The Oldenburg horse achieved fame throughout Europe in the 17th Century under Graf Anton Günther von Oldenburg (1603 - 1667), renowned as a great horseman having been well known for his traditional dressage riding, most notably on his Oldenburg stallion, Kranich who is portrayed with him in a well known painting. In 1612 the Graf began transforming an old monastery in the village of Rastede on the outskirts of Oldenburg into a Royal Stud to continue the work of his predecessor, Graf Johann XVI von Oldenburg (1573-1603) who founded many small breeding farms within the Oldenburg region for the purpose of producing war horses. These horses were given to important rulers and those who had distinguished themselves in battle.
Graf Johann had used Turkish, Neopolitan, Andalusian and Danish stallions to improve his Friesian horses, described as being large and strong. Graf Anton Gunther traveled even more extensively, bringing back stallions from Naples, Spain, Poland, England, Tartary, and Barbary (North Africa). He permitted his tenants and other commoners to use his stallions and soon the 17th century Oldenburgs were in great demand throughout Europe, serving as elegant riding and carriage horses. It is widely believed that Graf Anton even saved the region of Oldenburg from war by diplomatically trading these horses for assurance from his would-be enemies that they would not invade.
The demand for these superior horses went to the heights of Europe’s nobility. One such instance was when Leopold I, King of the Holy Roman Empire, rode through Vienna on his wedding day astride a black Oldenburg stallion. He was followed by his wife who sat in a splendid carriage pulled by eight dark bay Oldenburgs.
The 19th and 20th Centuries were shaped by three important events: the first stallion approval decreed by state in the year 1820, the introduction of a register of origins in 1861, and the foundation of two horse breeding societies by the Horse Breeding Act of April 9, 1897. These two societies merged in 1923 to form today's "Verband der Züchter des Oldenburger Pferdes".
The 19th century breeding objectives were to produce an optimal horse for the calvary and for heavy work in agriculture and construction. The Oldenburg mares were bred to French stallions and imported British stallions to produce what became known as the Oldenburg Karossier, a horse that was the market leader of it's day.
However, due to the mechanization of transportation, farming and the military in the 20th century, the demand for the heavier type of horse dropped. In the early 1960s, the Oldenburg Verband made the decision to focus on breeding top sport horses, and they embarked on an extensive transformative cross-breeding program. The first measures to refine the breed had already been introduced in 1959 with the Thoroughbred Adonis xx, and by the 1960s, more Thoroughbred stallions were approved and the turnaround in breeding towards the modern sport horse was underway.
Towards the end of the 1960's the French stallion, Condor, was proving to be very successful, so Oldenburg stallion owners once again turned to France. Practically no other breeding area was able to achieve the success Oldenburg reached with stallions of French origin.
Furioso II was the first Anglo-Norman of modern breeding times. Horse breeders the world over still have the highest regard for this sire. French Anglo-Arabians such as Inschallah AA were also used in Oldenburg in small doses with great success. By combining the various bloodlines on the base of Oldenburg mares, breeders were able to produce a horse in a relatively short period of time that now belongs to the top group of modern sport horse breeds.
In 1986, a privately-owned Oldenburg stallion, Donnerhall, became the Deutsche Landwirtschafts-Gesellschaft (the German Agricultural Society) Champion for the first time. Donnerhall, born in 1981, was one of the most successful sires of his generation in Germany. As no other, he combined success in breeding and sport - in 1994 in Den Haag he was a member of the German gold medal winning dressage team at the World Championships and won the individual bronze medal. He was also a member of the German European Championship team and won the individual bronze medal there as well.
Although the remarkable stallion, Rubinstein is Westphalian bred, it was the current Breeding Director of the Oldenburg Verband, Dr. Wolfgang Schulze-Schleppinghof that first accepted the stallion for breeding after he had been rejected by the Westphalian stallion committee. Dr. Schleppinghof felt that with the stallion's bloodlines and qualities he was well worth taking a chance on, and it was a decision that proved to be very valuable for modern dressage breeding. Owned by Gestuet Vorwerk, Rubinstein himself was successful at Grand Prix having been a member of the 1996 gold medal German team, and he has produced hundreds of successful Oldenburg sons and daughters such as Relevant, Renoir Unicef, Rohdiamant, and Royal Diamond.
