Memories come flooding back to me when I think of my first encounter with Dutch horses, back in the early 70’s. I remember thinking “they’re common, pretty ugly – don’t look like riding horses”.
Not so strange, because after the second world war, tractors and other machinery took the place of work horses like the Gelderlanders and the Groningers, and people started to ride for pleasure, so these work horses had another role to play.
As most of the horses belonged to farmers and their families, local riding clubs were formed for them and simple facilities like outdoor schooling areas were made for putting the horses through their paces in dressage and jumping. Quite often, these horses had two jobs to do, during the week farm duties and in the weekend trying to win rosettes at shows.
Realizing it was necessary to transform these working horses into modern sport horses, English Thoroughbred stallions were imported to cover the mares, and bring more blood and quality to their progeny.
In nearly all the countries of the world where organized horse breeding takes place, there are large state or privately owned studs where several graded stallions and an abundance of selected brood mares are housed, but predominantly, the horse breeding in Holland at that time was in the hands of the farmers.
As you travelled through the countryside, you saw pregnant mares everwhere in the small, often grubby fields next to the farms. It looked like every farmer who had a mare, whatever shape or size, was breeding from it.
The descendants from these horses were also used for breeding, and stallions from other stud books like from Germany or France, were also introduced and used.
Slowly but surely, the warmblood horse like we know it now, started to emerge.
The KWPN stud book came into existence, and things became more controlled. Nowadays, great care is taken in grading the stallions, and the broodmares get certified, their own success and that of their progeny being taken into consideration.
It’s really amazing how these Dutch warmblood horses originated from horses that were working on the farms only a few generations before, and have become so successful in all fields of horse sports, worldwide.
Altogether, we really should congratulate the Dutch farmers who managed to turn “an ugly duckling into a beautiful swan” !