Trakehner is a horse breed. The Trakehner is generally of a lighter type than most other warmbloods. The name derives from Trakehnen, the site of the Main Stud (Gestüt Trakehnen) in Prussia (since 1945, Yasnaya Polyana, Kaliningrad Oblast).
The Trakehner typically stands between 15.2 and 17 hands high (1.57 to 1.73 m). Trakehners can be any color, with bay, gray, chestnut and black being the most common, though the breed also includes few roan and tobiano pinto horses. It is considered to be the lightest and most refined of the warmbloods, due to its closed stud book which allows entry of only Trakehner, as well as few selected Thoroughbred, Anglo-Arabian, Shagya and Arabian bloodlines.
Trakehners are athletic and trainable, with good endurance, while some are more spirited than horses of other warmblood breeds. Trakehners breed true to type, due to the purity of the bloodlines, making it valuable for upgrading other warmbloods.
During their crusade of the Baltic Old Prussians in the 13th Century, the Teutonic Knights discovered the native Schwaikenpferd, a small primitive horse. The Knights used it to breed their military horses, and descendants of the Schwaike were used by German Ostsiedlung farmers for light utility work.
In 1732 King Frederick William I of Prussia established the Main Stud Trakehnen at the East Prussian town Trakehnen (now Yasnaya Polyana, Russia). Soldiers cleared the forest at the river Pissa between Stallupönen and Gumbinnen. In 1739 the king gave it to crown prince Frederick II of Prussia, who often sold stallions to make money. After his death in 1786 it became state property, named Königlich Preußisches Hauptgestüt Trakehnen.
In the years between 1817 and 1837, the stud added Arabian, Thoroughbred, and Turkish blood to their horses. One especially influential Thoroughbred was Perfectionist, by Persimmon, who won the Epsom Derby and the St. Leger in 1896. He was to be the sire of the great Trakehner stallion Tempelhüter, and most modern Trakehners can be traced to these two stallions. The Arabian blood was added to offset possible flaws of the Thoroughbred.
East Prussian farmers were encouraged to bring their mares, by then known for their hardness and quality, to Trakehnen's stallions, which allowed for the rapid transformation of the breed into much sought after army remounts; sure-footed, intelligent, and athletic. By 1918, 60,000 mares were bred to East Prussian stallions each year.
In 1919 the Treaty of Versailles limited Germany's army to 100,000 troops and so the breed's focus was again turned to producing horses suitable to farm duties. For this purpose, heavier reinforcement sires were used, the most successful being Ararad, Dampfross, Hyperion, Pythagoras and Tempelhüter. These stallions, while refined, possessed much substance and bone. Their influence is still seen on the modern Trakehner.
It was during the 1920s and 1930s that the breed was seen for the true performance horse it was. Trakehners won gold and silver medals in two Olympics, and won Czechoslovakia's notoriously challenging Velka Pardubicka steeplechase nine times. In the 1930s, there were more than 10,000 breeders and 18,000 registered mares.
In the 1930s and early 1940s, Hauptvorwerk Trakehnen and its 15 Vorwerke covered 6033 ha, of which 3845 ha were fields, 2427 ha meadows, 175 ha forest, 73 ha garden and 351 ha other. Horses like the Trakehner were used in World War II which, at the end, nearly destroyed the breed as Russian troops advanced from the East, causing flight and expulsion of Germans during and after WWII. The main Stud and local residents were given permission to evacuate on 17 October 1944. Their journey West, known as "The Flight" (Der Treck), sent the horses on a dangerous journey in frigid conditions, across the frozen Vistula lagoon, without proper rations or shelter. It is considered one of the toughest tests a whole breed of horses was submitted to.
Many refugees were bombed while on the ice, so only a small number of horses made it to safety. The horses left behind in East Prussia became important in the breeding of Russian breeds (Kirov)as well as the Polish Mazury (also known as the Masuren) and Pozan (or Poznan), which developed into the Wielkopolski. When the war was over, the breed which once numbered in the tens of thousands was reduced to approximately 600 broodmares and 50 stallions.
The surviving 700 horses were accounted for. The last original Trakehner was Keith, born there in 1944, died in November 1976 in Gilten shortly before his 35th anniversary. On October 23, 1947 the East Prussian Studbook Society was dissolved and the Association of Breeders and Friends of the Warmblood Horse of Trakehner Origin, known today as the Trakehner Verband, was created. Among the greatest obstacles the organization faced was that unlike other German breeds, the Trakehner had no mother state and could not depend on government funding. The re-establishment of the breed originally depended on the determination of its members and the largesse of others.
True pure-bred Trakehner show the Ostpreußische Elchschaufel (East-Prussian moose horn) branding (see Image above).
Today in Germany the breed is considered a federal responsibility, with its governance falling under both the Trakehner Verband and the Trakehner Gesellschaft mbH; the latter handling all business operations.
Stallion inspections are held in Neumünster, Germany, each October and approved stallions are required to complete extended performance tests, which rate the horses' gaits, temperament, jumping ability, and suitability over a cross country course, before being given full breeding licenses.
The Trakehner is used as a "refiner" of other breeds, allowing an infusion of Thoroughbred and Arabian blood without the risks often involved in first generation outcrosses. Influential stallions include Abglanz for the Hanoverian, Herbststurm who influenced the Oldenburg, Marco Polo for the Dutch Warmblood, the stallions Ibikus and Donauwind for the Danish Warmblood, and Polarstern for the Swedish Warmblood.
While Trakehners compete in nearly all equestrian disciplines, they are particularly prized as Dressage mounts, due to their sensitivity, intelligence and way of going. Peron anchored the U.S. Team to an Olympic Bronze in 1996 at Atlanta. Abdullah, by Donauwind, is particularly famous for his show jumping team gold and individual silver medals at the 1984 Olympics and 1985 World Cup win. Heuringer was the 1994 show jumping team silver medallist at the 1994 World Equestrian Games.