Logo American Trakehner Association


The Trakehner Horse - A History
by Patricia L. Goodman


It has been said that the Trakehner has everything everybody is looking for in a performance horse, and indeed, the breed's list of attributes certainly leads one to believe it. Trakehners have size, bone, and correctness of conformation, yet are extremely breedy and beautiful. They are very athletic, with magnificent movement that is comfortable, balanced, and free. And best of all, they have an ideal temperament - keen and alert, yet level-headed and able to take intense work. The popularity of this breed is growing at an astounding rate.

So what is this Trakehner? Where does it come from and what is it all about? The correct name for the breed is "the East Prussian Warmblood Horse of Trakehner Origin." It is one of the oldest European warmblood breeds with a history that reaches back more than 400 years. The breed is based on a small local East Prussian horse, the "Schwaike", of phenomenal endurance and versatility which, throughout the years, had been crossed with various larger "imported" stallions to provide mounts for warfare, for general transportation and for agricultural work.

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The Main Stud at Trakehnen

In the early 18th century, King Friedrich Wilhelm I of Prussia, the father of Friedrich the Great, began to see the need for a new type of cavalry mount for the Prussian army. War tactics had changed and now required a lighter, more comfortable horse with more endurance and speed than the heavier horses previously needed to carry armor and haul heavy equipment. The king wanted horses for his officers to ride, attractive enough to make them proud, solid enough to stay sound, with a comfortable, ground-covering trot that would enable them to travel quickly and efficiently. So he chose the best horses from seven of his royal breeding farms, and in 1732 moved them all to the new royal stud at Trakehnen, began selective breeding among them, and the Trakehner breed evolved.

When Count Lindenau took over the stud management in 1787, he instituted even stricter selection, eliminating two-thirds of the stallions and one-third of the broodmares. He also began to allow private breeders to bring their mares to be serviced by the royal stallions. Later, during the twenty years from 1817 to 1837, select English Thoroughbred and Arabian stallions were purchased and added to the breed, a practice that is still followed today under strict approval conditions by the West German Trakehner Verband. It is this carefully controlled addition of "full" blood that has given the Trakehner its characteristic breediness and refinement - the elegance and beauty that gives it the edge in stiff competition, and sets it apart from the other European warmblood breeds.

The first stud book of Trakehnen was published in 1877 and the first stud book compiled by the East Prussian Stud Book Society, which recorded the horses of Trakehner origin bred by private breeders in East Prussia, was published in 1890. These are the books to which we still look today for authentication of pedigrees.

Through the latter part of the 1800s and up to the Second World War, the Trakehner was a most successful breed, excelling as a military and endurance horse, as well as proving its versatility by doing light draft work in the fields. As a performance horse, the Trakehner also made its mark. The gold and silver medals in dressage in the 1924 Olympic games went to the Trakehners Piccolomini and Sabel. In the 1928 Olympics, the Trakehner, Ilja, won the bronze medal in the three-day event. In 1936, "The Year of the Trakehner", the famous Trakehner, Kronos, won the gold medal in dressage, while Absinth won the silver. The gold medal in the three-day event that year went to another Trakehner, Nurmi. In the same year, the German jumping team came to the United States to compete at Madison Square Garden and their Trakehner, Dedo, won the Prix des Nations! Between 1921 and 1936, the Great Pardubice Steeplechase, next to the English Grand National the most difficult steeplechase in the world, was won a total of nine times by East Prussian horses.

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Tempelhüter - by Perfectionist xx,
out Teichrose by Jenissei
Chief sire at Trakehnen during the 1920s

But history was to deal the Trakehner a nearly fatal blow. The breed had easily recovered from their population being halved during World War I, but in October of 1944, as World War II was in its final stages and the Soviets were closing in on the lush and beautiful area around Trakehnen, orders came to evacuate the horses from the Trakehnen Stud. About 800 of the best horses were hastily transferred both by rail and by foot, in a rather orderly manner, but unfortunately they did not go far enough west. Most of them, together with all their documentation, eventually fell into the hands of the Russian occupation forces and were shipped to Russia. The private breeders and their horses, however, were not allowed to leave until January of 1945, when the Russians had broken through the last of the German lines. What followed was a horror story that went down in history as "The Trek". Hitching their precious breeding stock to wagons laden with personal possessions and all the feed they could carry, these proud East Prussians fled, some 800 horses strong. They were mostly women, children, and elderly people, and they were leaving behind their whole lives, bringing along only what their wagons could hold. It was the dead of winter. Snow was deep upon the ground, and the broodmares were heavy with foal. Many horses were left behind to be claimed by the advancing Soviets and many were lost or let loose along the way to be eventually taken in by the conquering troops or to die.

