Dutch warmbloods are highly regarded all over the world. They possess the right qualities to perform at the highest level of the sport. More and more top riders choose Dutch warmbloods to be able to compete at the pinnacle of the sport. But by far the largest majority of riders are amateurs that ride recreationally, and despite all its qualities, our Dutch warmbloods are proving increasingly unsuitable for this target group.
The Royal Dutch Warmblood Studbook KWPN states as its breeding goal is breeding horses that are capable of performing at the highest level of the sport. To reach this top level, the horses need various qualities, in addition to sound basic gaits and technique and scope over fences, for instance. They also need a high dose of intelligence, especially in today’s highly technical courses and intricate dressage tests; as well as the ability to combine power with flexibility and quick reactions. What is all comes down to is that high quality sport horses need to be sensitive and reactive to a certain degree. This also means that the more quality these horses possess, the more quality is also demanded of the rider to be able to manage these horses well, making these horses hardly suitable for novice riders. The Dutch FRNS (Federation for Dutch Riding Schools) reports a gaping shortage of suitable school horses for riding schools and recreational riders.
In short, the current KWPN horse is less suited for beginning or insecure riders.
So, what are the alternatives? Many recreational riders have switched to ‘other’ breeds. In many cases, Frisians prove to be wonderful for recreational riders. But this studbook has also started selecting more for qualities for the top sport. This means there will be more demand for these horses in a higher price bracket. It is simple supply and demand. Gelder horses fare much the same. To ensure sufficient diversification in this narrow studbook, more and more riding horse stallions are used to increase quality and make foals more sellable. This comes at a cost, however, and the cost is the traditionally much praised, reliable character.
Although breeders always try to breed horses that meet the desired breeding goals, not every horse will excel at that highest level of the sport. You might think that is a good thing, as these horses could be used in the riding schools or go to novice reactional riders. But things are not this simple. These horses might lack some of the qualities to perform at the top level, but still possess a lot of sensitivity which makes them sharp, quick and spooky in some cases.
There is definitely a demand for reliable, easy to ride horses. Why are breeders not jumping into this ‘hole in the market’, you might be wondering. The answer is plain and simple. Money! Prices for talented youngsters are through the roof, starting at the foals. Prices of €10,000 or more for a colt are no exception by any means. Add three years of rearing, starting under saddle and approval or grading to that, and the maintenance costs for a three-year-old will quickly soar to €15,000 or more. These are figures that the average recreational rider is unable or unwilling to spend. For riding schools, these figures are equally unattainable and unacceptable in the purchase of new school horses. In addition, three- or four-year-olds in most cases are not suited for this group of riders to begin with. As school horses, a lack of experience and ‘miles on the clock’ also makes them less suited.
The most suitable horse for recreational use is an older, well-schooled horse with a quiet, solid temperament. We would call them ‘schoolmasters’. A horse that has seen it all, done it all, and has a lot of experience under its belt. This means you are talking about an age of six or seven minimum, with correct schooling and training. A horse like that is hard to find, and they are in high demand abroad as well, where there might be buyers willing to really spend big on these kind of horses.
Anyone, whether you want to ride at top level or just for the love of it, likes an uncomplicated and rideable horse. Studbooks are placing more and more value on the right character traits. These traits are also showing to be highly hereditary. There are stallions that have proven to pass on their reliable and willing character, while other stallions have proven to produce sharper and more sensitive offspring. In looking for a nice, solid recreational horse, the pedigree can therefore provide a lot of information; but here also goes that the exception makes the rule.
So, are there no nice riding horses to be found at all in the lower price ranges? Yes, they can still be found if you look hard enough. But you might have to be willing to make some compromises. Often, these are older horses that are no longer able to perform in the sport but still have a lot of value as a recreational or school horse. We all learned to ride on that old nag, right?