Hanoverian Horse Origin and Characteristics

The Hanoverian Horse is a warmblood breed that originated in Germany. It is a competitive breed which excels in numerous events and international competitions. One can often see this breed competing in the Olympics, where it regularly wins gold medals.

It is the oldest and most populous of the warmblood breeds. From a competitive standpoint, it is also the most successful warmblood breed.

The Hanoverian was originally intended to be a carriage horse. Over the years, breeders worked to make the breed more agile, creating a lighter and more athletic body profile. With Thoroughbred bloodlines infused into it, the Hanoverian has the spirit of an athletic horse, with a milder temperament, and added grace that makes it an excellent competitor in show jumping events.

The History of the Hanoverian Horse

The story of the Hanoverian Horse begins with George II, who was King of England in 1735. He was also the Elector of Hanover. That year, he purchased a group of stallions that could be used for all-purpose needs, from farm work to being in the harness. The goal was to create a breeding program that would produce exceptional cavalry mounts.

Throughout the 18th century, additional breeds were brought into this stable to refine the horses that were being foaled. Prussians, Neapolitans, Holsteiners, Mecklenburgs, Andalusians, and Thoroughbreds were all incorporated into the stable. By 1800, a formalized Hanoverian breed was established and it was widely thought to be a world-class coach horse.

To protect the authenticity of the breed, laws were passed in 1844 to prevent uninspected stallions from being able to breed.  A generation later, a breeding society was formed to help produce horses that would perform well as a coach horse or a war horse. The first Hanoverian stud book was established in 1888 and it would become one of the most popular breeds in Europe because of its characteristics.

Following the end of the first global war, the demand for a Hanoverian began to decline. Mechanization was taking over the transportation industry, so the goal of breeding began to focus on agricultural traits. By the end of the second global war, the equine world shifted from work horses to sport horses. The Hanoverian adapted to this change as well, which helped the breed avoid the threat of extinction that many other breeds faced during this era.

Part of the reason why the breed has been so adaptable is that the breed association has rewarded those who have been able to produce high-quality horses that meet current expectations. Auctions are regularly held and grading opportunities for all horses help to separate the best horses from the rest. That fetches breeders a higher price at the auctions, providing an incentive to breed the best possible traits and gaits.

What is unique about the Hanoverian breed is that any horse with the preferred characteristics can come into the breed. There are strict selection processes in place to prevent poor-quality horses from this practice, allowing any horse with good athletic or jumping skills to be considered. The Hanoverian breed society specifically recommends the pedigrees for the East Friesian stud book as they match the same expectations of the Hanoverian stud book.

English Thoroughbreds may also be brought into the Hanoverian breed if they reach licensing score threshold of 7. Additional stallions may be approved if they have a breeding value of 120 in dressage or jumping, at least 100 riding horse points, and have a licensing score of 7.5. Young stallions may be given an exception if they have an exceptional performance record, but are not old enough to have a calculated breeding value. 

Characteristics of the Hanoverian Horse

Hanoverians can be somewhat tall for a warmblood horse, with a range of 15.3-17.2 hands high possible. Most horses are around 16 hands high when they reach their adult years.

The typical Hanoverian has a profile that is strong, robust, but still elegant. The head is somewhat plain, but the neck is strong, long, and supportive of its powerful body. The girth should be deep, with hindquarters that are strong, and the movement displayed should be one that supports a long stride and powerful actions.

Most individuals within the breed are willing and easy to train, while maintaining a strong competitive spirit. They have strong limbs, purposeful movements, and a back that is exceptionally strong. Hanoverians retain the strong skeletal structures that were bred into the breed in its initial days, creating a robust horse that has an excellent disposition. 

The Hanoverian should have good activity of the mouth. It should respond well to aids, cooperate with the rider, and offer comfort while in the saddle. The shoulder should be long and sloping, with pronounced withers extending far and back, connected to a pointing top line that is slightly downward. This should create a frame for the horse that is rectangular, long-legged, but somewhat compact with a top line that is harmonious to the overall appearance of the horse. 

The tail carriage should be straight and not be deep-set or wagging. 

Purebred Hanoverians come in a variety of coat colors, including palomino, buckskin, and cremello. Society regulations prohibit horses with too many white markings or those who could register as a color breed from being part of the stud book. Bay, gray, black, and chestnut are the most common coat colors that are allowed.

Stringent inspections maintain the quality of the characteristics found in the Hanoverian horse. Every individual is carefully inspected and only those with the correct conformation can be registered. Disposition and trainability are part of the inspection process. A Hanoverian who meets every physical conformation, but fails when its inner qualities are inspected, is restricted from the registry.

The gait of the horse is also part of the inspection process. A Mare Performance Test has been developed to look at the jumping talent, gait, and rideability of the horse. Mares that score high may qualify to be given an “Elite” designation, but must also produce a registered foal within three years of their inspection.

Stallions have a 70-day test which must be completed, which includes an inspection of the gait as well.

Each Hanoverian should have a gait that is somewhat elastic, light, but still strong and purposeful. It should be able to perform a floating trot and have a rhythmic canter that is round and soft.

Since 1995, there are two organizations that complete the mandatory inspections. The American Hanoverian Society, which was formed in 1978, maintains continuity with the German Hanoverian Verband to license and test stallions, registers horses, and perform inspections by hosting an annual meeting with the combined organizations.

Are There Any Health Concerns with a Hanoverian Horse?

The inspection process that the Hanoverian breed societies initiate every year helps to prevent horses with carrier traits from being part of the breeding pool. This has led to a breed that is generally healthy from an overall perspective.

One common condition that does affect the Hanoverian is Osteochondrosis. This condition affects the cartilage and bones in the joints of a growing horse. The fetlocks tend to be the most affected, but the stifle and hock of the hind leg are known to be affected as well. About 1 in 10 Hanoverians have Osteochondrosis in the hock joint, while up to 1 in4 may have it in a fetlock joint.

To limit this issue, all stallions must be free of Osteochondrosis to be issued a breeding license. Mares must meet this expectation to be awarded an Elite designation. To determine if the horse has Osteochondrosis, a radiograph must be performed. 

The Importance of the Hanoverian Auctions

There is a minimum of 10 auctions that are held annually for Hanoverian breeders. The first was held in 1949 in Verden, while the largest auction is now held in Niedersachensenhalle annually in a practice that dates to 1972. Auctions in April and October tend to provide the best prices, with Elite horses bringing the best value.

To participate in the auctions, a Hanoverian must be delivered to the venue 4 weeks in advance of the event. During this time, the horse with go through radiographic testing, be thoroughly screened and evaluated, and go through rigorous training processed. The horses that perform well can easily top $500,000, with many horses selling for more than $100,000 at these events.

The record price for a Hanoverian at one of the auctions is $1.125 million, which occurred in 2008 when Lemony’s Nicket was sold.

Shows and fairs help to supplement the rewards of the auctions for those who breed Hanoverian horses. Regional clubs host more than 700 stallion candidates so that the top performers can be selected for licensing. District clubs set up events to find exceptional foals or stallions for candidacy or auction participation. Mares must participate in these shows to have a chance at being included with the stud book.

Monetary prizes are available these shows for the finest mares. The Louis Wiegels show, which is held once every 2 years, is thought to be one of the most prestigous events that a Hanoverian can win.