Originally, Groningen horses were bred for transportational and agricultural use. After the industrialization the breed became endangered as a result of crossbreeding with other breeds. The Groningen horse narrowly escaped extinction.
The Groningen horse descends from the local, northern horse that was bred along the northern coast of the Netherlands, Germany and Denmark. Around 1870, mares of this breed were crossbred with stallions from Oldenburg and East Friesland.
Since about 1880 the Groningen horse was bred according to a studbook, which gave the breed more recognition throughout the Netherlands. Up until the twentieth century the Groningen horse was a light, versatile horse, originally bred for farm work. However, the breed also performed well in front of a carriage, in the transportation of goods and in field artillery.
After World War I the usage of lighter horses dropped drastically, because of technical developments (cars, train). The agricultural sector had a bigger need for heavier horses, due to the invention of machinery which had to be pulled and powered by the horses at the same time. The heavy cold blood horse was more suited for this purpose than the versatile warm blood horse. To be able to compete with the cold blood horse the Groningen horse had to be changed into a very heavy warm blood horse.
From draught horse to riding horse
After World War II the tractor gradually took over the heavy agricultural work. At the same time, equestrianism grew in popularity. For that reason, the Groningen horse had to regain the qualities of the earlier, more versatile, and lighter Groningen horse. Thanks to the usage of the Holsteiner, Trakhener and Thoroughbred in the Groningen breeding program, these changes were made possible in a relatively short period of time. The Association for Dutch warm blood horses, ” Nederlands Warmbloedpaard (NWP)”, the predecessor of the current Association of the Groningen horse (Vereniging Het Groninger Paard), imported a number of Holsteiner mares that were crossbred with Groningen stallions. Of these mares, Morgenster received the most recognition, as the mother of the Preferent Groningen (show jumping) stallion Sinaeda (s. Camillus).However, there was a greater demand for specialized riding horses than for the versatile Groningen horses. This meant the end of the Groningen horse breed was at hand. By the end of the 1980s, hardly any purebred Groningen horses were left in the Netherlands.
Survival of the Groninger horse
In 1978 several volunteers managed to save Baldewijn, the last Groningen stallion, from the butcher. They then searched for as many Groningen mares as possible to use in breeding.
To be able to breed in an organised form a group of 25 Groningen horse lovers founded the Vereniging Het Groninger Paard on 25 February 1982. The breeding organisation started out with only one stallion and about twenty mares. Thanks to our carefully organised breeding program about 1500 Groningen horses with a low inbreeding percentage are now registered in our studbook.
(translated by Jitske van de Kuilen)