The East Prussians headed west, literally running for their lives. They could not stop when mares lost their foals or horses went lame or became ill. Their feed ran out and the horses had to live on what they could scavenge along the way. For two and a half months and 600 miles the nightmare continued, while the refugees were constantly pursued by Soviet troops and strafed by Soviet planes. At one time, it looked like the East Prussians had reached the end. The Soviets had them surrounded on the shores of the frozen Baltic Sea. The only escape was across the treacherous expanse of ice, so across they went at times knee deep in the water covering the ice galloping to stay ahead of the ice breaking behind them. If any dared to stop or attempt to dodge the fire from the Russian planes overhead, they were doomed to sink helplessly into the freezing water. Many did not make it across.

At last the survivors limped into West Germany, the once proud and beautiful 800 horses reduced to less than 100 pitiful skeletons, carrying open wounds from shrapnel, and with burlap bags frozen to their feet because they could not stop to replace lost or worn out shoes, even if they could have been located. Only the hardiest had survived.

The next decade was spent rebuilding and re-establishing the breed in the West. In October of 1947, the West German Association of Breeders and Friends of the Warmblood Horse of Trakehner Origin, otherwise known as the Trakehner Verband, was formed, replacing the East Prussian Stud Book Society, which could no longer function outside its homeland. In its early days, the new association suffered many hardships, for the East Prussian refugees and their horses were scattered all over West Germany, struggling to maintain themselves and their horses.

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Trakehner mares being used in the fields

Only a few hundred Trakehner horses of the original 80,000 in East Prussia were available by the time the rebuilding process began, for though between the Trek and various other evacuation attempts, almost 1000 horses had actually reached the safety of West Germany, most of them were eventually lost to the breed. They were either in very poor condition due to the hardships of the Trek, were sacrificed when their struggling owners could no longer support them, or were unable to be identified or located. Slowly, however, many of the surviving Trakehners were located and accounted for under the able leadership of the Verband's first president, Baron von Schroetter, and its manager, Dr. Fritz Schilke.

In 1950, the German Federal Government recognized the great effort being made by these breeders to preserve their East Prussian heritage and agreed to join with the government of the state of Lower Saxony in providing support for a small breeding farm near the large stud at Hunnesrück. Here the valuable mare lines were to be protected from dispersion and beginnings were established for the breeding of new stallions. Small breeders were given an opportunity to "board" their mares there, the foals to belong to the Trakehner Gesellschaft, a corporation formed to further preserve and promote the Trakehner horse.

Through the late 1980s this corporation, the business arm of the Trakehner Verband, owned and managed stud farms at Hunnesrück, Rantzau, and Birkhausen. At each of these, it carried on selective breeding with its own mares as well as those belonging to private breeders.

Occasionally, as the East Prussian Stud Book Society and the Main Stud at Trakehnen did before it, the Trakehner Verband still uses carefully selected Thoroughbred and Arabian stallions and mares to improve and refine the breed, but only Thoroughbred and Arab blood is used. The resulting offspring of these animals, if bred to stud book Trakehner mares, are full Trakehner horses in the West German registry.

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Abglanz - by Termit, out of Abendluft by Poseidon

It is significant that these additions to the stud book are the decisions of the breed association only, and not of private breeders. It is also significant that, while the Trakehner still adds only Thoroughbred and Arabian blood to its pedigrees, most of the other European warmblood breeds use Trakehner stallions as improvers, in addition to Thoroughbred and Arab, because in these Trakehners the desired refinement is already present. The famous Trakehnen- born chestnut stallion, Abglanz, for example, renowned for his ability to sire performance horses, was not only a major sire in the modern Trakehner breed but founded a very important line of Hanoverian stallions as well. Another example is the United States Dressage Federation 1983 Intermediaire I champion, Chrysos, who is a Westphalian stallion. He was sired by the Trakehner stallion Condus.

One of the most interesting and important annual equine events in modern Germany is the stallion testing and approval program, a procedure that originated for the Trakehner in East Prussia in 1926. Today all large animal breeding in West Germany is regulated by law, and every ram, boar, bull, and stallion must be licensed before it is allowed to breed. Each German state, therefore, holds its own stallion approvals, managed by the respective breed associations. The Trakehner, being a national breed, is tested and approved in the State of Schleswig-Holstein at a special function managed by the Trakehner Verband. This approval is acknowledged to be the strictest of any in the country. It includes not only the stallion approvals, but a subsequent auction of both the approved and non-approved stallions. As a result, it draws spectators and prospective purchasers not only from all parts of Germany but also from countries as far away as Australia, the United States, and Canada.

