The Netherlands has been a popular place to create or improve horse breeds for several hundred years. Many modern breeds have foundation stock that comes from the genetics of Dutch horse breeds. Here are the primary breeds that are known to have originated in the Netherlands.
#1. Dutch Harness Horse
Sometimes called the Tuigpaard, this is a warmblooded horse that is typically used as a fine driving horse. Its development is only fairly recent, with efforts beginning after the end of the Second World War. It is a breed that is based on the Gelderland and Groningen, with strict selection procedures in place that help to control the breeding process.
The population of this horse is not very large. There are an estimated 40 sires that are listed in the Royal Warmblood Horse Studbook of the Netherlands. Another 2,000 broodmares are also approved.
Most of the horses in this breed remain in the Netherlands, though since 2010, there are a few Dutch Harness Horses that have been imported to North America. The most notable feature of the horse is its expressive head, set on a neck that is quite high, and with shoulders that are uniform, powerful, and quite long.
It is a high-stepping trotting breed with strict conformations in terms of medical issues. This includes a radiographic exam of their joints as the presence of OCD disallows the horse to be bred. This has helped the breed to be healthy and sound, but it also causes inbreeding to be a concern.
#2. Dutch Heavy Draft Horse
The Nederland Trekpaard is a heavy draft horse that was developed after the First World War to help with agricultural and farm work. It is a breed that was first created by combining Brabant mares with Belgian Ardennes, which has causes the horse to look quite similar to the Brabant breed. Since 1925, no horses other than those from registered parents are allowed in the studbood for this breed.
The Dutch Heavy Draft Horse stands at 16 hands on average, with bay, gray, or chestnut coats the most common. It is a powerful, stocky horse that has strong shoulders and a straight profile. They are also highly intelligent, though with a calm temperament, and they tend to have a working life that is quite long.
Despite their size, these horses tend to be quite active and willing to try almost everything. Their physical care needs are often quite low as well, making them an economical horse to own. Most of the horses in this breed remain in the Netherlands.
#3. Dutch Warmblood
The breeding program for the Dutch Warmblood did not begin until the late 1960s. There is no upper height limit for this breed, though it is primarily used for sport and competition, so tall horses are somewhat impractical from an ownership standpoint. Mares must stand at a minimum of 15.2 hands, while stallions must be at least 15.3 hands.
Most of the Dutch Warmbloods are bay, grey, chestnut, black, or brown. One approved stallion within the breed was a tobiano, so there are some white markings within some of the lineage, though additional tobiano stallions have not been approved.
The initial emphasis of the breeding for the Dutch Warmblood was to create a solid riding horse. With a shift toward more competitive events, the breed is now focused on creating dressage and jumping horses. Those with the most desirable traits for showmanship tend to have the studbook priority.
There are stringent requirements in place for this breed, which has led it to be a fairly sound and healthy breed. Congenital eye defects, bite issues, and a lack of symmetry disqualify a horse from breeding. Mild navicular changes are allowed, as is pastern arthritis.
Dutch Warmbloods are quite popular in the United States, especially as a hunter horse.
Throughout the Middle Ages, the Friesian was a horse that was highly sought as a war horse. Their size allowed for the carrying of a knight in full armor, while their stable personality allowed them to accomplish light drafting work in addition to remaining calm on battlefields. The breed has been close to extinction more than once, but is quite popular today and in no danger.
About 7% of the horses that are in the Netherlands today are Friesian horses. It is known for its high-stepping trot and an ability to carry itself with great elegance.
After the Second World War, the need for agricultural horses with this breed declined, causing the Friesian to become more of a recreational horse. They are used under saddle and in harness, with a particular emphasis placed on dressage. Because of their long-flowing mane and tail, they are also quite popular for ceremonial events.
Friesians are known to have four common genetic disorders that affect the breed as a whole. This includes a tendency for aortic rupture, a large esophagus, dwarfism, and hydrocephalus. Friesians are also more susceptible to insect bites than other breeds and tend to have digestive disorders more frequently.
Most Friesian horses stand at 15 hands, though the height range can vary from 14.2-17 hands. In order for a Friesian to be given a star-designation pedigree, the horse must stand at a minimum of 15.2 hands. Conformation judging is what creates the pedigree designation, so it is somewhat interpretive, but most have a low-set tail, sculpted shoulders, and a compact and muscular body.1
The Gelderland horse is a heavy warmblood breed that was originally developed in the southern regions of the Netherlands. Originally intended to be a carriage horse that was stylish, but also strong enough to perform agricultural work, this breed has seen a decline in popularity since the 1950s.
It has a high-stepping trot like most Dutch horse breeds, which has allowed the Gelderland horse to transition into competitive riding sports.
When breeding for sport first began, Gelderlanders were crossed with Thoroughbreds to create what would become a sport-register studbook for the crossed horses. They became so popular because of their temperament and sporting ability that the half-Gelderlanders soon were in-demand more than purebred horses from this breed.
If a half-Gelderlander was registered as a sporting horse and bred with a full Gelderlander, it was allowed to be registered as a purebred horse. Over time, due to the confusion that was created, the Gelderland horse registry was discontinued. Only recently has the Netherlands allowed an official breeding program to be reinstated with a small number of known purebred horses.
Most Gelderlanders are chestnut, but bay, grey, and black are also possible. White markings are extremely common with this breed, with most in the sabino pattern, though tobiano is also possible. Gelderland horses tend to have a head that is flat and long, with a convex profile, and a neck that typically shows a muscular arch. The tail is set high and the chest is deep and full.
Despite the hotblooded genetics that have been introduced to the breed, most Gelderlanders are calm, willing, and intelligent. This makes them a family-friendly horse that is very versatile, making it a popular breed to own.
This Dutch horse breed was originally developed for agricultural work and for light drafting duties. It is a breed that was almost lost in the mid-1900s because of the focus on creating the Dutch Warmblood breed, which left few purebred mares to help continue the breed. A recovery is currently active and operating successfully, so the breed is not believed to be in any danger at this point.
At one point, the Netherlands even revoked all of the breeding privileges for all Groningen stallions. Preservation efforts began in 1978 when the last purebred stallion was saved from a trip to the butcher. Local breeders pooled their resources and put together 20 purebred mares that could work with the single stallion In 1985, a private association was formed, which would be officially recognized in 1995.
The traits of the Groningen include a coldblooded temperament, allowing it to complete a substantial amount of farm or carriage work. It is powerful, with a high-set neck and a level topline. Much of its initial foundation comes from Friesians, so the resemblance is not imagined. Numerous European horses were also included in the early days of foundation lineage, eventually helping to create the standards that we see today. In the past, however, the Groningen was bred to be a heavier horse due to plowing and artillery-pulling needs.
Population numbers are understandably low today because of the recent efforts to save the breed. There are 25 approved stallions and over 400 approved mares. This means the greatest health concern for the breed is still inbreeding.
These Dutch horse breeds reflect the duty and care that the Netherlands has always placed on the development of each lineage. Although there have been shifts in breeding focus that have almost eliminated some breeds, those mistakes have been corrected so that each Dutch breed will have the opportunity to succeed in the modern world.