Westphalian horses: breed overview

Athletic, beautiful, and desirable in temperament, it’s no wonder that the Westphalian has quickly become a very popular warm-blooded breed in the United States. These horses excel in jumping and dressage competitions, and while they are athletic, they are also docile enough to be ridden by amateurs. If you’re looking for a big horse with a big stride, the Westphalian may be just the thing for you.

Variety Overview

weight: 1,000 to 1,300 lbs

high: 15.2 to 17.2 lots

Body type: Movement and Muscular Development

Most suitable: All kinds of riders, including amateurs, wishing to compete in show jumping or dressage

Life expectancy: 25 to 30 years old

History and origins of Westphalia

The Westphalian breed originally originated in Germany in the early 1800s to breed cavalry horses. A stud farm in Warendorf bred these horses, both for cavalry and as noble saddle horses. The Trakehner eventually became the favorite cavalry horse of the Prussian army, but in the Rhineland a heavier horse was needed that could also be used for farming.

To meet the demand for heavier types, Westphalians were crossed with heavier cold-blooded horses. The resulting lightweight breed can be ridden or driven.

With the cultural changes of the 20th centuryth In the 20th century, the needs changed again, this time focusing on horses that were more suitable for riding. Breeders changed their strategy, adding Hanoverian blood to ease the Westphalian build. During this time, original stallion records were destroyed, but dedicated breeders rely on memory and provide insight and guidance on mare and stallion selection to help preserve the breed. In 1946, breed checks began again, and Westphalian breeders focused on producing horses that were both highly rideable and athletic.

Westphalian size

Westphalians have between 15.2 and 17.2 lots. They tend to weigh between 1,000 and 1,300 pounds. This breed is similar to the Hanover, but it has a rougher build.

Breeding and Use

Modern Westphalian horses are bred with a focus on producing a sporty horse that is also highly rideable. Therefore, Westphalia is suitable for both amateurs and advanced professional riders. Breeding programs still exist in the horse’s home country of Germany, although horses are also imported to the United States to establish breeding programs here.

Today, Westphalians are used for a variety of purposes, including driving and show hunting. However, due to its flexible gait and wide stride, it excels in dressage and show jumping. The breed has a very good temperament and is known for its rideability, so the Westphalian attracts riders who compete at many different levels.

colors and markings

Although Westphalians of any coat color can be registered, bay, black, maroon and gray are the most common coat colors. The registered Westphalian has a brand on his left hip. The brand is a shield with the letter “W” in the middle, which is easily recognizable and will identify the horse for life.

Westend61/Getty Images

Westend61/Getty Images

Carina Maiwald/Getty Images

Unique characteristics of Westphalian horses

Westphalian horses are known for their extreme athleticism and remain an easy ride for many equestrians. Although brave and energetic, this breed is also very willing and docile. This great temperament means that many equestrians are likely to find their racing mates in Westphalia. These horses tend to have large movements, so while they may not be suitable for beginners, they are easy to pick up and can accommodate many different levels of riders.

Diet and Nutrition

Mature Westphalians tend to be easy to keep, which can save you money on feed. These horses require a forage-based diet, including hay and grass. Horses with intense work may benefit from a concentrated feed, while others may do well with a ration balancer.

Common Health and Behavioral Issues

Overall, Westphalians tend to be healthy, but they are closely related to Hanoverians. Hanoverians are known to suffer from osteochondrosis, which may also affect Westphalians. Osteochondrosis can cause leg damage and lameness that can end or limit racing and cycling careers. This condition can sometimes lead to foot boating, a painful hoof condition that requires careful and sometimes intense maintenance to keep the horse comfortable.

This breed is highly trainable and is generally known for its excellent temperament and friendly nature.


Westphalians can benefit from regular beauty sessions. Frequent curry helps its coat shine, a valuable perk in a show ring. Most Westphalians have braided manes and tails, so maintenance can greatly simplify show preparation. Keeping the tail in good shape and grooming can improve the quality of the tail. Pulling the bristles regularly will help make them easier to braid.

Champion and Celebrity Westphalian Horses

Because the Westphalians are so active in racing, there are many famous champion horses, many of them Olympians:

  • Ahlerich was one of the first Westphalians to compete in the Olympics. He won the individual dressage gold medal at the 1984 Olympics.
  • Rembrandt won gold at the 1988 Olympics and gold at the 1990 World Championships in Dressage.
  • Farbenfroh was a member of the German dressage team that won the team gold medal at the 2000 Olympics.

Is Westphalia right for you?

The Westphalian is a versatile horse, and if you’re looking for a partner in show jumping, dressage or driving competitions, you’ll easily find it in this breed. Because of its temperament, the Westphalia is ideal for many different riders. If your goal is to advance in the competition level, and you’re looking for a versatile partner who can accompany you during that goal, the Westphalians might be up to the task.

Keep in mind that this breed is generally very active and athletic. This movement helps it excel in disciplines like jumping or dressage, but can be a lot for beginners.

How to Adopt or Buy a Westphalian

If you feel that Westphalia is right for you and want to keep buying, you will have a few different options. The first option is that you can find breeders or trainers in the United States who specialize in these horses. It’s not uncommon for potential clients to spend $15,000 or more, and horses with race and training experience can fetch $30,000 or more.

Another option is to import Westphalia from Germany. Some riders choose to do this in order to get a horse with a certain pedigree or experience. Importing is complex and is best done under the guidance of an experienced trainer or broker. This also comes with some drawbacks, mainly the fact that you can’t test ride this horse before buying and importing it.

Westphalians are so popular and valuable that they are rarely adopted through horse rescues. While they are expensive, it is also possible to carefully buy, train and compete a horse for a profit before resale in the future.

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