European sport horses definitely have a lot in common. From common ancestry to similar attributes and skills, they are all geared towards modern equestrian sports, with special emphasis on Show Jumping and Dressage. To kick off this new Equestrianism series, I’ll being with my favorite breed, the Dutch Warmblood.
The Dutch Warmblood is the horse to have at the moment for any serious international competitor. Always at the top of the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH) statistics, this breed boasts a hefty number of horses dominating the world stage. Perhaps the most recent Dutch superstar is Canada’s Hickstead, the quick dark bay that Eric Lamaze piloted to an individual Olympic gold in 2008. Other top mounts at the Olympics were Beezie Madden’s Authentic, Christina Liebherr’s LB No Mercy, John Whitaker’s Peppermill, Rodrigo Pessoa’s Rufus, and Steffen Peters’ Ravel. Cleary, riders from around the world are reveling in the talent and try of Dutch Warmbloods. But behind the glamor of a gold medal or the pride of a victory gallop are decades of careful breeding, stringent guidelines, and the knowledge of that perfect nick that creates champions.
I’ve owned a Dutch Warmblood before, and although he was fantastically talented, we simply were not a good match. His priorities were more concerned with food and bucking, while mine were of staying whole and alive. Nevertheless, he was an excellent teacher, and our time together was productive, if not always what I had in mind. After he sold, my interest in the breed waned a bit, despite my growing admiration for the Dutch team, with their blinding orange hunt coats and snappy jumpers. It wasn’t until another Dutch horse came my way and I began looking into his pedigree that my interest in the KWPN was reignited.
The Dutch Warmblood we know today has an interesting history that sprouted from the need for strong, sound workhorses across the Netherlands. The first Dutch sporthorse studbook was recognized in 1887 by King Willem II. In the south, the light, flashy Gelderlander was produced under the watch of the Gelderlander Horse Studbook, while the north boasted the heavy Groningen, whose breeding was overseen by the North Netherlands Warmblood Horse Studbook. As World War II ground to a close, the need for workhorses faded, and as Dutch horses shifted from rural tools to rising athletes, the two studbooks merged in 1970 to form the Royal Warmblood Studbook of the Netherlands, or Koninkijk Warmbloed Paardenstamboek Nederland (KWPN).
By infusing the breed with Thoroughbred blood, the KWPN created a lighter, quicker horse that still maintained the hardy build and strength of the Groningen and the expressive gaits and carriage of the Gelderlander. Today, the studbook bears three distinct sections; the riding horse, which is the modern Dutch sport horse; the Gelderlander, and the harness horse. Besides this unique feature, the studbook has some of the most rigorous guidelines, closing the door on any type of defect, and ensuring that all stallions bear excellent conformation, good health, sound minds, and overflowing ability. Additionally, the studbook places extra emphasis on rideability, noting the importance of safe and uncomplicated mounts.
Started in 1983, the North American branch of the KWPN has a unique focus on the breeding of Dutch hunters, with such talented horses as Rox Dene and Popeye K as backbones to the program. Wherever the Dutch Warmblood is bred, it is sure to bring with it the high standards and superb quality the KWPN has fostered, and a few victory gallops and championship ribbons just may follow.