LOOKING at the impressive Hannoveraner Verband complex just on Verden’s outskirts, you could see how Horse Sport Ireland’s ambitious concept of a similar one-stop Centre of Excellence began.

Yet another statue - here, it’s the famous Hanoverian mare Dieta and her foal - stand outside the entrance to the Hanoverian studbook’s headquarters and its competition and sales complex.

A series of indoor and outdoor arenas have played host to hundred of events, from the world-famous Verden auctions to stallion licensing, competitions, shows, a Canadian Mounties display and the 2001 European dressage championships.

This morning, it’s an indoor eventing competition. One of the options helpfully suggested by two of the Verband’s breeding department team - Ulrich Hahne and Juliana Küspert - to coincide with an interview with breeding manager Hahne for The Irish Field’s upcoming stallion guide.

On a Saturday morning, both the meeting and competition begin on the dot at the scheduled 8.30am and 10am. Welcome to Germany. A horse country with nearly three million riders of which ’just’ 80,000 have a competition licence. The huge leisure horse market is one of many interesting facts gathered about the German horse world and many more await.


Last year, the Hanoverian Verband celebrated its centenary. The association has come a long way since the ‘Hannoveraner Studbook for Noble Warmbloods’ was first founded. The type of horses changed too with the move from their original roles as carriage and cavalry horses to Olympic champions.

The studbook itself is one of a handful to have toppled the Irish Sport Horse (2010) from its customary perch as the leading eventing studbook in the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH) rankings.

Last year too, the Hanoverian studbook finished third in both the WBFSH eventing and Hippomundo dressage studbook rankings.

Amongst the three Olympic sports though, dressage and show jumping are considered much more profitable for German breeders than the ‘poor relation’ of eventing.

Profits and pragmatism are the hallmarks of both the professional and farmer-breeders in Germany, although this profile is changing too as Ulrich Hahne explained.

A keen advocate for the young breeder programme, he has managed the Hanoverian mare studbooks since 2001, then was appointed deputy Breeding Director in 2006 before taking on his current role four years ago.

Built largely after a bequest to the Hanoverian Verband, the complex is on the outskirts of ‘Rider City’ \ Susan Finnerty

“I’m half as old as the Hanoverian society!” Hahne, a father of three, said smiling. Last year their family holiday was spent in Ireland, including several days at Dublin Horse Show. It was his third visit to Dublin, having previously twice judged there and the man on the street’s connection to horses in Ireland continues to delight him.

“I was in a taxi going to the airport and the driver asked who had won the Nations Cup. That would not happen in Germany!”

How did his own interest in horses begin? “My grandfather had a farm and I was living just on the other side of the street in a really small village near Verden, 20kms away.

“My grandfather was a horse breeder, my father was a horse breeder. Hanoverian horses of course, but with Oldenburger roots because my grandfather moved from the Oldenburg region as his original farm had to be sold because of growing industry in that area.

“So he moved to the Hanoverian region and in the 1950s, you had to breed horses that were bred in that area and so, my family came to the Hanoverian horses.”

He followed on the family tradition. “First, I learnt agriculture on two farms, that’s normal in Germany and then I went to Kiel to study Agriculture.”

Changing times

Like Ireland, horses were part of German farms for centuries and their evolution was quite similar to the Irish Sport Horse: crossing light draught mares with thoroughbreds.

In these low-lying North German marshlands, local mares often had an exotic back catalogue of bloodlines, going back centuries to Cleveland Bay, Norfolk Trotter, Yorkshire Coach Horses and a range of heavier German ‘kaltblut’ (coldblood) breeds, mixed with thoroughbred, Arabian and another later refining influence: the Trakehner.

“Hans Joachim Koeller was the first auction leader we had. He had the big ideas, he was the visionary. Originally a Trakehner breeder, he was closely involved with the horse museum and that’s one of the reasons why Tempelhüter’s statue is there.”

