Westphalian Horse

Westphalian Horse
  • HEIGHT: 16–17 hands
  • PLACE OF ORIGIN: Germany
  • SPECIAL QUALITIES: Tremendous and powerful gaits and athletic ability combined with a willingness to accept direction from the rider
  • BEST SUITED FOR: Show jumping, dressage, field and show hunters; all sport horse activities

The province of Westfalia, south of Hannover in Germany, is an area traditionally known for horse breeding. For many years, individual breeders of Westfalens maintained their own records, unlike the owners of some other warmblood breeds. In Europe, families tend to remain in the same location and in the same business for a very long time, so the bloodlines of horses have always been known and preserved, dating back through many generations of both human and equine families. However, for quite a long time no central location for the records existed. The Westfalen officially received its own name and identity as a breed in 1904, when the studbook was founded. The Westfalen brand wasn’t established until 1966.

Westfalia became a part of Prussia in 1815, and by 1826 horse breeders had organized a central stud at Warendorf with thirteen East Prussian stallions. They later added stallion stations across the province, so that by 1830 there were fifty stallions, and by 1878 there were one hundred. Because of their proximity to Hannover, many breeders used Hanoverian horses in the Westfalen’s development. They also incorporated other breeds, including the Thoroughbred, the East Prussian, the Berbecker, and the Graditzer. A good many of the early Westfalen horses that were bred specifically for farm and heavy military use had straight shoulders, short pasterns, and straight hind legs—traits that are rare in the modern horses.

The Westfalen, once a farm horse, is now one of the most popular warmblood breeds in the world.

The Westfalen brand.

These tall horses have powerful necks and shoulders.


The breed is fortuitously headquartered near the German National and Olympic riding schools, where top horses have every opportunity to be discovered by top riders. The selection of breeding animals is exceptionally strict; only horses that pass demanding tests for conformation, character, riding, and pedigree are approved. Because the selection process is so rigorous, it is not surprising that stallions from the Westfalen stud have often held first place as the most successful German breeding stallions, as measured by the success of their progeny. Modern Westfalens frequently win in dressage and jumper shows at all levels up to the Olympics. A prime example is the spectacular dressage horse Rembrandt, winner of the gold medal at the 1988 Olympics and gold at the 1990 World Championships, where his score was the highest ever awarded.

Today the Westfalen is one of the most popular breeds in Germany, but the horse has changed since the days when it was primarily a working farm horse. Beginning in about the 1920s and continuing after the devastatingly hard years of World War II, breeders have worked to develop the breed as a sport horse. Today’s Westfalen is lighter and more rideable than the earlier versions, thanks to the contributions of the great Shagya Anglo-Arab Ramzes in the late 1940s, as well as several Trakehner and Thoroughbred stallions. At the state stud at Warendorf today, Thoroughbred and Hanoverian stallions stand along with the Westfalens.

The Westfalen Warmblood Association of America was founded in 1987 to recognize the achievements of individual horses and to promote the breed. This association has now been formally disbanded and it has been replaced with the Westfalen Horse Association.

Breed Characteristics

The Westfalen is generally heavier than the Hanoverian, which it closely resembles. The breed, one of the most popular competition breeds in the world, is known for its spectacular movement and willingness to accept direction from the rider.


These are tall horses, standing 16 to 17 hands. The head is attractive, with good width between the eyes and a straight or sometimes slightly dished profile. The neck is long, muscular, and well set. The shoulders are powerful and sloping. The tendency toward steep shoulders and short pasterns, once commonly seen on the heavier work-type Westfalens, has largely


According to the Westfalen Horse Association (WHA) (founded in 2002):

• All Westfalen horses in North America are registered in Germany with the German association.

• The WHA does not track the number of Westfalens in North America.

been replaced in the modern type with sloping shoulders and longer pasterns. The body is deep and muscular. The hindquarters are very powerful. The croup is often much flatter than in the Hanoverian.


As with most warmblood breeds, the Westfalen can be any color.

The Westfalen has exceptionally good movement. This horse seems to float above the ground.

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