Name of breed: Trakehner
Country of origin: East Prussia (now Germany)
Breed origin: The Trakehner breed was originally developed at the East Prussian state stud farm in the town of Trakehnen, from which the breed takes its name. The state stud was established in 1731, and between 1817 and 1837, Arabian, Thoroughbred and Turkoman (today’s Akhal-Teke) horses were crossed with the stud horses to further develop the Trakehner breed. East Prussian farmers were also encouraged to bring their mares, known for their hardiness and quality, to Trakehnen’s stallions. This enabled the rapid transformation of the breed into much sought-after army horses: sure-footed, intelligent and athletic. And unlike in other regions in Germany, the horse of Trakehnen was never intended as an agricultural animal: it was bred purely as an athlete. That being said, the local farmers whose mares were covered by Trakehner stallions used their horses for farm work, a practice that was encouraged because it gave the breed the toughness required to remain sound through the challenges of military life.
To classify as a Trakehner, a horse had to have Trakehner, Arabian, Anglo-Arab or Thoroughbred parents. This led to the Trakehner’s notable superiority in equestrian sports and in the military, the latter providing the primary market for the breed. However, in 1919, the Treaty of Versailles limited Germany’s army to 100,000 troops, so breeders focused on producing stronger and more versatile horses. This saw the introduction of sires of heavier build and conformation. It was during the 1920s and 1930s that the breed was recognised for its performance abilities in competitive equestrian disciplines, with the ‘East Prussian warmblood’ as it was commonly referred to dominating on the racetrack, in the hunting field and at the Olympics.
Both World War I and World War II were devastating to Trakehner numbers, with many that didn’t see the battlefield abandoned in what was then East Prussia as the invasion of the Russian Army forced most locals to evacuate. After World War II, dedicated breeders began the colossal task of reviving the breed, tracking down individual horses all over Prussia and eventually forming the West German Association of Breeders and Friends of the Warmblood Horse of Trakehner Origin, now known as the Trakehner Verband (‘Trakehner Association’). Together, small breeders and equestrians with a passion for the breed re-established both the breed’s numbers and its reputation. Since its revival, the Trakehner has been an increasingly popular sporthorse around the world, appearing regularly on the leaderboards for showjumping, dressage and eventing.
Distinguishing features: Due to its Thoroughbred and Arabian ancestry, the Trakehner has a rectangular build, with a long sloping shoulder, powerful hindquarters and a well-set neck. It is known for its ‘floating trot’, with excellent impulsion and suspension. The breed is athletic and easily trained, with impressive stamina and soundness. It is considered to be the lightest and most refined of the warmblood breeds, and in some cases the most spirited. The Trakehner stands between 15.2-17 hands high and can be almost any colour, although solid-coloured Trakehners form the vast majority.
Modern day Trakehner: While they compete in nearly all equestrian disciplines, Trakehners are particularly prized in the dressage arena due to their sensitivity, intelligence and wonderful movement. Trakehners also tend to do better in the sport of eventing than most other warmblood breeds due to their light build. As a distinctive, true-to-type sporthorse, the Trakehner is also frequently used to refine and improve other breeds. It has had a notable influence on the Holsteiner, the Westphalian, the Hanoverian, the Oldenburg, and Dutch, Danish and Swedish Warmbloods.
Some famous Trakehners include Peron, who anchored the US team to an Olympic Bronze in 1996 at Atlanta; Abdulla, who was famous for his show jumping team gold and individual silver at the 1984 Olympics and his 1985 World Cup win; Heuriger, the 1994 show jumping team silver medalist at the 1994 World Equestrian Games; and Windfall PG 2, who was a member of the bronze medal-winning USA team at the 2004 Athens Olympics.
Image credits: Horse Know It All, Baden Württemberg, Pinterest, The Chronicle of the Horse / Lisa Slade.