The famous Trakehner’s statue is placed outside the Deutsches Pferdemuseum. One of the museum’s photographs is of two men picking potatoes in a field as a beaming toddler sits perched on the back of a dozing draught horse, harnessed to a cart. While the caption states the photo was taken in 1963 in the Rheinland region, take away the caption and it could well be an Irish farm scene.

A lot of changes in the 60 years since - is there still that mix of horses and livestock on German farms or does it tend to be more dedicated stud farms and specialised breeders now?

“It changed. In my childhood, horse breeders were farmers and now I think less than 50% of our breeders are farmers. Yes, on one hand it is more specialised and we have bigger [farmer] breeders, specialised in horses. Not in cattle or pigs, they specialise in horses. So, in my mind, they are still horse breeders.

“But we have a lot of horse breeders who are teachers or have a ‘normal’ job. The daughter has stopped riding, ‘There’s her mare, what do we do with her? We breed from her!’”

Compared to previous decades when the typical Hanoverian young breeder profile was aged 25, male and from an agricultural background, nowadays it tends to be 40, female and from an equestrian background.

The number of active members in the society has hovered around the 7,300 mark for the past three years, while the number of registered foals - the Verband go to the breeder’s yard to do the entire foal registration process, from DNA to paperwork - has increased; from 6,683 in 2020 to 7,055 foals last year.

Another nugget of information was how the Verband will carry out on-the-farm mare inspections. “We make half of the inspections on the farm. It’s a big support for the breeder.”

Naturally with the costs and logistics involved in travelling mares to inspections but is there a minimum number required, would the inspectors go to a farm or yard for just one or two mares?

“Yes, we would because we are organised throughout the various areas with people who make inspections. We don’t have to go from Verden each time.”

Verden graduates

Around 50 staff - between administration, stables and sales teams - are employed at the Lindhooper Straße complex. How did it start?

“It was a logical development,” Ulrich replied. “In 1949, we started with Verden auctions, near the place where the horse museum is. There was a riding school there and that was the place for the first auctions.”

Again, the thinking behind building the original cavalry barracks beside Verden railway station paid off. In the auction’s early days and right up to the 1970s, horses would arrive by train for their six weeks of pre-sales preparation.

Later Verden auction graduates include 1986 world show jumping champion Gail Greenough’s horse Mr T, three-time European champion Deister (sold here as a dressage prospect), Hugo Simon’s E.T and Nick Skelton’s Dollar Girl.

“Then the Verden auctions became a big development. Hans Joachim Köhler, who really was a horseman, had really good ideas. They decided to build this big arena for the auctions together with Masterrind. It was hand-in-hand with Masterrind, a real global player. Then a really wealthy Hanoverian breeder died and gave money to the society so then we build this.”

‘This’ is the Verband’s modern office complex, adjoining the Forum meeting room, two indoor arenas, stables and a host of outdoor arenas.

The distinctive Hannoveraner logo - a ‘H’ crowned by two back-to-back horse heads - is everywhere. “I really like that logo, it’s the only German one that includes the horse,” said Ulrich.

In the entrance foyer, beside a gift shop selling Hannoveraner Verband and equestrian fashion ranges, are some eye-catching photographs. One is of a garlanded champion Hanoverian mare; another is an Oscar night-worthy scene of a young cattle breeder holding his champion Holstein as glittering ticker tape rains down on the pair.

Doubling up with Masterrind (Rind = Beef), Germany’s number one cattle export company, was a smart move. It operates the country’s largest and most successful Holstein bovine breeding programme while its herd book tradition dates back to 1876.

However, numbers at mare and cattle shows are declining.

“I made a presentation in a breeding club about the future of mare shows. Just to give you an idea: when I was four years old, we had a mare show at Thedinghausen, near where I was born and at the breeding club, we had a mare show with more than 40 mares. That was 1973.

“In 1989, we had the last mare show at Thedinghausen with 17 mares. My family had three mares at the show and none of the mares were good enough to show but we went there to support it.

