The Netherlands is small, and not well-suited to raising horses, never the less, the Dutch have made a substantial contribution to horse-breeding in Europe. For centuries, they have proved themselves to be innovatory and market-wise, breeding horses such as the Groningen and the Gelderlander for local use, and able to adjust their products to suit the demands of foreign markets. This last skill has enabled them to make use of these two old breeds as a basis for the outstanding Dutch Warmblood.
The Groningen, bred in the Groningen region in the north of the Netherlands, may not have had any significant export potential, but it was well-suited to the needs of the local people. The old type was based mainly on its famous neighbor, the Friesian and almost as much on the powerful, temperate Oldenburger. By the early 19th century, it had evolved as a heavy farm horse that could carry out a variety of agricultural tasks and could also be used as a steady, very strong, but not spectacular coach horse.
The early Groningen was noted for its strong quarters and ample bone, but had a restricted action. Most had upright shoulders and long backs, and tended to be round and fleshy in the joints. However, the brood mares were substantial and roomy and, when crossed with quality stallions, were capable of producing good, plain stock of considerable size and strength. These horses were, moreover, calm in temperament, easily managed, and very willing workers.
After 1945 the demand for an active, versatile type of horse prompted breeders to produce a more compact animal with better shoulders and greater freedom of movement. The old type can hardly be said to exist today, and the breed as a whole has dwindled in numbers.
A century ago the breeders of the Gelder province began to develop the Gelderlander, using the dull, common native mares as a base. They aimed to produce a carriage horse with presence and good action, which could be used for light agricultural work, and might also be used as a heavy stamp of riding horse. Like most European breeders, they put great emphasis on an equable temperament.
The Dutch used a wide range of sires: Cleveland Bays, Roadsters, and half-breds from the UK; Arabs from Egypt; Anglo-Arabs, Nonius, and Furioso half-breds from Hungary; Oldenburgers; East Prussians from Poland; and a few Orlov and Orlov-Rastopchin Trotters from Russia.
The best of the disparate progeny were interbred to obtain a fixed type. Later, more Oldenburgers and East Friesians were brought in, and in 1900 a Hackney was used to add sparkle. Since then there have also been some infusions of Anglo-Norman blood.
The modern Gelderlander is an impressive carriage horse, with a presence enhanced by a lofty, rhythmic action (the result of good shoulders) and a tail carried high on much improved quarters. It is powerful, with short, very strong limbs carrying no feather, but is still rather plain, with a sensible rather than elegant head and a straight or slightly convex profile. Unlike the Groningen, which is bay or brown, the Gelderlander is chestnut (or occasionally grey), often with white markings on the legs and face. It stands at about 1.68 m (16.2 hh).
They are very successful in competition driving internationally, Gelderlander teams featuring prominently in international events. They may still be used as weight-carrying riding horses, and a few have become reliable, though not fast, showjumpers.
Neither breed has yet made its ways to Australia, and its not likely either will soon as they don’t have much to offer local horse breeders that is not currently already in existence here already.