Use and characteristics of the Trakehner
The Trakehner is a medium weight warmblood with a compact, rectangular outline. Standing between 16 hands (64 inches/163 cm) and 17 hands (68 inches/173 cm) in height, the predominant colour is chestnut, though they can also be bay, black, brown or grey. They have excellent saddle horse conformation and move very freely, which are significant assets for those who buy a Trakehner for competing. The breed is famous for its “floating trot”. They are even-tempered horses and have all the other qualities that represent rideability. There are local variations in type, and so in Poland, for instance, when vendors sell a Trakehner it is likely to be somewhat larger and stronger than those in the USA or Germany.
Origin and history of breeding Trakehners
A little-known fact about the fascinating Trakehner breed is that technically it originated in Lithuania! It was originally known as the East Prussian horse, or East Prussian Warmblood of Trakehner Origin, since at the time of its creation Lithuania was part of East Prussia. The Lithuanian Schweiken was one of the foundation breeds, and this type is believed to have been the descendant of horses belonging to both the Scythians and Mongols. These ancient equestrian cultures of the Russian steppes and central Asia were famed for their horsemanship and the toughness of their horses. In medieval times, East Prussia was the territory of the formidable Knights of the Teutonic Order, who established important stud farms in the region. Building on these centuries of skill and knowledge, King Frederick William I of Prussia, father of Frederick the Great, began a progressive breeding programme in the early 1700s. The intention was to raise quality horses for the army since a new type was required due to changes in warfare over the previous century. He established the stud at Trakehnen with a selection of his best horses, adding Thoroughbred, Turkoman and Arab blood. Breeding and improvement continued after the king’s death and by the late nineteenth century, the Trakehner was recognised as an outstanding cavalry mount. They were also used for general farm work. Having survived both the Napoleonic and First World Wars, the Trakehner breed nearly came to a disastrous end as WWII came to its conclusion. Caught in the middle between the advancing Russian army and the western allies, the stud was ordered to evacuate. The staff fled with their Trakehner horses towards the west, only to have many of their beautiful animals die of cold, wounds or starvation. Only 100 horses survived the Trek from the stud, although some in private hands also survived. In Poland and Russia post-war breeding also continued. From the 1950s onward, a concerted effort was made to restore the breed in the west from these few survivors, with great success.
Trakehners in equestrianism
In the early decades of the twentieth century, the Trakehner was one of the outstanding Olympic-standard sports horses. Trakehners perform well at eventing. In Britain, Downlands Cancara, a famous black Trakahener was used in an advertising campaign.