The philosophy behind these approvals is this: in order to be an effective, prepotent and successful sire, a stallion must display the most correct conformation, paces, and temperament possible, and they must all be natural. The Germans are not at all interested in performance qualities in their breeding stock unless the basic conformation and paces are also present, for only from these basics can performance ability be reliably inherited. It is with this philosophy in mind, that the stallion approvals are conducted. They begin with the assembling of approximately 100 two and one-half year old stallions (roughly ten percent of one year's crop of male foals) at the Holstenhalle in Neumünster in northwest Germany. These youngsters are selected from hundreds who, that summer, apply to come to the certification. For three days, the young stallions are carefully examined by an official commission. They are measured in height, heartgirth, and cannon bone; are seen standing and moving on pavement; are stood up, walked and trotted in soft going on a triangular path and are seen free in an indoor arena, The commission is looking for Trakehner and stallion type - how closely the animal conforms to the ideal look of the Trakehner and the impressiveness of a stallion - as well as conformation, movement, and temperament. Only the very best are approved, and each year from the approximately 100 assembled, 20 to 25 are given this treasured honor.

Within the next two years, the newly approved young stallions, together with those of the other German warmblood breeds, must enter three and one-half months of training at a government approved testing facility, and then undergo the Hengstleistungsprüfung or stallion performance test. This involves a test on the flat, a stadium jumping test, a cross-country jumping test and a measured gallop, as well as evaluation of feed utilization, trainability and attitude. The stallions are evaluated both individually and against one another in a competitive situation. If a stallion fails this test, his breeding license is revoked. By these methods, it is assured that only the very finest stallions of the breed are preserved as breeding stock. Even within this select group they are graded and evaluated and the results are made public so that the breeder knows the exact attributes of the particular stallions he is considering.

Broodmares are also evaluated before they are entered into the stud book. At the age of three years, they are inspected and given marks on Trakehner type, conformation, way of going, (straightness and natural impulsion) and their general impression, and the marks are entered on their permanent records. Very rarely does one see an approved breeding stallion whose dam's marks are not somewhat above average, indicating that these painstaking evaluations are the reason that the Trakehner has remained the superior breed it is today, carefully selected to retain the qualities that are valued and desired by breeders and trainers alike.

And what are these qualities? What does one look for in the ideal Trakehner? The observer should immediately be aware of a striking, elegant presence. The combination of size, bone and substance, with a classic breediness, produces this unmistakable Trakehner type, a type clearly distinguishable from all other warmbloods due to its refinement. The charm and nobility are evident in the refined head, often slightly concave in profile, with its broad forehead, smallish muzzle, large, kind, wideset eyes, and solid jawbone. The throatlatch is clean and fine and the long, graceful neck is set into the shoulder at just the right angle to provide maximum balance. The ideal Trakehner has a large, solid body, standing in a rectangular frame - compared to the square frame of, for example, the Thoroughbred - with a deep, sloping shoulder that allows for tremendous freedom of movement. The legs should be straight and the movement true and square. The pastern should have a medium shape, neither too short and upright nor too long and sloping and the cannon bones should be relatively short, thus allowing the horse to stay sound through years of hard work. A back of medium length flows into large and powerful hindquarters with broad, solid hocks carried well under the animal as it travels. A deep barrel provides the necessary lung capacity and is closely coupled to a long, sloping croup. It is the combination of the thrust from the quarters, the swinging back and the freedom of the shoulder that produces the Trakehner's famous floating trot, the trot that eats up the ground, is supremely comfortable, and is so light and springy that it actually looks as if the horse does not quite touch the ground as it strides. The ideal Trakehner is naturally balanced, so its canter is soft and flowing, and jumping comes easily from the strong quarters and the well defined hocks which provide the necessary thrust.

Trakehner stallions must be a minimum of 15.3 but average about 16.2 hands in size and must have a truly masculine, dramatic, and powerful appearance, while the mares, preferably between 15.1 and 16.1 hands, should have a feminine, motherly expression.

Trakehners should not be saddle broken until they are about three years old, for though the Trakehner grows very rapidly, it tends to mature more slowly than its full-blooded cousins, and it carries so much body that it does not need the extra weight of the rider until it is fairly well grown. Once broken to saddle, training progresses easily and quickly because of another shining attribute of this breed, its temperament. The Trakehner is keen, alert, extremely intelligent and quick to learn, yet patient, accepting, and able to take concentrated work without blowing up. This enables it to excel in dressage as well as jumping.

