Dirk Willem Rosie

Nowadays it’s hard to imagine that England laid the foundation of the modern sport horse. Holstein, Hanover, Oldenburg, Selle Français, KWPN and all other major warmblood studbooks, they owe their success to the equine fruits of the Industrial Revolution in England.

Dirk Willem Rosie

Breeding expert DIRK WILLEM ROSIE worked for the KWPN (Royal Dutch Warmblood Studbook) from 1994 until 2006. During this period he was editor–in–chief of the Dutch equestrian magazine In De Strengen. Today he runs his own equestrian communications company.

Rosie began his career in journalism as an art editor and theatre critic, and his passion for horses initially found expression through his contributions to the magazine De Hoefslag.

While working for the KWPN, Rosie followed a course in genetics at Hogeschool Larenstein in Deventer and wrote a series of extensive articles on population genetics and systematic horse breeding.

In 2004 Rosie was a presenter at the Global Dressage Forum where he offered an examination of how conformation, movement and temperament can contribute to the FEI ideal of the horse as a ‘happy athlete’. Afterwards he wrote a book about the ideal conformation, movements and temperament of the dressage horse. ‘The dressage horse’ is based upon the FEI rulebook, its requirements with respect to the horse. The book also combines the practical knowledge of studbooks and breeders with an extensive survey amongst top riders and the highlights of biomechanical research on dressage horses. An English translation of this book will be published shortly.
Rosie wrote a historic book about Dutch equestrianism at the Olympic Games and about a journey he made by horse and carriage from Holland to St. Petersburg.

Dirk Willem Rosie lives in Haaksbergen, The Netherlands. He breeds show jumpers of whom several have reached Grand Prix level.

Raging economic developments in 18th and 19th century England brought about an enormous need for transportation. With the motor yet to be invented, the horse was the fastest way to bring goods and people from A to B. And thanks to the power of a huge economic demand for faster, stronger and healthier horses, successful breeding was generously rewarded.

Industrial Revolution
The Industrial Revolution brought unequalled prosperity to the British society. Noblemen and entrepreneurs found pleasure in breeding and owning fast horses for the racetracks, the lower social classes liked to watch these athletes race and they all shared a typical British passion for betting. From Arabians, Turks, Barbs and local horses the thoroughbred was derived, the fastest horse on earth and - with betting becoming bigger and bigger – an economic factor of its own.

Thoroughbreds were used to make carriage horses faster. The Industrial Revolution produced its own breeds of working horses: Cleveland Bay, Yorkshire Coach, Hackney. Some slightly bigger for heavier loads, others lighter for speed, stamina, or an aesthetic quality of movement. But all severely selected for their economic value. And truly selected. Those who didn’t satisfy the economic need didn’t survive.

The Industrial Revolution spread around Europe. The Germans and the French wanted to benefit from these amazing harness and carriage horses from England. So Clevelanders and Yorkshire Coach horses were exported to Europe and of course thoroughbreds went overseas to modernize and improve local breeds throughout the continent. Holstein wouldn’t have been big without these wonderful horses with their blood and tremendous will to go forward. We still can see the ‘stamp’ of the English carriage horse: the long lines, the high front. Hanover was heavily influenced by thoroughbred because of the royal family ties between England and Hanover.

Contrary to the historic situation in Germany and France, the Dutch government was never involved in horse breeding. Holland was a sailing nation with rivers as means of transportation and inundations as defence lines. Farmers were the only breeders and they took no interest in blood type horses. Holland benefited from Britain at a later stage, through German and French crossings.

Form Follows Function
Every time in history, the nature and conformation of the horse changed radically through breeding if the economic circumstances changed. The carriage horses of the 19th century were rather light horses with blood and stamina. In the first part of the 20th century horses became heavy and short legged when agricultural production had to keep up with the human population growing in numbers worldwide. Again selection for an economic breeding aim proved to be successful. When later on the tractor appeared to be a more profitable companion to the farmer, the new destination of equus was feared to be the zoo.

Breeding Aim
But simultaneously the lifestyle in the western world changed: people had more money and more spare time. Equestrian sport, so far restricted to the military and farmers, became a passion for large parts of society. For many people the horse was a link to nature, a companion in exciting adventures, an expression of life’s quality. And sport horses became more and more expensive, the breeding aim again adapted to new economic circumstances.
As had happened before, the thoroughbred (and to a lesser extend the Trakehner and the Arab) was there to make heavy horses lighter and suitable – this time – for use under the saddle.

The new riders however felt different about equestrian sports than their predecessors, the military and the farmers. Most modern day riders – in Europe anyway – either like dressage or show jumping. As working in front of a carriage completely differs from working in front of a plough, jumping and dressage are also two totally different tasks. In the same way as in the past the specific task of the horse moulded its features and behaviour. From the riding horse two types were derived: the long legged dressage horse, built with an uphill tendency, a somewhat vertical direction of the neck and specific qualities in movement; and the jumper, which usually has a more horizontal conformation and moves with less extravagance.

FEI Rulebook
The FEI rulebook for dressage describes the posture and attitude of the horse in action, with specific details about the arched neck and the poll being the highest point. There are clear descriptions of the way dressage horses should move: elevated, maintaining rhythm and stride frequency while shortening and lengthening the strides. These rules, combined with the laws of biomechanics and the results of scientific research on dressage horses, produce a clear view of how a dressage horse should look like and how it should move.

In Holland a survey was held amongst 700 riders active in dressage at fourth level or higher. The results allow us to look inside the mind and the temperament of the top dressage horse. Both the visible and the invisible outline of the top dressage horse will be presented at the Horse Breeders and Owners Conference.

The Dutch JUMPEX research clarified how successful show jumpers perform biomechanically and what kind of temperament they have. Efficiency in jumping technique (both legs and body) is paramount. The best jumpers are hot tempered, showing a little bit of the fleeing instinct. The results of the JUMPEX research will be presented at the Horse Breeders and Owners Conference.

Performance Testing
In the days of the carriage and the plough breeding didn’t need judges. Selection took place working. Horses that couldn’t do the job didn’t live very long and didn’t get the chance to produce offspring. Nowadays unfit sport horses, particularly mares, sometimes end up in breeding because they can’t do the job. Studbooks are indispensable as long as breeders and users (riders) are not the same people.

The performance test is a crucial part of systematic sport horse breeding. It enables us to measure potential broodmares and stallions for the traits that are vital to the breeding aim (Grand Prix). We can use promising stallions at a young age. Last, but certainly not least, performance testing lowers the environmental effects such as training and riding. It also plays an important part in the calculation of breeding values.

Performance testing does not replace sport. Today stallions need to be promoted in sport. In modern breeding there is a tendency that Grand Prix stallions cover more mares than average.

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