The next legend in the making in the world of sport horse breeding is the Oldenburg bred, licensed, and approved stallion, Sandro Hit. Sandro Hit not only won the World Championships for the 6 year old dressage horses in 1999, but his offspring have dominated the young horse championships and are emerging with great success at Grand Prix in international competition. His daughter, Poetin, won both the German National Championships and the World Championships for the five- year-old dressage horses in 2003 before selling for the record price of 2.5 million Euro at the PSI auction the same year. The success of his daughters continues through the two time German Champion, Silberaster, and Samira who also broke records winning the German National Championships in 2007 for the six-year-old dressage horses. Judge Christoph Hess commented about Samira, "We've never seen anything like this in this arena" before awarding her 2 perfect scores of 10 resulting in an overall score of 9.7.
Sandro Hit's licensed and approved sons are also becoming dominant in the sport horse world. Sir Donnerhall who combines the lines of Sandro Hit and Donnerhall, was the Reserve Champion of the 5 year old dressage horses at the 2006 World Championships and was the 2006 German National Champion for the same division. He is also already proving himself as a sire having produced the Reserve Champion of the 2007 Oldenburg stallion licensing, Sir Rubin, and the Champion of the 2008 Southern German stallion licensing, Sir Nymphenburg.
In the international dressage arena, Oldenburg horses have been a dominant breed. Bonfire, ridden by Anky van Grunsven, is one of the most famous dressage horses in history. He was bred by Karl Westerholt and was sold at the Stallion auction in Vechta, Germany as a 2 ½ year old. When Anky purchased Bonfire later as a gelding, the two were almost impossible to beat. They were the individual gold medalists and team silver medalists in the Sydney Olympic Games, individual and team silver medalists in the Atlanta Olympic Games, European Champions in 1999, World Champions in 1994, and won the World Cup an astonishing five times.
In Europe, there have been dressage international superstars such as Bonfire, Donnerhall, Albano, and Don Schufro, but Oldenburg success can be found in the United States as well. The Olympic mount of Robert Dover, Rainier, was a key member of the bronze medal team at the 2000 Olympic Games, and more recently, Lisa Wilcox won a 2002 World Games team silver and a 2004 Olympic Games team bronze with the Oldenburg stallion Relevant.
Currently there are many rising Oldenburg stars in North America such as the stallion Starlight owned and ridden by Rick Silvia who was inducted into the USDF Hall of Fame for his record scores in dressage breeding. He has also been very successful at Prix St. Georges and Intermediare I. Others such as Don Angelo, Ringo Starr, Wig Wam, Dolomit, Harmony's Sandro, and Rafalca are certainly ones to watch as well.
Oldenburgs are also well known in the jumper arenas around the world. In the past there have been jumper stars such as the mare, Weihaiwej, who incredibly accomplished the nearly impossible feat of winning double gold at the World Championships in 1994, and Sandro Boy who won the 2006 World Cup by putting in an amazing four clear rounds. More recently Air Jordan Z and Leena successfully competed in the 2007 World Cup in Las Vegas, and after winning individual gold at the Pan American Games, the incredible gelding, Special Ed, brought home 2008 Olympic Team Silver for Canada.
There will surely be far more to come too. In 2002 it was decided that a separate breeding society dedicated to the pursuit of breeding top jumper horses would be created. It is called the Springpferdezuchtverband Oldenburg International e.V., or “OS” for short. It is still related to the main Oldenburg breeding society, but it has a separate breeding commission which will concentrate on the jumping bloodlines and abilities of the stallions and mares. In 2008 the OS saw an outstanding stallion for the future of the program. Le Champ Ask was the champion of the 2008 stallion licensing, and his talent was so clear, his character so assured, that he broke the German breeding society auction record selling to Denmark for the sum of 1.1 million Euro.
Around the globe today, these jumpers and Oldenburg dressage horses such as Responsible, Salieri, Escapado, Don Schufro, Augustin, Silberaster, Deveroux, Don Angelo, Dolomit, and Ringo Starr put fear into the hearts of competitors. Outstanding athletes such as these are excellent examples of the high standards of breeding from the Oldenburg Verband that will surely continue into the future.