Great horse breeds: The Hanoverian

By Carole Mortimer on |


The Hanoverian is one of the best known horse breeds and has long dominated the dressage world

The Hanoverian is perhaps the best known of all the warmblood horse types and breeds and its studbook (The Hannoveraner Verband) is the oldest and largest of the European warmbloods. It is currently the world-number-two horse in dressage and eventing.

In dressage especially, Hanoverians have long dominated the international stage; Gigolo the former Olympic, double World and four-time European Champion with Isabell Werth was Hanoverian, as is the German dressage team stallion Desperados (pictured above with rider Kristina Broring-Sprehe), who was a close second at this year’s FEI European Championships behind Charlotte Dujardin and Valegro.

Closer to home, the British-bred phenomenon Farouche, bred by Lynne Crowden of the Woodlander Stud and ridden by Michael Eilberg to consecutive World Young Horse Championships and the current intermediaire I national champion is Hanoverian, as is the successful, British-bred former team horse Half Moon Delphi and her sire, the British-owned stallion Dimaggio, winner of the World Young Horse Championships in 2000.

These British horses are registered with the British Hanoverian Horse Society (BHHS), a daughter society of the German studbook, which means it follows the same rules and regulations, especially regarding the grading of stallions and mares and registration of foals.

The history of the Hanoverian horse breed

The Hanoverian was simply the name given to horses bred and registered in the German district of Hannover, originally at the state stud at Celle. This famous stud was founded in 1735 by George II to provide stallions for local breeders, so they could breed strong, fit-for purpose agricultural horses. The stud still stands around 150 stallions and every year, during September, attracts hundreds of visitors to its renowned displays, which are well worth seeing.

In 1922, 54 local breeding clubs joined together to create the studbook that is known today.
This is now the largest breeding area in Europe, with around 18,000 broodmares and over 400 hundred stallions, and each year will register around 12,000 foals. The best horses are sold at the Hanoverian Elite auctions in Verden, the home of the studbook. Recently, they held their annual stallion licensing at which 106 pre-selected two-year-old colts – from around 700 candidates – were presented, with 60 of them being licensed. The sale afterwards saw one of them – an un-named colt by Rocky Lee – sell to Denmark for 1.2 million euro, setting a new sale price record in Verden.

Hanoverian breeding today

Hanoverian breeding is strictly controlled and all mares and stallions must be approved for it. Stallions have to pass a strict assessment and before being granted full approval must also pass a performance test at a specific test centre where they are continually assessed for a month. Not all stallions pass the performance test. The verband also updates the type of horse they are breeding by selecting the model and pedigree of the stallions it approves. For example a stallion may fail simply because they already have many stallions of the same bloodlines or they consider the pedigree old-fashioned.

In recent years the Hanoverian, which, because of its agricultural origin, was quite a heavy horse, has become more elegant and lighter in the frame and type – thus becoming more suitable for eventing. This was achieved by using thoroughbreds in the breeding programmes, many of which were sourced in the UK. These thoroughbreds also had to pass the grading and performance testing.

One particular influential British thoroughbred was Lauries Crusader who, despite a moderate career on the British racetrack, became a successful sire in Hannover – one of his important attributes was a trainable temperament. He stood at Celle for 23 years, during which time he sired over 2,700 foals, 264 state premium mares and left 55 graded sons. In 2006 he was proclaimed ‘stallion of the year’ — the first non-Hanoverian to be awarded the title.

What you need to know about buying a Hanoverian

However, prospective buyers do not have to go to Germany to buy a Hanoverian as there are many breeders of Hanoverians in the UK. Studs such as Westoak (Derbyshire), Witcham House (Cambridgeshire), Woodlander (Leicestershire), Hawtins and Court Farm (both in Gloucestershire) breed Hanoverians and there is a list of breeders on the website of the British Hanoverian Horse Society.

Hanoverians are suitable for all disciplines – although, these days, they are often specifically discipline-bred using proven bloodlines, which also will determine the suitability of the horse for different levels of rider. Not all Hanoverians are suitable for novices as they have been bred to be sharper and more responsive for the experienced rider. It is therefore important to know what you are looking for and seek help and guidance from a breeder when looking to buy a Hanoverian horse.

For more information, visit:
Celle State Stud

The Hanoverian Verband

The British Hanoverian Horse Society

Image: Kristina Bröring-Sprehe and the Hanoverian horse Desperados FRH at the FEI European Championships in Aachen 2015, by Hippo Foto – Dirk Caremans, courtesy of the FEI


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