Ostfriesen Horses
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About Ostfriesen HorsesAbout Ostfriesen Horses



Ostfriesen and Alt-Oldenburger  horses are representatives of a group of horsernbreeds primarily from continental Europe called heavy warmbloods. The breed hasrntwo names because the same horse was bred in two marshy regions in the mostrnnorth-western part of Germany: East Frisia and the former grand duchy ofrnOldenburg. The name "Alt-Oldenburger " -- alt meaning "old"  - simply distinguishes this horse from its descendant, the modern Oldenburg,rnwhich is bred for sport.rnrn 

rnrnThe AO/OF is bred by preservationists to fit the pre-WorldrnWar model. Unlike the registries of the sport horses that followed them, theirrnstudbook is partly-closed. However, external evaluation and performance testingrnof the breeding stock is still a key element in these registries. To understandrnthe history of the Ostfriesen and Alt-Oldenburger, an understanding of thernpeople who bred them is helpful. Traditionally, the region settled by thernFrisians was highly agricultural, based on the fertile though marshy soil.rnThough Hannover is geographically close by, its terrain is hilly and theirrncultures were far apart. Furthermore, the region of Oldenburg was passed backrnand forth between Denmark and Germany. This unique cultural mixture gives thernregion a distinct identity all its own. The story of the Ostfriesen andrnAlt-Oldenburger is that of horse breeders responding to a dynamic market.rnrn rnrn 

rnrnThe damp, low-lying region of Germany which lies between thernWeser River and the Ems River is called Ostfriesland ("EastrnFriesland"). It borders the Netherlands, and is part of a greater regionrntraditionally known as Frisia. Frisia is characterized by the dialects of thernpeoples who settled it, but also by its low-lying, coastal geography. In thernwest, it includes what are now the Dutch provinces of Friesland and Groningen;rncentrally, the Oldenburg region of Lower Saxony, and its northeastern regionrnincludes much of what is now Schleswig-Holstein to the border of Denmark.rnFrisia is the region best-known for heavy warmbloods.rnrn 

The word "Oldenburg" was first mentioned inrnreference to a town in 1108, and has had many meanings over the centuries. Thernname applies both to the city of Oldenburg, and also the surrounding ruralrndistrict, and historically a state or Grand Duchy.rnrn 

rnrnPrior to the 1600's, the horses of Oldenburg were of thernsame types found throughout Europe in the Middle Ages: small, hardy farmrnhorses, smooth-stepping saddle horses, quicker "coursers", and a veryrnfew highly-prized, powerful destriers. However, as the availability of firearmsrngrew, heavily-armored knights and their heavy mounts became impractical.rnrn rnrn 

rnrnThe Spanish horses, ancestors of the Andalusian, the DanishrnFredriksborg, and the Neapolitan horse were particularly popular among thernGerman nobility during the 17th and 18th centuries. As they collected thesernstallions, the residents bred them to their heavy mares, setting a foundationrnwe would identify today as "baroque." From this base of thick,rnprimarily dark-colored horses, the Groningen, Friesian, East Friesian, andrnOldenburg would eventually be born.rnrn 

rnrnKranich, an Oldenburg stallion bred by Anton Gunther aroundrn1640, shows Spanish influence that was popular at the time. The horses ofrnOldenburg have never had a State Stud, and they first gained recognition underrnAnton Günther (1583-1667), Count of Oldenburg, who is said to have taken greatrnpersonal interest in the breeding of horses. Count Anton Günther returned fromrna trip lasting several years with a number of horses he admired in Spain,rnItaly, Turkey, and Poland. Later, a gift of Oldenburg horses kept the Count ofrnTilly from sacking Anton Gunthers dominion.rnrn 

rnrnWhile the breeding of horses in Ostfriese and Oldenburg wasrndriven primarily by the nobles, without the aid of a studbook registry, thernworld's first ever stallion Korung occurred in the region. In 1715, GeorgernAlbrecht Prince of Ostfriese adopted this practice of rigorous evaluation ofrnpotential herd sires. The Korung process spread to Oldenburg in 1755 even thoughrnstate-mandated stallion inspections were almost 100 years in the future. Thernresults were excellent, and the products were in high demand and exported forrncarriage driving.rnrn 

rnrnWhile the breeders at Celle developed a more refined cavalryrnmount around 1800, those of the Frisian marshlands sought out Cleveland Baysrnand Yorkshire carriage horses in greater numbers. The results were solid,rngood-natured heavy coaching horses, which were molded into a stable mare basernby the mid-17th century.rnrn 

rnrnFollowing the state regulation of stallion inspections inrn1820, the breeders of Oldenburg horses formed their own registry in 1861 andrnthe breeders of the Ostfriesen horses did the same in 1869. Both employedrnrigorous selection along similar breeding goals, though up until the 20thrncentury, few breeders kept pedigrees, and many mares and stallions werernunregistered. However, participation improved as the 19th century came to arnclose and the threat of obsoletion became quite real. At this time,rntechnological and economic developments were rendering irrevocable changes forrnthe horse. Suited for the simple labor of unmechanized agriculture, the horsesrnwere now overshadowed by the versatile, powerful horses of Hanover, England,rnand Normandy.rnrn 

