Horse-breeding in Switzerland can be traced back for nearly 1,000 years to the Benedictine monastery of Einsiedeln where horses were being bred is early as AD 964. Today, the emphasis is on the Federal Stud at Avenches and the production of the modern Einsiedler, also called the Swiss Warmblood.
The Einsiedler was founded in the 10th century on local Schwyer stock, and the first stud book was opened in 1655. However, after some unwise outcrossing to Spanish, Italian, Friesian, and Turkish stallions, a second, more comprehensive book was compiled in 1784 by Father Isidor Moser.
In the 19th century, the breed was improved by Anglo-Norman mares and a Yorkshire Coach Horse stallion, Bracken, who was imported in 1865. Later the emphasis shifted to a mix of Holsteiner/Norman crosses. Then, in the late 1960s, Swedish and Irish mares were imported to Avenches, where the breed was now being produced. The stallions used were just as varied, and included Anglo-Norman, Holsteiner, and Swedish horses, as well as some native stock. Potential breeding horses are selected and performance tested at the age of three and a half and then again at five. The tests include jumping, dressage, cross-country, and driving. Conformation is important, and horses are only selected if their parents have proven performance ability. Mares are tested at three years old, and cannot be registered unless their parents are registered half-breds.
Avenches continues to be discriminate in its choice of stallions, and as well as the modern Einsiedler it stands Thoroughbreds, Hanoverians, Swedish horses, and Selle Fancais, occasionally using Trakehners as well. As a result of the breeding programme, the number of imports is decreasing.
At the time of writing this article (January 2012), there is no Swiss Warmblood horse association in Australia and no known individual horses in the country either as riding horses or as part of a warmblood breeding program.
The Freiberger (or Franches-Montagnes) is a mountain-bred horse, originating in the hilly Jura region of western Switzerland. He is an active mover, naturally sure-footed, quiet, and good-natured. For generations it was the mainstay of the army pack companies, and was also ideal on small mountain farms. It stands at about 1.52 m (15 hh), and is powerfully built, with good limbs and feet.
Like the Einsiedler, it has a strong Norman background. Many Freibergers trace to one stallion, Vaillant, foaled in 1891. Vaillant was a great grandson of Leo H, a half-bred English hunter stallion with Norfolk Roadster connections, who was imported in 1865. Poulette, Vaillant’s grandam on both sides, was of Thoroughbred/Anglo-Norman stock.
Imprevu, an Anglo-Norman imported in 1889, produced a second important line through his great-grandson Chasseur. Other outcrosses to French, English, and Belgian horses had no lasting effect, and it was not until after the Second World War that a new bloodline emerged from Urus, another stallion with Norman blood. Since then outcrosses have been carefully monitored. Anglo-Normans are usually selected, but Arab blood has also been used.