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The Trakehner

It has been said that the Trakehner has everything everybody is looking for in a performance horse and if you look at the breeds list of attributes it is easy to see why.

The Trakehner is the most important and outstanding of all warmblood breeds, renowned for their grace, power, magnificent movement, outstanding beauty, great ability to perform, they are naturally balanced and free. Best of all, they have an ideal temperament - keen and alert. level-headed and able to take intense work. They have a willingness to work and due to their intelligence they learn extremely quickly. The Trakehner, is the warrnblood closest to the British ideal of the modern competition and riding horse, whose upgrading influence of bloodlines is evident in most of the continental sports breeds today. The popularity of this breed is growing at an outstanding rate.

The Trakehner is the "Thoroughbred" of warmblood breeds, it is more closely related to the Thoroughbred than other German breeds having had major influence in the stud book from the English Thoroughbred and to a lesser degree the Arab and Anglo Arab. Due to selective breeding the Trakehner has retained the best Thoroughbred qualities while keeping its own special character and "type". The "Lloyds Bank Black Horse" is a Black Trakehner Stallion!

Before German unification in 1871, Germany was made up of a number of different states and locally organized breeding areas. As a result horses bred in the area of Hangover became known as "Hannoverian" and a horse born in Westphalia became a Westphalian. However the Trakehner is the exception to this breed naming rule, as they are known as Trakehners wherever they are born. In fact Trakehner stallions were and are still widely used to improve and refine all the regional breeds.

The Trakehner horse was developed in the early 18th century by King Wilheim I of Prussia, the father of Friedrich the Great, seeing 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. 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. The breed has been selectively bred since that time with a closed stud book.

History was to deal the Trakehner a nearly fatal blow. The breed has easily recovered from its population being halved during World War I, but in October 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 hoses were hastily transferred both by rail and by foot 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, to be lost to the breed forever. The private breeders, however. were determined to save their valuable horses. 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 their whole lives, bringing along only what their wagons could carry. It was the dead of winter, Snow was deep on the ground, and the broodrnares were heavy with foal. Many horses were left behind to be claimed by the advancing Soviets and many were lost or let loose alone 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 when 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 the Soviet troops. At one time it looked like the East Prussians had reached the end. The Soviets had surrounded them 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 water covering the ice - galloping to stay ahead of the ice breaking behind them. If they dared to stop or attempt to dodge the fire of 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 wounds from shrapnel. Only the hardiest had survived. The next decade was spent re-establishing the breed in the West. In October, 1947, the West German Association of Breeders and Friends of the Warmblood Horse of Trakehner Origin, today known as the "Trakehner Verband" was formed, replacing the East Prussian Stud Book Society.

Horses that had fled to the West were spread out all over Germany and 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. However these horses became the founders of today' s Trakehner horse-a very hardy breed.

All Trakehner breeding stock has to undergo rigorous grading methods to maintain the high standards and only foals from graded parents on both sides are eligible for "Pink Papers" and the Trakehner Brand. 3 year old mares and 2 year old colts are inspected by a panel of judges and given marks for Breed Type, conformation, movement and correctness. The standards required for stallions to grade are very high and from all colts born, only 1-4% are likely to succeed as 'Graded Trakehner Stallions' world-wide. In Germany after a colt has been accepted, he is required before the age of 4 to undergo a 100 day performance test, where he will have to achieve minimum levels in all disciplines. The performance testing is compulsory for stallions and optional for mares. In the UK a similar grading process is carried out annually in September, when a representative of the German Trakehner Verband joins the judging panel. In the UK there are no stallion testing stations to carry out the 100 day performance testing, therefore it takes place over a two day assessment, following training and preparation at home. Points are awarded for different disciplines including Dressage, Jumping, Cross Country, Paces and other factors such as temperament, attitude and ability to perform are also taken into consideration.

As the only Breed Society to have organized a Stallion Performance testing in the UK, the TBF have now made this open to other breeds in order to test the performance of Stallions standing in the UK.

The first Trakehners were imported into Great Britain in 1960 by the Mtlschamp Stud and since that time they have steadily gained in popularity and have won the hearts of many enthusiasts Today the Trakehner Breeders' Fraternity (TBF) are the controlling body in the UK, licensed by the Trakehner Verband GmbH in Germany to register, grade and brand horses with the distinctive double Elk horn brand with the inverted 'V' beneath to denote "British Bred"

Today there are in excess of 400 registered or approved pure-bred Trakehners, with almost double that on the part-bred register. There are 24 graded stallions (a full list is available by sending a "SASE" to Joanne McShee, Publicity Officer, Hillcrest, Main Road, Old Brampton, Chesterfield, Derbyshire. S42 7JG.) Also there are approximately 220 graded mares.

The Trakehner Stallion is one of the most valuable sires used to improve and upgrade stock from mares whose owners want to breed a competition horse (or just a wonderfully reliable friend) from their mare. Whether the mare is of Thoroughbred origin or from a native breed, all have proved to cross extremely well with the Trakehner, bringing better movement, beauty and without fail a good temperament to the offspring.

The record of Trakehners in competition is impressive. Trakehners won every medal for the German Olympic Team in the 1936 Olympics in Berlin. In recent years horses such as Abdullah who carried Conrad Homefeld to win a team Gold and individual Silver medal for USA at the 1984 Olympics and Goldkorn by Istanbul winner of the Danish Showjumping Derby 1989 under Hugo Simon. The famous dressage rider Reiner Klimke has ridden many Trakehners to Grand Prix level including the famous Fabian. The stallion Va Tout (standing in the UK) was the most successful dressage horse worldwide in 1985. In the driving world, Karen Bassett and her team of black Trakehners became Britain's National Champion and the worlds leading lady 4-in-hand driver in 1995.

There are also numerous successful part-bred horses with Trakehner blood including the famous showjumper Milton. Trakehners today are in the Olympic Teams for all disciplines Dressage, Showjumping, Eventing as well as winning Long Distance Riding and Driving events. Trakehners show more stamina than other warmbloods and have done well in the eventing world (particularly when crossed with the Thoroughbred). The British Trakehner Stallion Fleetwater Opposition by Muscharnp Danube (both standing in the UK) was junior Three-Day-Event Champion before retiring to stud. The famous mare Corna by Illuster (now standing in the UK) was the Champion Riding Horse of all breeds in West Germany in 1985.

Trakehners are addictive, once you have had one your hooked! They are just "very nice people", so willing to please and a pleasure to own.

For further information please see "Russian Trakheners"

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