Dutch Horse Breeds: From Dutch Draft To Groningen

The Netherlands are famed for their horses; for centuries the natives of this land have been used to improve other breeds or to create brand new ones. Many of the modern horses we know and love have ancestry that comes from the genetics of Dutch horse breeds, such has been their spread and popularity around the world. The Netherlands have a total of six native breeds, each with their own unique characteristics.

Dutch Draft

Dutch Draft horse
Source: Wikimedia.org

This cold blooded horse is also known as the Zeeland Horse, because it was bred in the province of Zeeland in the 20th century. It was created after WW1, by breeding the heavy draft mares of Zeeland with Ardennes and Brabant stallions from Belgium. Before the mechanisation of farm machinery, this horse was the most important Dutch horse because of its great size and strength, but after agriculture stopped relying on horses, the breed declined rapidly.

The Dutch Draft stands about 16 hands and is very muscular, with free movements and great stamina. They are also known for their calm, kind temperaments. The Dutch draft is most often bay or gray, though occasionally black specimens are found.

Dutch Harness Horse

Also called the Tuigpaard, the Dutch Harness Horse has been developed in the Netherlands since the end of WW2. It is based on two of the the country’s other natives, the Groningen and Gelderland, with some Hackney and American Saddlebred to improve the breed and make it finer.

This is a relatively new breed, with very strict breeding regulations, so it is highly recognisable as a fine looking warmblood, with a tall, slender frame, a proud carriage and a very expressive trot.

They stand about 16.2 hands on average, and look even taller because of their proud bearing. Unlike some other breeds famed for their high action, the Tuipgaard has strict shoeing rules for competition to ensure that the eye catching trot is due to the horse’s natural ability and not special shoes.

Most of these horses are shown in fine harness competitions, but some excel at combined driving and even dressage. They are most commonly found in black, brown bay and chestnut, though other colors exist and many have sabino markings.

Dutch Warmblood

Dutch Warmblood
Source: Flickr by LylithLusitana

This type of horse is a warmblood which is registered with the KWPN (Royal Warmblood Studbook of the Netherlands). Descended from the Groningen and Gelderland, the Dutch warmblood today is carefully selected for its temperament as well as for its athletic ability, meaning that the breed has produced some of the most successful competition horses in recent history.

The height minimum is 15.2-3, and although there is no upper height limit, excessively tall horses are not as practical for sport. Most are black, brown, bay, chestnut or bay, and white markings are common. They are an extremely attractive horse, with balanced proportions and long legs.

The fact that temperament is a big consideration when breeding these horses means that they generally have good natures and are intelligent and courageous. They compete at the highest levels in dressage, show jumping and eventing, with many of the breed featuring in Olympic medal lists.

Friesian

friesian horse breed
Source: Wikimedia

This is a very old breed, which has been mentioned as far back as the 4th century and is famed for its use as a war horse. In the 16th and 17th centuries, battle arms grew lighter so there was less need for the heavier horse, and Andalusian blood was added to the breed to make it lighter and finer.

These days there are two types of Friesian; the Baroque and the Sports Horse type – the Baroque has more of the classical, powerful conformation and good bone structure, while the sports type is finer. Both types have long, arched necks, compact muscular bodies and “Spanish” heads. They have noticeably thick manes and tails, and plenty of feather. They are nearly always black, and although some carry the chestnut gene, this is very rare.

The Friesian temperament is docile and gentle; they are intelligent, kind horses with a great affection for people. They stand between 15 and 17 hands, and are horses of great presence. They have been used for warfare and agriculture, but as these two needs have declined they are now used for general riding, dressage, driving, and also for movies and TV because of their striking appearance.

Gelderland

Native mares of Gelderland were crossed with Andalusian, Neapolitan, Norman, Norfolk Roadster and Holstein stallions to produce this breed, which is also known as the Gelderlander. Originally used for farm work, they were then bred to be a stylish carriage horse which was still suited to agricultural work.

It took a while to develop the characteristics needed to make this breed into more of a riding horse, so it was crossed with Holsteins and Selle Francais in order to make a type that was finer and more suited to riding and driving.

Gelderlanders stand between 15.2 and 16 hands, and they have long backs and long legs, with an unusually high stepping trot. The breed is typically chestnut, but bay black and gray also exist. There is often a lot of white marking on the face, and some exhibit a sabino or tobiano coloring.

These horses have a friendly temperament and are suitable for family riding, but they are also often used in show jumping and dressage, and they are dominate the field of combined driving.

Groningen

Groningen horse foal
Source: Wikimedia.org

The Groningen was developed for light draft and agricultural work, and it shares its ancestry with the Friesian, East Friesian, Alt-Oldenburger and Holsteiner. The resulting horses were strong enough for farm work, yet also elegant and suitable for carriage work.

Like most horse breeds, the Groningen declined as mechanised farm machinery came along as there was no need for draft horses to work on farms any more, and the breed was almost wiped out entirely – its last stallion was saved from the butcher in 1978, and he, along with 20 mares, became the foundation of the breed as we know it today.

The Groningen is a powerful horse, and it stands between 15.3 and 16.1 hands. Most are black or dark bay, with a few being chestnut or gray, and they are well renowned for their even tempers. They are hardworking horses, and are especially suited to being kept as a family horse as they are so calm and easy to keep. Some Groningens compete in dressage and showjumping, and also excel at combined driving.

Nicky Ellis
Nicky has been an editor at Horses & Foals since 2017. Horses have been in her life from her earliest memories, and she learned to ride a horse when she was 5. She is a mom of three who spends all her free time with her family and friends, her mare Joy, or just sipping her favorite cup of tea.


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