Quest for the high stepper
It is a mystery how the Dutch show horse breed was entirely unknown in the United States until recently. Especially because the Dutch preference for high trotting horses with a lot of attitude dates far back.
Unfortunately we can't trace back when the Dutchmen was for the first time snared by the spell of the high stepping horse.
For many centuries the Dutchmen liked upright and high stepping horses.
"The medieval Dutch horses from the province Gelderland were highly appreciated as fine harness horses.” Quadekker also noticed that the constant features of horses from the Dutch province Groningen were “the very upright neck with high stepping action.”
In the 16th century modern war asked for lighter build, less upright and faster horses.
Although Dutch breeders were paid to breed for the cavalry, many of them refused to deploy their elite-breeding stock for this goal.
Prospering time of 'Sunday-horses'
For Dutch farmers the horse was a helper and a source of income. Additionally, the fancy horse was also a status symbol.
By consistently breeding the best mares to the best and highest trotting stallions the so called 'Sunday-horses' distinguished themselves from the stronger built working-horses.
The first studbook in The Netherlands was founded in 1879 in the province Friesland. The other provinces followed by establishing their own horse registries. The regional studbooks organized shows, stallion approvals and keurings (the Dutch word for in-hand classes to judge horses for soundness, correct conformation and motion) to educate people and to reward the best breeding products.
After Second World War
With the start of the Second World War in 1940 the heyday of the Dutch horse breed ended abruptly. Many Dutch breeders were forced to give up their horses to the occupying forces.
The substantial reduction of the horse population continued after the war. When tractors and cars became more prevalent, horses disappeared slowly from the farm.
The group of DHH breeders shrank as the popularity of the riding horse increased. Dutchmen decided to cross their Harness mares with thoroughbreds and stallions from Germany or France which helped the increasing popularity of the riding horse now called the Dutch Warmblood.
The big 3
Colonel, Domburg and Ebert were called "The big 3" of the early Dutch Harness Horse breed. Each stallion added something to the breed. The influence was dispersed.
The influence of Oregon
The stallion Oregon played a decisive role in the DHH-history. This special horse was born in 1950. He was known for his powerful trot, attitude and high open motion. Show horse features that he passed on to his get.
In a dark period Oregon and his offspring fired up the passion for show horses. The Fine Harness Classes achieved a higher level and the popularity of the DHH grew. The snare of the high stepper kept the DHH from vanishing. Through the influence of Oregon the fancy “Sunday horse” developed into a high performing show ring competitor.
Unfortunately the popularity of Oregon had also an unavoidable downside. The gene pool of the DHH breed became very small. The horses were becoming very inbred and there was great concern for the breed’s future.
Renovo, the Renewer
Fortunately Renovo was born in 1975. His name means Renewer and Renovo literally lived upon that name. His fresh blood and positive influence revitalized the DHH breed.
As only a three year old Renovo defeated the unbeatable multi national champion Oregon-son Indiaan by winning the National Championship Fine Harness for approved stallions.
Renovo turned the Dutch Harness Horse into a modern show horse. He added refinement, sharpness and expression to the 'Oregon-population'. What Oregon did in 1950, Renovo repeated in 1975. Renovo produced 17 approved sons, many famous broodmares and his offspring dominated for many years the Fine Harness Horse Classes and keurings.
Fabricius & Manno
With Fabricius being a more modern and refined type and Manno with his tremendous carriage and success in the show ring helped lead us to where the Dutch Harness Horse is today.
Without Oregon and Renovo it is unknown if the Dutch Harness Horse would have survived and made its way to America. Several get, grandget and descendants of Renovo found their way to America to start another chapter with the American DHH.
With the knowledge of Dutch breeders and the appreciation of the American horsemen and horsewomen, the future is bright for the breed in the United States.