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The beauty of Black Forest Horses is sure to take any horse lover’s breath away. This stunning breed originated in the mountainous Black Forest region of southern Germany. To highlight the dazzling looks of these unique horses, locals often refer to them as the “Pearls of the Black Forest”.
Black Forest Horses have been around for nearly six centuries. They were once essential assets to the local community who used these hardy horses in agriculture and forestry.
The breed’s docile temperament and gentle nature make the Black Forest Horse easy to train and handle. Although their numbers have plummeted after the Second World War, thanks to the efforts of breeders and enthusiasts the population is now stable.
Here are eight facts about the Black Forest Horse:
1. Black Forest Horses Originate From The 15th Century
According to the records of the Abbey of Saint Peter, horse breeding in the Black Forest region has been ongoing since the 15th century. It is believed that the ancestor of the Black Forest Horse was the heavy and coarse Wälderpferd. This draft horse breed carried out heavy-duty farm and forestry work and was later crossed with lighter horse types.
Most of the early horse breeding in the Black Forest was confined to the monasteries of St. Märgen and St. Peter. As the monks possessed the skill of record keeping, they were best equipped to create a distinct horse breed.
A breed association and studbook for the Black Forest Horse was started as early as 1896 in Sankt Märgen. In May 2001, the first horse arrived to the Black Forest Stables in Washington, United States, following approval from the German breeding association.
2. Several Breeds Influenced The Black Forest Horse
While the Black Forest Horse directly descends from the hefty Wälderpferd, it also carries the bloodlines of several other horse breeds. The most influential of those were the Noriker and the Breton, as both of them played a role in the initial development of the breed.
After the Black Forest Horse association was formed in 1896, only Belgian Draft blood was allowed into the breed. Crossbreeding with Belgian Drafts increased the size of the Black Forest Horse and diversified its uses.
While the association had strict rules regarding the breeding of these horses, several breeds have crossed paths with the Black Forest Horse over its history. Today, six main bloodlines are left in the breed, marked by the letters D, F, M, R, V, and W.
Each letter indicates an addition of outside blood to that particular bloodline. For example, the “F” line was influenced by the Freiberger horse breed, while the “V” line has received infusions of Schleswiger blood. (Source: Terrific Pets)
3. The Black Forest Horse is an Endangered Horse Breed
Following the end of World War II, there were over 1,200 registered Black Forest broodmares. However, the breed suffered heavy losses due to the mechanization of agriculture and transport, which decimated most draft horse breeds. By 1977, there were less than 160 broodmares left, which put the Black Forest Horse in critical danger.
Decades later, the breed was still not out of crisis. In 2007, the Food and Agriculture Organization (FAO) assigned the Black Forest Horse “endangered” status. Thankfully, breeders and enthusiasts were not about to let these beautiful horses disappear from the face of the Earth.
By 2017, breed numbers have risen to 1077 mares and 88 stallions. Although the German association for the conservation of historic and endangered domesticated breeds (GEH) listed the Black Forest Horse as “endangered” in 2019, the breed is now out of critical danger.
Roughly 46 approved breeding stallions and 700 broodmares currently reside in Germany. The state-operated Marbach Stud in Baden-Württemberg has a number of Black Forest stallions standing at stud. Meanwhile, the worldwide population is around 1,200-2,000 horses.
Also Read: 12 Rare Horse Breeds That Could Go Extinct
4. The Marbuch Stud Farm In Germany Preserves And Promotes The Breed
The renowned Marbach Stud Farm in southern Germany has been breeding horses since the Middle Ages. The farm has played a key role in protecting and promoting the Black Forest Horse, as well as other endangered native breeds.
Dr. Astrid von Velsen-Zerweck, who is involved with Marbach Stud, told The Horse Magazine:
“Marbach is a very old stud with almost 500 years of history. We have not only been breeding Warmbloods and also Arabs, we are also involved in a breeding program for local horse breeds that are threatened—like the Schwarzwälder Kaltblüter (the Black Forest cold blood) and the heavy Warmblood, the Altwürttemberger. Marbach owns about 300 horses, and 200 horses are raised for breeders.”
According to Gabriele Haslinger on blackforesthorses.ca, stallion prospects at Marbach Stud undergo an inspection when they are three years old. If they have satisfactory conformation, appearance, and movement, the young stallions will qualify for the “Performance Test”.
To pass the Performance Test, Black Forest Stallions have to pull and drive up to a certain standard. If successful, the stallion will be awarded the title of “State Approved Stallion”, allowing him to breed state-approved mares. Stallions that consistently produce high-quality offspring can earn the “Premium Stallion” or “Elite Stallion” titles.
Black Forest broodmares also undergo a Performance Test, and the best ones are recognized with a “State Premium” title. All Balck Forest foals born in Baden-Württemberg are branded with a Spruce Tree mark.
Foals between 4-6 months old are inspected for conformation and appearance, and the best foals will bring home bronze, silver, or gold medals.
5. Black Forest Horses Originally Worked In Agriculture And Forestry
The Black Forest Horse is a famously willing worker, surefooted, and reliable. These qualities made this strong horse breed ideal for forestry work, pulling longs across the rugged terrain of its homeland. Black Forest Horses were also historically used for agriculture.
Today, we mostly see these horses pulling elegant carriages or being ridden by children and adults alike. They make ideal beginners’ horses, as they are calm and patient but still forward-going. Black Forest Horses are also used in therapeutic riding.
The breed’s versatility has certainly helped increase its numbers both in Germany and around the world. What’s more, Black Forest horses are a popular choice for parades and festivals, due to their extravagant looks and showy movement.
Also Read: How Much Weight Can a Horse Pull?
6. They Are Light Draft Horses
At first sight, it’s not always obvious that the Black Forest Horse is actually a draft breed. For a cold-blooded horse, these horses are rather delicate in frame with refined features. They are normally light to medium weight and stand around 14.2 to 15.3 at the withers.
A typical Black Forest Horse is muscular and strong, with a short neck and head and sloped shoulders. The legs are clean with no feathering, which is another unusual feature in draft horses.
Black Forest Horses are not just pretty, but also have an excellent temperament and health. They generally live long lives free of diseases if they receive adequate care. Black Forest Horses are easy keepers and will live happily on a forage-only diet.
7. All Black Forest Horses Are Sorrel With A Flaxen Mane and Tail
Black Forest Horses have been selectively bred for their color since 1875. Included in our list of the most unique horse coat colors, their chocolate flaxen coat can be various shades of sorrel, from light to almost black. Their base color is always accompanied by a flaxen mane and tail, and no other color combination may be registered.
The silvery mane is perhaps the Black Forest Horse’s most fabulous feature. If allowed, this mane will grow to be long and wavy, with the forelock often extending beyond the length of the face.
8. A Festival Is Held Every Three Years To Celebrate The Breed
The small rural town of Sankt Märgen is thought to be the home of the Black Forest Horse. It was here that the first studbook for the breed was opened in 1896.
According to Terrific Pets, Sankt Märgen also gives home to the “Rossfest”, an event held every three years to celebrate this majestic breed.
During the festival, there are various competitions for Black Forest Horses that highlight the versatility of the breed. There are also mare and stallion displays and the best animals are awarded a prize at the end of the day.