Breed Name: Oldenburg
Despite its size, the well-bred, modern Oldenburg is a compact horse with relatively short legs; short cannons; powerful hindquarters; a long, strong neck inherited from its days as a carriage horse; a deep chest; and large hooves able to bear the weight of such a large animal. Oldenburgs are found in a variety of colors, but are usually black, brown or gray. Their appearance is accentuated by kind eyes that mirror the horse’s calm tractable nature.
The Oldenburg horse achieved fame throughout Europe in the 17th Century under Count Graf Anton Gunther von Oldenburg (1603-1667), renowned as a great horseman having been well known for his traditional dressage riding, most notably on his Oldenburg stallion Kranich, who is portrayed with him in a well known painting. In 1612 the Graf began transforming an old monastery in the village of Rastede on the outskirts of Oldenburg into a Royal Stud to continue the work of his predecessor, Graf Johann XVI von Oldenburg (1573-1603) who founded many small breeding farms within the Oldenburg region for the purpose of producing war horses. These horses were given to important rulers and those who had distinguished themselves in battle.
Graf Johann had used Turkish, Neopolitan, Andalusian and Danish stallions to improve his Friesian horses, described as being large and strong. Graf Anton Gunther traveled even more extensively, bringing back stallions from Naples, Spain, Poland, England, Tartary, and Barbary (North Africa). He permitted his tenants and other commoners to use his stallions and soon the 17th century Oldenburgs were in great demand throughout Europe, serving as elegant riding and carriage horses. It is widely believed that Graf Anton even saved the region of Oldenburg from war by diplomatically trading these horses for assurance from his would-be enemies that they would not invade.
The demand for these superior horses went to the heights of Europe’s nobility. One such instance was when Leopold I, King of the Holy Roman Empire, rode through Vienna on his wedding day astride a black Oldenburg stallion. He was followed by his wife who sat in a splendid carriage pulled by eight dark bay Oldenburgs.
The 19th and 20th Centuries were shaped by three important events: the first stallion approval decreed by state in the year 1820, the introduction of a register of origins in 1861, and the foundation of two horse breeding societies by the Horse Breeding Act of April 9, 1897. These two societies merged in 1923 to form today’s “Verband der Zechter des Oldenburger Pferdes.”
The 19th century breeding objectives were to produce an optimal horse for the cavalry and for heavy work in agriculture and construction. The Oldenburg mares were bred to French stallions and imported British stallions to produce what became known as the Oldenburg Karossier, a horse that was the market leader of its day.
However, due to the mechanization of transportation, farming and the military in the 20th century, the demand for the heavier type of horse dropped. In the early 1960s, the Oldenburg Verband made the decision to focus on breeding top sport horses, and they embarked on an extensive transformative cross-breeding program. The first measures to refine the breed had already been introduced in 1959 with the Thoroughbred Adonis, and by the 1960s, more Thoroughbred stallions were approved and the turnaround in breeding towards the modern sport horse was underway.
Although the remarkable stallion, Rubinstein is Westphalian bred, it was the current Breeding Director of the Oldenburg Verband, Dr. Wolfgang Schulze-Schleppinghof that first accepted the stallion for breeding after he had been rejected by the Westphalian stallion committee. Dr. Schleppinghof felt that with the stallion’s bloodlines and qualities he was well worth taking a chance on, and it was a decision that proved to be very valuable for modern dressage breeding. Owned by Gestuet Vorwerk, Rubinstein himself was successful at Grand Prix having been a member of the 1996 gold medal German team, and he has produced hundreds of successful Oldenburg sons and daughters such as Relevant, Renoir Unicef, Rohdiamant, and Royal Diamond.
In the international dressage arena, Oldenburg horses have been a dominant breed. Bonfire, ridden by Anky van Grunsven, is one of the most famous dressage horses in history. He was bred by Karl Westerholt and was sold at the Stallion auction in Vechta, Germany as a 2-year-old. When Anky purchased Bonfire later as a gelding, the two were almost impossible to beat. They were the individual gold medalists and team silver medalists in the Sydney Olympic Games, individual and team silver medalists in the Atlanta Olympic Games, European Champions in 1999, World Champions in 1994, and won the World Cup an astonishing five times.
In Europe, there have been dressage international superstars such as Bonfire, Donnerhall, Albano, and Don Schufro, but Oldenburg success can be found in the United States as well. The Olympic mount of Robert Dover, Rainier, was a key member of the bronze medal team at the 2000 Olympic Games, and more recently, Lisa Wilcox won a 2002 World Games team silver and a 2004 Olympic Games team bronze with the Oldenburg stallion Relevant.
Currently there are many rising Oldenburg stars in North America such as the stallion Starlight owned and ridden by Rick Silvia who was inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame for his record scores in dressage breeding. He has also been very successful at Prix St. Georges and Intermediare I. Others such as Don Angelo, Ringo Starr, Wig Wam, Dolomit, Harmony’s Sandro, and Rafalca are certainly ones to watch as well.
Oldenburgs are also well known in the jumper arenas around the world. In the past there have been jumper stars such as the mare, Weihaiwej, who incredibly accomplished the nearly impossible feat of winning double gold at the World Championships in 1994, and Sandro Boy who won the 2006 World Cup by putting in an amazing four clear rounds. More recently Air Jordan Z and Leena successfully competed in the 2007 World Cup in Las Vegas, and after winning individual gold at the Pan American Games, the incredible gelding, Special Ed, brought home 2008 Olympic Team Silver for Canada.
There will surely be far more to come too. In 2002 it was decided that a separate breeding society dedicated to the pursuit of breeding top jumper horses would be created. It is called the Springpferdezuchtverband Oldenburg International e.V., or “OS” for short. It is still related to the main Oldenburg breeding society, but it has a separate breeding commission which will concentrate on the jumping bloodlines and abilities of the stallions and mares.?In 2008 the OS saw an outstanding stallion for the future of the program. Le Champ Ask was the champion of the 2008 stallion licensing, and his talent was so clear, his character so assured, that he broke the German breeding society auction record selling to Denmark for the sum of 1.1 million Euro.?
Oldenburgs are used mainly as dressage and jumping horses at the highest levels.
Bonfire, ridden by Anky van Grunsven, is one of the most famous dressage horses in history. They were the individual gold medalists and team silver medalists in the Sydney Olympic Games, individual and team silver medalists in the Atlanta Olympic Games, European Champions in 1999, World Champions in 1994, and won the World Cup an astonishing five times.
Oldenburg success can be found in the United States as well. The Olympic mount of Robert Dover, Rainier, was a key member of the bronze medal team at the 2000 Olympic Games, and more recently, Lisa Wilcox won a 2002 World Games team silver and a 2004 Olympic Games team bronze with the Oldenburg stallion Relevant.
In the past there have been jumper stars such as the mare, Weihaiwej, who incredibly accomplished the nearly impossible feat of winning double gold at the World Championships in 1994, and Sandro Boy who won the 2006 World Cup by putting in an amazing four clear rounds.
Breed Association: The Oldenburg Horse Breeders? Society
(Information provided by the Oldenburg Horse Breeders? Society)