The late 1940s and early 1950s saw a scarcity of Trakehners in competition, as breeders struggled to rebuild their stock after the devastation of the war. By 1957, Willi Schultheis was winning the German Dressage Derby on the lovely Trakehner mare, Thyra. In the early 1960s, under Rosemarie Springer, Lenard was highly successful and Tantalus won the German Dressage Derby in Hamburg. Then Trakehner blood began to appear at the Olympic Games once again. in 1954 in Tokyo, the Swedish-bred Woermann won the gold medal in dressage, and in 1968 in Mexico City, the Soviet Trakehner-bred horse Ichor won the gold. 1972 saw the gold and silver dressage medals go to Trakehner-bred stallions, the gold to the Swedish-bred Piaff under West Germany's Liselott Linsenhoff and the silver to Pepel of the USSR under Dr. Elena Petushkova. The Trakehner-bred Lauriston won the three-day event gold medal under Great Britain's flag that same year. In the 1976 Olympic Games, the black Trakehner gelding, Ultimo by Heros, was a member of West Germany's gold medal winning dressage team, and in 1980, the black Trakehner stallion, Habicht by Burnus, was retired to stud from the West German Olympic three-day team, only to be replaced by the brown Trakehner stallion, Tümmler, also by Heros. Of the four-horse German dressage team sent to the alternate Olympics in Goodwood England in 1980, two were Trakehners; Ultimo, and the brown gelding, Hirtentraum. Abdullah, by Donauwind, out of Abiza by Maharadscha, born in Canada and competing for the United States, thrilled the world in the 1984 Olympics with a team gold and individual silver in show jumping, and won the World Cup the following year; Amiego by Händel, also out of Abiza, won the bronze medal in the 1987 PanAm Games; the gelding Livius, by Habicht, out of Lethargie by Sterndeuter, was a successful member of the US Team.

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The very influential sire
Maharadscha
- by Famulus,
out of Marke by Marktvogt

The fullbred West German Trakehner of today is clearly recognizable by its famous brand, the double moose antler on the left hindquarter, a brand that has been used since the original days in East Prussia. It is this brand which still clearly tells the world that the bearer is a true Trakehner horse, bred within the Trakehner breeding goals and ideals that have been preserved and restored at great emotional and physical expense. Trakehner horses are being bred today all over the world but only those bred in West Germany bear this famous brand because they have basically come directly from East Prussia, with their original breeders, and are still being bred with the same bloodlines, philosophies, goals, and emotions. During the Trek, the registration papers of many horses were lost, but mares carrying the moose antler brand were known to be fullbred Trakehners, and therefore, accepted as such into the reestablished registry. Still today, in the earlier generations of Trakehner pedigrees, one can occasionally find a horse with unknown ancestors but with the notation, "mare branded with double (or single) moose antler, papers lost due to events of war."

The story of the Trakehner in the Western Hemisphere is brief compared to its lengthy Eastern history. The American story began in 1957, when Gerda Friedrichs, a German born breeder who had emigrated to Canada, began importing West German Trakehner stock to institute her own breeding program on this continent. The original importation included four stallions: Antares, by Kobalt out of Antilope by Wilder Jäger; Prusso, by Totilas out of Handfeste by Heidedichter; Slesus, by Tropenwald out of Peraea by Hirtensang; and Tscherkess, by Tropenwald out of Donna by Cancara. The get of the first three stallions have made major contributions to the bloodlines found in this hemisphere today, and all three have sons in the current list of American Trakehner Association approved stallions.

Along with her four stallions, Mrs. Friedrichs also imported mares, twelve in 1957 and eleven more in 1963. Also in 1963, the approved West German Trakehner stallion, Carajan II, by Carajan out of Blitzrot, a Hirtensang daughter who was a survivor of the Trek, was imported into the United States. Mikado, by Impuls out of Mirabel by Maigraf xx, followed in 1968. From then on, interest grew rapidly.

The American Trakehner Association maintains the recognized registry of the Trakehner breed in the Western Hemisphere. Through its efforts, North America is well on its way to becoming a major influence in the protection of the Trakehner horse. The A.T.A. is a rapidly growing, public, non profit organization, created by and for the breeders, owners, and friends of the West German warmblood horse of Trakehner origin. Its purposes are the promotion and preservation of the Trakehner through the maintenance of a public registry, the careful regulation and approval of breeding stock, the dissemination of information about the breed to the public, and the encouragement of performance through an annual awards system.

