Hanoverian Horse

  • HEIGHT: 16–17.2 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Germany
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Spectacular movement, tremendous athletic ability
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Show jumping, dressage, combined driving, show and field hunters

Strong, elegant horses of noble bearing have been selectively bred in Hannover, Germany, for more than four hundred years. By the year 1517, Germany was known either as the German Empire or, more commonly, as the Holy Roman Empire. The emperor had lost much of his authority during the great church versus state conflicts of the twelfth century. Further political challenges arose because the empire consisted of some three hundred states. Some, like Saxony, were large; others, such as the Palatinate, were quite small; while others were mere city-states. The rulers of these states differed in rank from kings (Bohemia) to dukes (Saxony).

During these politically disunited times, many dukes maintained private stud farms, where local farmers bred their mares to produce cavalry horses. Horses were also exported to Sweden and England for military use. Though the local type was recognized for its quality quite early, crosses to Spanish and Neapolitan stallions improved the breed. The stud in Memsen, founded in 1653, bred excellent cream-colored coach horses for the nobles of the house of Hannover. These elegant carriage horses signified the height of fashion and grew quite famous throughout Europe for their color, good gaits, and ability as driving horses. They achieved even greater visibility as the horses of the British royal family in the nineteenth century.

Hanoverians are strong, elegant horses of noble bearing.

Influence of King George I

The Hanoverian became established as a true breed rather than a general type when Ludwig George, Elector of Hannover, became King George I of England in 1714. His ascension to the throne strengthened the commercial connection between Hannover and England, and horses were freely traded between the two. In 1727, when George II ascended to the throne of England, he remained Elector of Hannover. He wanted to improve horse breeding in Hannover to benefit his subjects, and he needed to develop Hannover’s military strength against the threat of France’s power. A rivalry developed with his brother-in-law, Freiderich Wilhelm I of Prussia, who established a royal stud at Trakehenen in 1732. In 1735, George II established the state stud at Celle in northern Germany, which still stands, and the next year, thirteen or fourteen carefully selected black stallions from Holstein arrived.

World-class athletes, this breed has won numerous Olympic medals.

The breeding goals at the time were determined by the needs of the army and of agriculture. To ensure that the breed would continue to improve, state-sponsored studs like the one at Celle offered the services of top stallions for low fees to local farmers who maintained small bands of broodmares. Today, German farmers still produce top-quality foals from crossing their mares with carefully selected state-owned stallions. Many mares are used exclusively as broodmares, while the majority of riding and competition horses are geldings and stallions.

Through George II’s influence, the breed became closely linked with the Thoroughbred in England. Hanoverians descend from Eclipse, Herod, and Matchem, as do English Thoroughbreds. George II established races for Hanoverians and lines of Hanoverian racehorses in the mid-eighteenth century.

By 1748, the Hannoverian stud had established seventeen stallion stations throughout the region so that local farmers had access to the best stallions. Because of the great popularity of the breed, many privately owned stallions stood at stud as well. In 1776, the state assumed authority from the king to operate the stud. Managers improved the breed with infusions of English Thoroughbred, Cleveland Bay, Pommern (from Pomerania, which is now in Poland), Mecklenburg, and Yorkshire Coach Horses. Two types of horses evolved: a heavier type for pulling coaches and artillery and a lighter type for riding and the cavalry.

In 1844, the state implemented a system of exclusive licensing of approved stallions to reduce the number of low-quality, privately owned stallions. In 1894, the rules for stallions became stricter, with new rigid demands for conformation and pedigree before licenses were issued. The first breed society for the hugely popular breed was formed in 1867, and the studbook was established in 1888. In the last decades of the nineteenth century, state stallions covered 34,000 mares each year.

The Modern Hanoverian

As with many breeds, the Hanoverian’s role has had to change with the times. At the end of the nineteenth century, breeders were producing primarily excellent cavalry and artillery horses with straight, ground-covering gaits. Because the horses were also used on farms, a secondary requirement was that every horse be able to pull a plow, making a furrow 30 centimeters deep. After World War II decimated the numbers of horses and greatly hastened the switch to mechanized farming, breeders had to shift to producing riding and competition horses, disciplines in which the Hanoverian excels.

Hanoverians are widely imported into North America, as well as being routinely bred here. (Although in Germany the breed name is spelled “Hannoverian,” in North America it is customary to use only one n.) Before being accepted for breeding, North American stallions must undergo an inspection, testing, and approval process designed to be rigorous, similar to the system in Germany.

Breed Characteristics

Hanoverians are world-class athletes. The gaits are long, straight, and elastic, with tremendous power coming from behind. Worldwide, Hanoverians are the most popular of any warmblood breed. They are consistently present at top world shows and represented on many Olympic teams, particularly in dressage and show jumping but also in combined driving. In the United States, they are also commonly found among the top ranks at hunter shows.

The gaits are long and straight, with power coming from behind.

Conformation

Hanoverians stand 16 to 17.2 hands, with good bone and muscle in proportion to their size. They weigh between 1,200 and 1,300 pounds. The head is sometimes plain, usually with a straight profile. The long, muscular neck is well set on the sloping and powerful shoulders. The body is deep with extremely powerful hindquarters. A Hanoverian should be a strong, well-made horse with good feet.

Color

Typical coloring is chestnut, but bay, brown, and black are also found. Grays are allowed but not favored in Germany. White markings on the face and lower legs are common.

BREED ASSOCIATION FACTS AND FIGURES

According to the American Hanoverian Society (founded in 1978):

  • There are 7,955 horses in the North American Registry. • About 500 foals are registered each year.