The Westphalian or Westfalen horse is a breed of German warmblood that is similar in physique to the Hanoverian Warmblood on which it has been based since 1920. The Westphalian stands 15.2 to 17.2 hands high, but averages 16.1 hands and like most warmbloods, is always presented in a solid color such as brown, black, gray, chestnut, or bay. Other colors exist, but they are rare, though not discriminated against. They weigh between 1000 and 1300 pounds.
The Westphalian horse is probably one of the most well-known warmblood breeds, next to the Hanoverian Warmblood. Its studbook population is second only to that of the Hanoverians in size, and like the Hanoverian, it features only those horses which meet its exacting standards. After Hanover, the region of Westphalia has the largest number of registered broodmares in Germany. Second to Lower Saxony, Westphalia is the second most important horse breeding region in Germany with 10,000 broodmares, approximately 120 state stallions and many private stallions available. Also, like its bordering state of Hanover, Westphalia has a jumping horse on its coat of arms, and in both states, horse breeding has been a long-standing tradition.
The roots of the Westphalian go back to the 1700s, when the German nobility, most notably, King Frederick Wilhelm I established several breeding programs under the Prussian Stud Administration in 1713 to improve Germany's horse stocks, while creating several state-owned studs which were maintained for the benefit of Germany's citizens.
Many random attempts by breeders were made to create a new breed, and these wasted efforts to form a unique or stable breed lasted until the turn of the 19th Century. It was not until the founding of the state stud that a planned breeding program actually began. The state stud at Warendorf, "Landgestuet Warendorf" was founded in 1826 to serve the North Rhine-Westphalian region. The first stallions to stand at Warendorf were from East Prussia, and were similar to the Trakehners of the time. This was when the form of the modern Westphalian began to emerge in the stud at Warendorf, in western Germany. They were originally bred as working animals, testing under saddle and in agricultural pursuits. The annual stallion parade at Warendorf has since become a traditional gathering point for thousands of horse enthusiasts.
By 1888, the first studbook for the horses in Westphalia was founded, and the following year the first evaluations of stallions and mares were carried out. Horses which met the strict breed standard were branded as foals with the Westphalian crest: a crowned shield containing the letter "W" which they receive when they are awarded their registration papers at a foal show.
The Westphalian Warmblood was based on Oldenburg blood and also on Anglo-Normandy stallions starting in 1900 when the noble East Prussian Trakehners stallions were replaced with the heavy warmbloods from Oldenburg and East Frisia. In 1905 the first performance tests were held, and now stallions had to not only fit a conformation model, but also had to prove themselves under saddle and in front of a plow before being allowed to breed.
But those breeding efforts ended with World War I, since those breeds were not suitable for the Westphalian soil. After the war, in 1920, warmblood breeding was started again and the Westphalian Warmblood became based on the Hanoverian Warmblood with some Thoroughbred and Trakehner influence. This turned out to be very successful, but sadly, many of the old breeding records that had been kept so carefully were destroyed in the political turmoil in Germany during World War II. Today, the exterior of the Westphalian Warmblood is very similar to the Hanoverian.
They are large horses, and typically have long necks, high muscular withers, long sloping shoulders, and noble, intelligent heads. Their legs are strong with massive joints. Like other German warmbloods, Westphalians are very calm and quiet tempered and do well in training. They perform dependably under saddle and are well known for having a naturally bold, expansive and elastic springing gait. The breed has evolved from a working animal into a sport horse, with finer boning than its predecessors, and is bred to be naturally friendly and athletic.
In the United States, Rhinelander Warmbloods are sometimes misrepresented as Westphalian Warmbloods to buyers. While the two studbooks have the same standard, the same approval process, and share a state stud facility, they remain as two distinct studbooks, and the brand on the left hip should help to distinguish the difference between them.
The Westphalian Warmblood is an outstanding general-purpose sport horse that excels at driving and riding, both for pleasure and for competition. They are well suited to equestrian sports, especially dressage and jumping, three-day eventing, hunt field, and the Westphalian horses have shown their high quality with many of the breed's members competing in Olympic events.
A well trained Westphalian Warmblood is suitable for riders at all skill levels and for young riders who are considering the pursuit of equestrian sports as a career; a Westphalian can be a valuable and dependable companion.