Germany is home to many warmblood breeds now popular in modern horse sports like three day eventing, show jumping and dressage. One of the most sought after breeds is the Oldenburg or Oldenburger. The breed was created in the late 1500s but continues to evolve. All horses submitted for registration to any Oldenburg horse breed society must pass rigorous physical inspections before they can be officially registered. This differs from pedigree-only breeds such as the Thoroughbred or Arabian which automatically registers horses that are offspring of registered parents. This inspection process maintains the legendary athletic abilities of Oldenburgs.
History and Origins
In the sixteenth century, Count Johann von Oldenburg XVI (the Younger) wanted to breed the world’s best harness and riding horse during his reign from 1573 – 1603. He not only wanted superior cavalry mounts, but mounts for sporting or pulling a fancy carriage. He began his breeding program with East Frisian horses. Later rulers would import stallions from Italy, Poland and Spain to cross with the East Frisian-based mares. Gifts of Oldenburgs in 1623 even saved Grand Duchy of Oldenburg in Lower Saxony from being invaded during the Thirty Years War.
After World War II, there were very few Oldenburgs left. The breed has been carefully built back up by crossing survivors with Thoroughbreds, Trakehners, Hanoverians and French sport horses with specific confirmations that matched the “old” Oldenburgs. Oldenburgs can be seen in many horse sports and Olympic events. The breed is in no current danger of extinction. About 700 Oldenburg horse foals are born just in America alone every year.
Although originally bred to be cavalry mounts, this is one of the best breeds of horses in the world for demanding horse competitions. They can adapt to light harness work as well as riding sports. They are more high-spirited than other breeds and need plenty of exercise to help them with learning new things and to keep them manageable around the stable.
Physical Characteristics of the Oldenburg Horse
This is a large breed that is long-striding so it can cover ground swiftly. It is not as fast as a Thoroughbred but is not as physically fragile as a Thoroughbred. They often grow to 17.2 hands high, but 16.2 is the average height. Their heads are straight or Roman-nosed but straight profiles are preferred. The sloping shoulders and prominent withers help make for a more comfortable ride. The powerful hindquarters, comparatively short legs and deep chest ensure stamina as well as speed combined with a dash of elegance.
The first East Frisians were mostly black so black horses used to be common but are rarer now. Bays, browns and greys have become more common. Every now and then a chestnut appears. Small white markings on the face or below the knees and hocks on the legs are accepted, but no other colors or splashy white markings are allowed. The eyes are almost always brown.
Oldenburg Horse Temperament
Oldenburg horse temperament varies with each individual horse but overall the breed has a reputation for being more spirited than many breeds but not as panic-prone as a Thoroughbreds or Anglo-Arabs. This is a highly intelligent horse that often likes to work.
Having an Oldenburg Horse
Oldenburgs are expensive because they are in such demand by top-level riders and drivers. Even untrained foals can cost $4000 while trained horses can fetch prices anywhere from $15,000 to $100,000. Geldings tend to cost less than mares or stallions.
Horse ownership is very expensive. Oldenburgs need stabling. They will not survive living outside year-round. The Horse magazine lists these yearly expenses common for horse owners in America:
- Boarding stable: anywhere from $300 to $3000 depending on what services are included in the boarding price. Some will include bedding, water bills or repairs to the stall in their fees.
- Hay: averages $525 but varies depending on how good or bad the year’s crop is.
- Feed: Sport horses must also eat grain to have the energy to compete and win. Feed averages $390.
- Nutritional supplements: Often a must for sport horses, $240.
- Basic veterinary fees: $250
- Dental care (this cannot be ignored): $250 although some horses may need two visits a year to keep teeth smooth and level.
- Riding instruction: varies depending on instructor demand. Each session may cost $100 or more.
- Tack: can cost thousands for new saddles or bridles but good used tack for $1000 or less can be found if you hunt for it.
- Registration fees: $30 just to stay a member
- Show costs: About $2000 for show entrance fees, riding outfits and renting a horse trailer. Fees go up depending on how far the horse needs to travel and how many events he or she can compete in.
- Emergency Fund: Emergencies happen such as a colic attack, falls or horse trailer accidents. The Horse recommends each owner stash away $2000 to be used for emergencies only. Horse insurance often will not cover these emergencies, older animals or those with pre-existing conditions.
Common Uses for Oldenburg Horses
Oldenburgs are most commonly used for horse sports in involving riding, including dressage, three-day eventing, fox hunting, English equitation and show jumping. They also can be used for single or combined driving events. They are also used to teach more experienced riders who wish to compete in horse sports. The best are eventually used in breeding programs for Oldenburgs or other warmblood breed registries that allow Oldenburgs.
Oldenburgs are often seen in the Olympic Games. One recent champion was the incredible dressage multi-medialist Bonfire, ridden by Anky van Grunsen for the Netherlands from 1992 to 2000 in the Olympic Games. The brown gelding was so popular that after he died at the ripe old age of 30, a statue was erected of him in Anky van Grunsen’s hometown of Erp.