Oldenburg has a slogan, “Quality is the only standard that counts,” however, there are some generalities we can make.
An Oldenburg horse typically has an expressive head with a slightly convex profile and a long, muscular neck. Their withers are prominent, the chest is deep, and the back long. Their legs are powerfully built, well-muscled, and compact, with short cannon bones and large hoofs. Their body exudes power.
Oldenburgs fit the profile expected from an ideal warm-blood sport horse and are typically described as having an uphill build with a long neck and sloped shoulders.
Oldenburg horses are the largest breed of warmblood sport horses, and they range in height from 16 to 17.2 hands tall and are well-muscled.
Because of the influence of different breeds, an Oldenburg horse can be any color; there are not any color restrictions on registering an Oldenburg horse. The standard colors of Oldenburg horses are gray, black, brown, or bay. Less common but still present are chestnut and pinto.
Uses of Oldenburg Horses
Dressage is a competition judged by how well a horse and rider can perform a series of movements in an arena. The degree of difficulty is increased for the level of competitors. Most movements flow together and require a skilled, athletic horse that moves to the ques of its rider with the slightest suggestion. Bystanders shouldn’t see the signals.
A successful dressage horse is confident, attentive, and with a keen mind. To be good at dressage takes a lot of time and work from both the horse and rider. Oldenburg horses are brilliant in dressage. Rubinstein, a rejected Westphalian-bred stallion, was accepted for breeding by the Oldenburg Verband and produced numerous sons and daughters that excelled in dressage at the highest levels.
One of the most successful dressage horses in the sport is Bonfire, an Oldenburg. He won the individual gold medal and team silver medal in the Sydney Olympic Games and was the 1999 European Champion and 1998 World Champion.
Oldenburg dressage horses are very expensive.
At the 2020 German Oldenburg sale, a four-year-old dressage prospect and the son of Morricone I sold for $382,000. A filly was the top-selling foal at $150,300.
Showjumping originated from horseback riders jumping fences in the countryside of Europe. People naturally bragged about their horse’s leaping ability and challenged each other. Soon competitions started, and showjumping was formalized—showjumping tests a horse’s athletic ability, awareness, speed, and courage.
The sport is held in an arena and requires a horse to leap over fences in a particular sequence and at varying heights. The pair that finishes the course the quickest wins. Oldenburgs are top tier showjumping horses. They have competed and won at the highest levels of showjumping competitions in the world, including winning at the World Championships and being awarded a silver medal in the Olympics.
Interesting Facts about the Oldenburg Horse Breed
Registered Oldenburg horses are branded.
In 1861 the same year the Oldenburg studbook was established, hip and neck branding for identification was incorporated for all registered horses. The branding is modified, but the practice continues today.
Modern Oldenburg horses carry an “O” and crown brand on their left hip and a microchip implanted in the neck. Below the brand are the last two numbers of the horse’s life number.
Oldenburg horses are a hardy breed.
Oldenburg horses aren’t prone to many equine diseases and are easy keepers. Their healthy disposition might be the result of outcrossing or selectively breeding high-quality horses—whatever the reason, it is a desirable trait for a warm-blood sport horse.
Below is a YouTube video about breeding an Oldenburg stallion.
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I love animals! Especially horses, I’ve been around them most of my life but I am always learning more and enjoy sharing with others. I have bought, sold, and broke racehorse yearlings. I have raised some winning horses and had some that didn’t make it as racehorses, so we trained them in other disciplines.