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Use and characteristics of the Holstein
Standing between 16 hands (64 inches/163 cm) and 17 hands (68 inches/173 cm) high, Holsteins are excellent riding and competition horses. Breeders and trainers who sell a Holstein maintain their quality and height by setting conformation and minimum height standards for both stallions and mares. This means that any riders planning to buy a Holstein know their chosen horses are the outcome of highly selective breeding by experts. Black, dark bay and brown coat colours predominate, though there are chestnut and grey Holsteins as well. Pinto, spotted and palomino colours are viewed as non-Holstein colouring, though this is complicated by the fact that one Holstein sire did produce palomino and buckskin (dun) horses. Above all, Holsteins are athletes with great scope, or span, in jumping. Their athleticism can be seen in the bascule - the elevated, rounded jump that clears obstacles with ease and grace. It shows in their active, extended movement, too, which is often described as “elastic”.
Origin and history of breeding Holsteins
The modern Holstein is a warmblood. This means it carries the genes of horses that are described as hot-blooded, such as the Arab horse, as well as “cold-blooded” ancestry from northern European types. Horses from Holstein played a key role throughout some of Europe’s most troubled times. As with so many European breeds, some of the earliest ancestors of the Holstein were probably wild or semi-feral stock, running in the marshes alongside the Elbe River. The recorded history of a breed here begins with a reference in 1285 to horses bred by monks, who were given permission to graze their horses on land near their monastery at Uetersen. In the 1300s, there is a record of a donation by the monks of two young horses to the local landowners at Neumünster. Monastic bred horses for warfare were an important part of the European economy. During the 16th and 17th centuries, as Neapolitan and Spanish warhorses gradually replaced medieval destriers, breeders in Schleswig-Holstein adapted and thrived. A royal stud was established at Esserom by Christian V in the 17th century, and the famous white horses began to be bred. In the early 1800s, with a demand for carriage and coach horses increasing, Yorkshire Coach Horse stallions were imported. For much of their history, Schleswig and Holstein were independent duchies. When Prussia annexed them in the 19th century, the Prussians established the Traventhal Stud. Today, the German Holsteiner Verband strictly controls the quality of the breed, and the results speak for themselves, with Holstein horses consistently performing and winning at Olympic level.
Holsteins in equestrianism
During the 19th and 20th centuries, horses of many breeds, including the grey Anglo-Arab Ramzes AA, the TB Cottage Son XX, and the Selle Français Cor de la Bryére, contributed to the breeding programme. The history of the Holstein horse is a textbook example of how experienced breeders successfully adapt to meet changing needs.