The heyday of the elegant heavy carriage horse was the yearsrnbetween 1880 and 1920. Reporting from a local horse market in 1864, an observerrnwrites that each year the sale has more horses to offer, all well-bred andrnbeautiful, and that their buyers came from far and wide. "Trading isrnbrisk, especially for the luxury horses, for which high prices are paid."rnProducing Ostfriesen and Oldenburg horses had become quite lucrative. They werernexported even to the southern reaches of the German - speaking region; Oldenburgrnstallions populated the freshly-rebuilt Bavarian State Stud of Schwaigangerrnfrom 1870 on. Their success was such that in a very important decision, thernstud commission of the Saxon State Stud of Moritzburg developed a heavyrnwarmblood plan in 1873 which aimed to produce a horse "similar in type tornthat of the Oldenburger." From 1877 and 1920, two thirds of the staternstallions were Oldenburgers. The first part of the 20th century saw the StaternStud of Zweibruecken follow suit.rnrn 

rnrnThe population of horses in Ostfriesland alone exceededrn30,000, about 40% of which were 3 years old or younger. The new breedingrndirection, calling for a strong, attractive, heavy horse "for use as bothrnan elegant, high-stepping carriage horse and a work horse" was fruitful.rnThe Korkommission in particular looked for excellent trot mechanics in thernstallion selection.rnrn

In Oldenburg, the progress towards the Karossier type hingedrnon the use of Anglo - Normans, Cleveland Bays, and halfbred Hanoverians, and hadrnadvanced so well that already a considerable number of Oldenburgs were beingrnsent to Ostfriesland. Soon all the Ostfriesen stallion lines were headed in thernsame, new direction. 1910 was the height of Ostfriesen horse breeding. The typernwas described as possessing a distinct outline, strong foundation and arnfriendly, expressive head, not to mention the "certain elegance about thernwhole appearance." In 1911 a spectator at the Korung in Aurich noted thatrnthree types reappeared year after year:rnrn 
  1. A horse similar to the Oldenburg, a type of noble, heavyrnKarossier with a swinging gait and great nerve, though slightly drier than mostrnOldenburgs.
  2.  A horse with reference to the Oldenburg type, though theyrnare not always very distinctly outlined, and are without much nobility andrnusually quite common, but they are massive, robust, compact and strong. Thesernstallions are excellent sires for agricultural horses. 
  3. An elegant, easy-mannered horse, which is influencingrnthe Hanoverian and which the Hanoverian is more or less approaching. This typernis most often an elegant chestnut, and is relatively rare.   
These are the horses that made Oldenburg famous for elegantrncarriage horses.rnrn rnrn 

rnrnAfter World War I, the market for luxury horses suddenlyrnbecame the market for military remounts. The increased availability of cars andrntractors limited the roles that horses could play in agriculture andrntransportation. Starting in the forties, technical advancements in agriculturalrnmachinery initially required a new type of horse, but soon after made the horsernsuperfluous altogether in the field. So to adapt, starting in 1920 therndirection changed radically: a heavy warmblood of great economy with a goodrnwalk, calm temperament, which matures early and utilizes its feed well.

rnrnThe type was so heavy, it stood on the boundary with thernlighter coldbloods. The coldbloods of Germany were already well-suited to thernnew demands of farming given their immense power, and the Ostfriesen had tornprove it could offer these same qualities. The one advantage for the warmbloodsrnwas their versatility. They were subsequently bred to have greater depth,rnbreadth and strength, at the expense of the dryness, nerve, expression and gaitrnqualities for which they had previously been selected.

rnrnFrom 1908 to 1940, the average height of Ostfriesischesrndecreased 4 cm while average weight increased from 630kg to 760kg. Otherrnregions began to breed heavy warmbloods: Baden-Wuerttemberg, Hesse, Bavaria,rnThuringia, Saxony-Anhalt, Saxony, and Silesia. While they were founded on theirrnown stock, horses from Oldenburg and Ostfriesland were sold there each year tornhelp them realize their goals. The end of World War II saw the breeding in Ostfrieslandrnreach record-breaking numbers, as these horses had become indispensablernagricultural horses. In 1923 the two registries merged to form the Verband derrnZüchter des Oldenburger Pferdes e.V. (Oldenburg Horse Breeders' Association),rnwhich today serves the modern Oldenburg.rnrn rnrn 

rnrnBy 1964, in the face of the superiority of tractors, thernbreeding of the heavy warmblood had completely collapsed. Stallions covered 10%rnof the mares that they had 20 years before. This scene played out in the 1950'srnand 60's throughout German horse breeding. During this time, though, increasingrnleisure time meant that horses soon found their modern cultural niche:rnrecreational riding. The breeders of Ostfriesland aimed to develop their horsesrnalong this path, producing a lighter riding horse with all the economicalrntraits that had made them popular before. Fearing that the Thoroughbred wouldrndetract from the amenable nature of their horses, the Ostfriesen breeders chosernto use Arabian blood instead. Beginning in 1948, such stallions were madernavailable to the breeders, who scarcely used them, being hard-put to changerntheir beloved horses so drastically. However, the evidence was convincing, asrnthe Freisen-Arabs were horses of excellent character, great capacity and ridingrnquality. Unfortunately, they had missed the mark: the market demanded a light,rnelegant, but tall riding horse, and the Freisen-Arabs were smaller than theirrnwarmblood mothers. Limited in their competitiveness in dressage and jumping,rnthe Freisen-Arabs did not sell, and the Ostfriesen horses seemed doomed tornextinction.

