About Dutch Harness Horses
Dutch Harness, or Tuigpaard, horses are a warmblood type of
fine driving horse that has been developed in the Netherlands since the end of
World War II. Their studbook is kept by the Koninklijk Warmbloed
Paardenstamboek Nederland (Royal Warmblood Horse Studbook of the Netherlands)
or KWPN. They are based on native Groningen and Gelderland horses, which were
formerly indispensable in agriculture and transportation services. Strict
selection procedures and a clear breeding aim enabled breeders to produce a
refined, high-stepping horse within a few decades. While with 40 sires and
fewer than 2,000 broodmares the population is not large, Dutch Harness Horses
are highly recognizable. In the past few years, a handful have come to North
America, where they are owned by devotees of sport horses and Saddle seat
The Dutch have a strong tradition of breeding driving
horses, and during the late 19th century and early 20th century, these horses
were known as "luxury horses." They consisted of two separate breeds:
northern Groningens which were heavier and primarily dark colors, and
Gelderlanders from the south which were taller, leggier, and usually chestnut.
They were elegant, though heavy, carriage horses which could work on the farm
too. Naturally, horse owners felt competitive about whose horse or horses were
the finest and most showy. This was not forgotten when mechanization made
agricultural horses obsolete and the driving horses needed a new occupation.
Much of the development from heavy carriage horse to fine driving
horse was completed within the native horse populations, however the influence
of the Hackney stallion Cambridge Cole significantly helped the gene pool. Also
influential was the chestnut American Saddlebred stallion, Immigrant (American
Saddlebred Horse Association name Callaway's Mardi Gras), born in 1990. In
comparison to his Dutch peers, his gaits were not considered impressive, but he
did contribute his good character and dry type to the gene pool. Other Hackneys
to cover Dutch Harness Horse mares were Marfleet Raffles and his son Grants
Hornet, and Brook Acres Silversul. Currently the Hackney Horse stallions GTF
Maker's Mark and Plain's Liberator are approved for use in Dutch Harness Horse
breeding. A palomino American Saddlebred stallion, originally named Denmark's
Golden Playboy, stood in the Netherlands as Holland's Golden Boy.
They are a fine carriage breed produced by strict selection,
known for their high natural action, substance, and engagement of the hindend.
They are distinctive among warmbloods for their high action, and gaining
popularity among those saddle seat aficionados who seek a larger, more
substantial horse. They are traditionally shown with a braided mane and natural
tail, and when shown in-hand often wear a white bridle without a cavesson.
Their hooves are usually allowed to grow longer than a riding horse's feet, but
are never shod with weighted shoes.
While the colors black, brown, bay and chestnut are most
common, there are greys, true roans, and creme dilutes. Tuigpaarden are often
very well-marked, and many have extensive sabino or rabicano markings. There
are even some tobianos, though they are rare.
They have an expressive head with straight lines and
distinctly warmblood in type. It is usually narrow, long and quite dry, similar
to the Saddlebred. Their neck is set on quite high, and their shoulders are
uniformly long and powerful. The longer back, more open loin, and flatter croup
enable the hindlegs and forelegs to work independently and with great action.
By comparison, the harness horse appears to stand higher off the ground.
Strict selection procedures mean that the Dutch Harness
Horse is reasonably uniform in type and motion, and also means that the gait
qualities of the horses are inherent. As the show horses are not asked to
canter in harness, this gait receives less attention. The walk is diligent, but
the trot is the true show gait. The forelegs are typically longer than the
hindlegs - by design - and as such the horse will "sink" in the back
and rise in the front. This quality is responsible for the powerful, active
hind end and the great freedom in the forehand. These horses usually have a
metronomic trot and ample suspension.
In comparison to the riding horse type, the Tuigpaarden are
more hot and sensitive to the energy of a crowd. However, with the control of
the stallion inspections, bad-tempered horses or those with poor constitutions
are at the very least identified, if not culled outright. A dangerous stallion
would never obtain breeding permission in the first place, and so the breed is
reactive and courageous, but pleasant and kind.
The letter which begins a Dutch Harness Horse's name
corresponds to his year of birth. Daughters are often given only a very slight
variation of the dam's name, for example: 1988 was the "G" year, so
the daughter of a mare named "Zilvia" was "Gilvia."
Prior to licensing, Tuigpaard stallions must undergo a
thorough vet check. Any horse with defects of the genitalia or bite, sub-par
semen analysis, or any evidence of a congenital disorder or defect is not
permitted to breed. A horse which has had surgery to correct a congenital
abnormality is likewise culled. Furthermore, the stallions and elite
performance mares must undergo a thorough radiographic exam of their joints. Horses
with evidence of OCD lesions do not pass. For these reasons, the breed is
healthy, sound, and long-lived. The primary concern facing the breed is
inbreeding, due to the small size of the gene pool.
The vehicle that the Dutch Harness Horse pulls is light and
is often referred to as a "show trap."
While most Tuigpaarden are shown in special fine harness
competitions, they have also made their mark in combined driving. Several of
the teams at the 2006 FEI World Equestrian Games were Dutch Harness Horses. A
few have distinguished themselves in sport, rather than show, though they are
the exception. Some of the successful sport Dutch Harness Horses include
Constance Menard's Lianca and Anneke Muilwijk's Atuur, both of which compete in
The Dutch Harness Horse is unique from other high stepping
trotting breeds in that it has strict shoeing rules for competition, the shoes
must be within a certain width and thickness and no pads are allowed. This
insures that the breed is sound and able to trot so spectacularly on its own
accord, not because of special shoeing.
Of late, Dutch Harness Horses have been crossbred with
Arabians in the United States to produce a more powerful horse for half-Arabian
Saddle seat-style English pleasure, fine harness and "park" classes.