“Then we moved to the neighbouring breeding club and again, it was a show with 40 mares, it was nice for some years and then … the numbers were decreasing again.

“So then we made a big mare show in that area between seven breeding clubs and we had more than 100 mares and it was a big event. Last year, we had 35 mares at that breeding show.

“That’s a development of the mare shows but not typical just for horses. Masterrind is a big cattle breeding organisation here in Verden. When I was studying farming, they had a big cattle show in this arena and it was sold out. In the arena, they had an additional 10 rows of chairs on each side. This year, they just had one-third of the arena, so the interest in showing your animals is not as popular as it was 30 years ago.”

Are the declining numbers because owners prefer to keep their mares in sport?

“That’s one side of the story. The other is you only go with that mare to the mare show when you are more or less sure that you get a premium and that the mare becomes a premium mare. So you select that mare yourself at home.

“And of course we have some really professional breeders at shows, of course they want to support their horses and farms and the small breeders says, ‘I’m not good enough to compete with them, so I stay at home with my mare.’”


Rising costs are another factor across the international horse world. “You pick for sure how many competitions you go to. Entry fees, diesel, feed prices are high. Today is Saturday so I do not have to take a day off work, otherwise I could not come here,” said the owner-rider of one entry in the young event horse classes.

The young event and arena eventing classes run like clockwork too. The entries for the opening young event horses are divided into groups of three, and trot and canter on both reins, as directed by the commentator, while the three judges score their movement and way of going.

In the same arena, a show jumping course is set up. One combination completes it while the other two entries wait in a corner. Then judges, horses, riders and spectators - many duly recording their horses performance via smartphones - all move to the second arena where an indoor cross-country course has been set up for the third phase.

And so on with each group of three until the prizewinners of the day’s first competition are announced. It runs like well-oiled clockwork.

During a break between classes, there’s time to visit the immaculate stabling complex where plaques on one wall count down the Hanoverian Stallion of the Year titleholders through the decades.

These include the current titleholder Perigueux, (stationed 80kms away at the state stud in Celle), Argentinus, For Pleasure, Stakkato Gold and a thoroughbred: Lauries Crusador back in 2006.

Photos of Hanoverian greats from the early 20th century up to Michael Jung’s pair of Star Connection and of course Chipmunk FRH line the walls too. Chipmunk was bred locally and his dam Havanna was the Hanoverian Mare of the Year two years ago, a title first held in 2007 by Famm, the dam of recent loss, Shutterfly.


The introduction of short format eventing surfaces during Ulrich’s Dublin Horse Show memories of “a great horseman. Two times I was invited as a judge and I met Ronnie McMahon there. The first time, I had to judge the dressage for the young event horse class. That has to be 20 years ago.

“Ronnie was really angry with the Germans because it was the time the eventing format was changed and now the best dressage horses are the best event horses. And the Irish didn’t see that [change] will come.

“After the prizegiving, Ronnie asked me ‘And did the best eventer win?’ And I said, ‘No, but you will learn fast from the Germans when the best dressage horse will make the best eventer!’ It was just a joke and then we had a big discussion!”

What about that theory that the short format was changed to suit warmblood types? “I think there could be an argument for that but that is not the main reason. It was to make the sport safer.”

Like many Germans, Ulrich Hahne is refreshingly direct and upfront. And he loves his job. “It’s more than a job, it’s my passion. Horses are my passion. I like the horse people because they’re honest and direct with you about what they like, what they don’t like and what they think. Not everyone is honest every time.”

It’s been an insightful visit and still time to fit in a second visit to the fascinating Deutsches Pferdemuseum. Outside the museum entrance, someone had placed a lit candle on the base of Tempelhüter’s statue. Less reverentially, there’s an empty Heineken bottle left there too. A passer-by ‘Tsssks’ loudly and whisks it away.

Littering is a huge no-no in Germany, not least of all near an iconic statue in the heart of ‘Rider City’: Verden.