The history of the A.T.A. itself is interesting. As the popularity of the breed began to spread in North America, more and more owners, enthusiasts, and eventually breeders appeared. Soon it became apparent that a strong need existed for a public, nonprofit organization with an open registry and a clarity and singularity of purpose to direct the growth of the Trakehner on this continent. It is interesting to compare this stage with the conditions existing in West Germany just prior to the formation of the Trakehner Verband. In both cases, breeders and owners were scattered throughout the country, with little knowledge of each other and with no central guidance but with a strong devotion to the horses in which they believed. Thus, the North American breeders and owners began to communicate and assemble, as had their German brethren almost thirty years before. Meetings were held, and decisions were made. On May 23, 1974, the American Trakehner Association was incorporated in Ohio as a public, nonprofit corporation. Subsequently, in September, the corporate regulations of the Association were formulated under the leadership of Leo H. Whinery, an Oklahoma judge and lawyer, and were accepted by the membership. Judge Whinery was then elected to be the first president.

The first major issue facing the new association was the matter of the registry, of trying to inventory and register the horses that were in the hemisphere at the time. There had been no previous open registry and breeders were in need of accurate information regarding bloodlines, locations, etc. The task of organizing such a registry was monumental. The few records that existed were often incomplete, incorrect, and confusing due to non adherence to the Trakehner Verband's practice of naming each Trakehner foal with a name that begins with the same first letter as its dam's name. In spite of it all, during many hours of volunteer work by a few dedicated people, progress was made and the A.T.A. registry began to assume a workable form. A transitional registry was set up under which every horse in being in the hemisphere at the time of incorporation with a traceable, four generation Trakehner pedigree was accepted into the stud book as approved breeding stock. All horses born or imported after that date and not already approved for breeding in West Germany would be required to undergo strict inspection and testing according to the A.T.A.'s registry and approval regulations.

In accordance with these regulations, the first stallion inspections were held late in 1977, conducted by the stallion inspection team of the A.T.A., which now includes a representative of the Trakehner Verband. These inspections are conducted in much the same manner as those in Germany, except that because of the great distances involved in North America, two annual fall inspections are held, one east of the Mississippi, the other usually in California.

In recognition of its endeavors to promote the selective breeding of the Trakehner according to the traditional principles promulgated by the breed direction in Germany, the A.T.A. was approached in 1976 by the German Trakehner Verband with a proposal for an Agreement of Cooperation between the two associations. Finally signed in 1979, this Agreement assured the A.T.A. the help and support of the West German association in following the established goals and breed preservation practices, and granted it the right to use, as a brand for their fullbred horses, the double moose antler, the brand used in East Prussia, but with a distinguishing mark underneath it to identify the horse as foaled in North America..

Currently, the A.T.A. will register any horse that is registered with the Trakehner Verband, as well as any domestic horse by one of its approved Trakehner stallions. It maintains an extensive part-bred registry, recognizing the Anglo-Trakehner (out of a registered Thoroughbred mare) and the Arab-Trakehner (out of a registered Arabian mare) in separate divisions. All others are combined in the part-bred division. All registered horses are assigned an A.T.A. number that identifies their breeding status, sex and the division in which they are registered, as well as their individual number. In addition, the Association maintains an Appendix Registry, which recognizes any horse, regardless of country of origin, that has one Trakehner parent which displays four generations of unbroken Trakehner breeding but is, for some reason, ineligible for registration in the Registry or Stud Book.

In addition to maintaining the registry, the A.T.A. publishes an interesting and informative journal and newsletter, hosts a large, educational and forward-reaching annual convention, conducts mare and stallion inspections, produces Trakehner exhibitions, and provides a central office for information and advice for Trakehner people throughout the hemisphere. The A.T.A. has also established contacts with other horse-related organizations and publications and maintains an exciting annual awards system for member-owned, registered performance horses.

The Trakehner scene in North America is one of tremendous growth and enthusiasm. Much of the American stock is still very young or actively breeding, but already a significant number of Trakehner-bred horses are out competing and gaining national and international recognition. As the list of accomplishments grows, so does the list of breeders, riders, and friends who continue to be charmed by the beauty and talent these horses have to offer. Trakehner enthusiasts firmly believe that their breed is the horse of the future in the Western Hemisphere and, under the competent guidance of the A.T.A., it will continue its amazing growth in a controlled and professional manner.

 

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