Senner Horse Photos and Article copyrighted -- see credits below.
The Senner, horse of the Senne, enjoyed fame as being hardy, frugal, sure-footed, beautiful and useful, and had some influence on most warmbloods of the country.
PAST TO PRESENT
The Senner horse, the German horse breed of the province of Westphalia started out based on wild horses that were either true wild horses or feral horses. They were first mentioned in 1160, when the Bishop of Paderborn presented the Abbot of Hardehausen with estates on which “wild mares” lived. The Lords of the Lippe country were mentioned as the owners in documents in the late 15th century.
The Senner was managed by herding mares in the woods and heathland until they were familiar with the surroundings, then turning them loose. Young stallions were captured and only the best released back to the wild. The horses multiplied in spite of the meager vegetation and harshness of the land, and by the time of the 30-Year War, numbered over 300 broodmares. The war, however, was survived by only a dozen.
From the late 17th century until the close of the 19th century, the breed was shaped by using oriental stallions, and from the 18th century also Thoroughbred stallions. The Senner horse could therefore best be classified as halfbreds (= warmblooded horses of roughly 50% Thoroughbred blood and/or oriental blood), or, similar to the Trakehner, as anglo-arabs
It was the environment of the Senne, with its hills, forests, sand dunes, ravines, creeks, and meager soil that shaped the horses to the uniformity of a breed, and they were far removed from their wild ancestors, even though nowadays they are sometimes portrayed as “wild horses” similar to other wild herds in the province of Westphalia.
Since around 1850, the horses were no longer allowed to freely roam the Senne, but the Senner horse was raised under domestic conditions at the hunting castle Lopshorn. They enjoyed fame as being hardy, frugal, sure-footed, beautiful and useful, and had some influence on most warmbloods of the country. By the end of the 19th century, however, introduction of draft blood ruined the breed and its reputation. In 1935, the Stud was dissolved, and the breed declared extinct.
A Dutch breeder had acquired a few mares and, using a pure Arab stallion, tried to preserve the breed. She herself was later forced to sell her horses during the World War. A few mares ended up with German Senner horse breeders, who in turn used mostly Arab and Thoroughbred blood in their rescue efforts.
Has the breed in fact been saved? Or are those right who consider it extinct? It could be argued either way. The trickle of the original blood is of homeopathic dilution, but if one is satisfied that this breed has been an artificial, man-made conglomeration of native mares with mostly oriental and Thoroughbred blood, then any re-creation of the breed could be considered as authentic as anything that existed a century ago.
There is now a project under way that allows some of the Senner horses to once again roam freely in the Senne, the environment that used to be the great designer of the breed. To call these horses “wild horses” is completely misleading, however. They are a man-made breed, a breed of medium-sized horses that in its best individuals offers toughness, refinement, robustness, soundness, athletic abilities, beauty and frugality.
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