The Hanoverian Horse Breed
The Hanoverian horse is arguably the most successful and well known of all the German warmbloods perhaps even of all the European warmblood breeds. It is an iconic sports horse noted for its fine conformation, athletic ability and performance record; as a modern athlete to compete in either dressage or show jumping, you could not want for more.
The Hanoverian is more modern than some of the European breeds perhaps because its specific creation was to provide a lighter working horse than the then available draught animals. The breed was created in 1735 in Celle by George II, King of England and Elector of Hanover. Crosses of Spanish and Neapolitan horses were used followed by the Thoroughbred. This then produced a lighter horse which could function on the battlefield, but also be put into harness and was still strong enough to work on the farm. The official studbook was started in 1888.
After the Second World War, as with many breeds, any military use was long gone and agriculture was becoming mechanised so the focus changed to producing a riding horse. Thoroughbred blood was used again to lighten the frame and enhance performance. The modern Hanoverian can actually claim direct descendancy from the three founders of the Thoroughbred horse, the Darley and Godolphin Arabians and the Byerley Turk. Trakenhers were also used in the mix. The result is a fit for purpose sports horse which over the years has been subject to rigorous performance testing to produce an athlete fit to compete. Emphasis is placed not just on physical conformation and appearance but also temperament and behaviour which is just as crucial to successful performance. The Hanoverian has light, round cadenced gaits with natural impulsion beloved of dressage judges and offering a natural bascule for show jumping.
Hanoverians are most commonly associated with the two disciplines of dressage and show jumping at which they excel. There have been numerous, famous examples of this breed over the years in both disciplines. FEI statistics demonstrate that the Hanoverian is the top performing breed across all the nations in international dressage and is consistently in the top five breeds of successful show jumpers. They are seen less frequently in eventing as speed has not been the primary driver in their breeding. Interestingly though, since changes have been made to the higher levels of the three day event in the cross country phase, i.e. the loss of the steeplechase and the roads and tracks so that the event is now described as “short format”, more modern warmbloods have been creeping in. Their growing presence is also attributed to the ever more stringent requirements of the other two elements of eventing namely dressage and show jumping at which the Hanoverian excels. So it is now not so uncommon to see the Hanoverian as an event horse.
Hanoverian horses all bear a brand which is the distinctive back to back letter H for Hanover; this has remained unchanged since the breed’s inception in 1735. The breed has truly impressive progeny records which many other breeds simply cannot rival and this, coupled with stringent inspections and performance testing, is why the Hanoverian has become so successful as a competition horse. Hanoverians are known to be robust in health as their continued selected breeding has tended to remove undesirable inherited defects such as poor feet and other disease related issues.
Hanoverian horses are easy to source in the UK as they are a popular breed due to their success as sports horses. The British Hanoverian Horse Society gives a lot of information about the breed and registration requirements on its website. The BHHS is a full daughter society of the Hanoverian Warmblood Breeders’ Association in Germany so Hanoverians which are bred here are eligible for the same performance testing and inspection as their German counterparts.
However, for the real Hanoverian experience, travel to the auctions at Verden in Germany. There are several auctions held each year where top quality Hanoverian stock is available to purchase, from foals right through the age range to older horses. Horses to be offered through the auctions are brought to Verden about four weeks ahead of the sale for pre auction training and health screening ensuring that only the very elite is offered for sale.