The Oldenburg horse comes from the Lower Saxony region of France. The area is in the northwestern corner of the region, in the area that was once the Grand Duchy of Oldenburg. Built on a breed history of all-purpose horses, there are two types of horses in the breed: the “old” type and the “modern” type.
Strict breeding stock regulations are in place for the Oldenburg breed to maintain the desired characteristics of each horse. The goal is to make sure that each generation within this breed is better than the last. For the old-type horse, the goal is to maintain the ancient characteristics that have been consistently popular.
For the modern-type horse, the goal is to create a tall sport horse that jumps well and has superb gaits.
There are very liberal pedigree requirements within this breed. It is also one of the few breeds from the area that only use privately-owned stallions. No state-owned restrictions from government-owned stud farms are in place.
The History of the Oldenburg Horse
The Frisian coast had difficult, heavy soil that needed to be tilled for crops to grow. The horses in the Oldenburg region, up until the 17th century, were relatively small, but they were strong. The taller horses with calm temperament were often trained as war horses, which meant the smaller warmblood horses were all that were left for the agricultural work.
Organized breeding for the Oldenburg horse began in the 16th century thanks to the efforts of Count Johann XVI. He imported horses from Denmark, refined Turkish horses in his possession, and brought in Andalusians and Neapolitans to create his own breeding stock. Johann’s successor, Count Anton Gunther, brought in horses with excellent characteristics from his travels to work on the breeding program as well.
Beginning in the early 18th century, stallion inspections for horses in the region began. These inspections were finally incorporated into the Oldenburg area in 1755 and became mandatory in 1820. This allowed the Oldenburg breed to begin forming with consistent characteristics.
As the need for war horses declined, a preference to refine the Oldenburg breed into a sport horse began. Horses with sporting characteristics became the preference for stallion inspections, with a personality that was competitive, but still willing and even. Not everyone wanted to follow the sporting track, however, and wanted to keep the breed closer to its sporting roots.
That created two distinct stud books for the breed: the Ostfriesen, or Alt-Oldenburger, and then the official Oldenburg breed.
Yet with all this development happening, there were still challenges that faced this breed. It didn’t have the support of a state-owned stud farm, so the original Oldenburgs were at the mercy of breeder preferences. It wouldn’t be until 1923 when the Oldenburg stud book merged with the Ostfriesen stud book to create the modern breeders’ association.
As mechanization took over in the 1940s, the role of the Alt-Oldenburger shifted. There was no longer a need for even sporting-type horses. This led the breed to produce riding horses through the combined stud book. Foreign stallions were imported to the region to improve the physical characteristics of the breed, including Thoroughbred and Anglo-Norman bloodlines.
Today, several different warmblood breeds are still accepted by the Oldenburg association to help modernize the breed. Since the 1970s, bloodlines from Wesphalian, Holsteiner, Hanoverian, and Dutch Warmbloods, among many others, have helped to refine the modern Oldenburg.
There are currently 200+ approved sires and 7,000+ mares that are approved as modern Oldenburg horses. Many of the mare lines can be traced to the older Alt-Oldenburger stud book, which makes them a sought-after commodity in the equine world.
Characteristics of the Oldenburg Horse
The modern Oldenburg is still branded, with an O and a crown band that is placed on the left hip. If the horse comes through the international Oldenburg program, then the brand is an S with an incomplete O that has been crowned. All Oldenburg names include the last two numbers of the horse’s life number and branding must take place before the age of 2.
An alternative form of branding includes microchipping, though this practice is only used relatively little.
Because of the liberal breeding practices that are incorporated with this breed, the characteristics of an Oldenburg can vary greatly. Most Oldenburgs are described through their lineage and parentage bloodlines more than their physical characteristics as a general breed. The main common points that Oldenburgs share are long legs, especially on the modern-type, and an expressive head.
The ideal Oldenburg will usually stand a minimum of 16 hands high, but there have been several stallions and a few mares that have exceeded 17.2 hands.
Coat coloring has also been quite liberal within this breed, especially when compared to other warmblood breeds. There are 8 tobiano pinto stallions that have been approved for breeding. Most Oldenburg horses will be brown, black, or chestnut, but bay and gray is fairly common as well.
What is most notable about the characteristics of the Oldenburg breed is its elastic gait. The actual gaits are quite variable and thought to be an expression of the individual horse, but each Oldenburg should have a gait that is suitable for sport. Most Oldenburgs will have three straight gaits when viewed from the back or the front. The canter is adjustable, while the trot is active and the walk is noticeably diligent.
Oldenburgs are scored on their temperament as well, which is unique in an era when the trend is to create independent, hotblood horses from warmblood breeds. All temperaments are accepted within the breed, however, so the goal of inspection and scoring is to provide information to potential owners or breeders only.
How Oldenburg Horses Are Used Today
Most Oldenburg horses are too slow for eventing, though an exception is possible if the horse was directly sired by a Thoroughbred. As a breed, they are most successful at show jumping. They learn patterns quickly and tend to be cautious, which, when combined with their power, makes them a consistent performer on virtually any course.
Oldenburgs are also quite successful in dressage. In recent years, they have been a Top 3 breed in the dressage ring in world rankings.
The Oldenburg horse has come a long way since its time being a farm horse in Lower Saxony. The modern breed today would be difficult to recognize when compared to the horses in this breed’s ancestry. Although there aren’t many consistent characteristics with the Oldenburg, that is actually a formula for future success.
There won’t be any genetic roadblocks with this breed in the future. Specific characteristics are being bred into each new generation, improving the breed every time. In the next few decades, the Oldenburg may very well become one of the best-performing horse breeds in the world.