The Dutch Harness Horse, or Tuigpaard, is 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. The breed is based on the 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 horses alike.
The expressive head is made up of straight lines and distinctly warmblood in type. It is usually narrow, long and quite dry, similar to the Saddlebred.
The neck is set on quite high, and the shoulders are uniformly long and powerful. The carriage of the head and the level croup with high-set tail distinguish the harness horses from their riding-type relatives. 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".
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.
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 spectaculalry 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.
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.