rnrnMeanwhile, the Oldenburg horses were being systematicallyrnredirected by the use of Anglo-Norman stallions like Condor, Thoroughbreds likernAdonis xx, and Anglo-Arabs like Inschallah AA. Though the blood remained inrntheir pedigrees, the Alt-Oldenburg mares could not produce stallion sons.rnPurebred Ostfriesisch-Oldenburg stallions were replaced in the studrows byrnHanoverians, Trakehners, Thoroughbreds and Arabs. In 1967, 71% of the original maresrnhad riding horse mates. The Ostfriesen mares were permitted into the Hanoverianrnforebook after producing a noble warmblood foal, but could not become stallionrnmothers. The lastkorung at Aurich took place in 1973, and in 1975 thernOstfriesische studbook became a district association of the Hanoverian Verband.rnThe products of this new breeding direction became the modern Oldenburgrn(horse).rnrn rnrn 

rnrnBy the mid-eighties the stock of purebred mares had dwindledrnto just a handful, though there were some mares only a generation or twornremoved. In 1983 a group of supporters formed a special breed association underrnthe jurisdiction of the Weser-Ems Studbook, approving stallions that werernhalf-Hanoverian, half-Ostfriesen or Alt-Oldenburg. However, as the mares themselvesrnwere typically only halfbred, the foals did not have the desired type, andrnfurthermore the genepool was simply too small. To replenish it, the breedersrnlooked to the studs where Ostfriesen/Alt-Oldenburger stallions had stood forrngenerations, picking up a few horses here and there. More horses came fromrngreater strongholds: Silesian Heavy Warmbloods of Poland, the DanishrnOldenbourgs, and the Groningen horse of the Netherlands. But the efforts of Dr.rnHerta Steiner, Moritzburg State Stud Equerry, were the keystone to saving thernbreed. She had championed for the last remaining heavy warmbloods in Saxony andrnThuringia. Soon the old type was revived.rnrn 

rnrnSince 1995, two Dutch Harness Horse stallions have beenrnchosen to add elegance and responsiveness, though it is worth noting that thesernstallions had primarily Ostfriesen and Groningen pedigrees themselves, and nornHackney blood. The Zuchtverband für das Ostfriesische und Alt-Oldenburger Pferdrne.V. ("Association for the Breeding of East Freisian and Old-OldenburgrnHorses") was founded in 1986, and was recognized as an independentrnorganization in 1988. Even after 20 years of hiatus, the goal is to produce arnheavy, quality horse, responsive with an exceptionally good temperament. Thernunique character of the former farm horse is of paramount importance, as it wasrnthe peasant farms that led such kind horses to be bred in the first place. Thernbreeding objective these days stretches back before the horses were called tornhaul tractors and artillery, to when they were heavy, elegant, and impressivernKarossiers.rnrn rnrn 

rnrnA combined driving team of Ostfriesen/Alt-Oldenburgerrngeldings - Today there are 20 approved stallions and 160 broodmares in thernnorthern population of heavy warmbloods. They are bred with a pure-breedingrnscheme, using Ostfriesen/Alt-Oldenburg, Groningen, Saxony-Thuringian HeavyrnWarmbloods, and Silesian Heavy Warmbloods. The goal is a versatile, correct andrnbalanced horse with a calm temperament. Desirable is a horse with a strongrnconstitution, peaceful companionable temperament, which utilizes its feed well,rnhas high fertility, and is suitable as a riding and driving horse. The walk andrntrot should be efficient and expansive, the latter with some action. Thernphysique should speak of a moderately elegant horse of great depth and breadth,rnwell-sprung ribs and a strong hind end. The head should be expressive with arnlarge, friendly eye. The neck is muscular, medium-length, well-formed and setrnhigh on a long, sloping, and muscular shoulder with defined withers. The backrnis medium-long, solid and elastic with a broad loin, the croup slightly sloped,rnwide and muscular. The limbs should be correct and dry with great bonernstrength, very strong joints suited to the horse's size, ending in thernall-important well-shaped hooves.rnrn 

rnrnAt three years the horse is expected to stand between 158rnand 165 cm tall, with a canon circumference of 22 to 24 cm. The primary colorsrnare black, seal brown, and dark bay, though bay, chestnut, and grey do occur.rnTypically, they are conservatively marked. They are traditionally shown in arnwide white leather bridle without the cavesson. Because of their gentlernnatures, Ostfriesen/Alt-Oldenburgers are useful not just in sport and driving,rnbut for recreation, police work and therapeutic riding. They are also used inrnforests for ecological reasons. Fourteen black Ostfriesen/Alt-Oldenburgrngeldings were sold recently to the Household Cavalry.

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