Westphalian Horse: Breed Profile

Training, Grooming, and Care Tips

Westphalian mare and foal in a pasture.

Chris-Mueller / Getty Images  

Highly athletic, beautiful, and with a desirable temperament, it’s no wonder that the Westphalian is quickly becoming a highly popular warmblood breed in the United States. These horses excel in jumping and dressage competitions, and though they’re athletic, they’re also docile enough to be ridden by amateurs. If you’re looking for a big-bodied horse with a sweeping stride, the Westphalian might be just the breed for you.

Breed Overview

Weight: 1,000 to 1,300 pounds

Height: 15.2 to 17.2 hands

Body Type: Athletic and muscular

Best For: A variety of riders, including amateurs, looking to compete in show jumping or dressage

Life Expectancy: 25 to 30 years

Westphalian History and Origins

The Westphalian breed first originated in Germany during the early 1800s with an effort to breed cavalry horses. A stud farm in Warendorf bred these horses to be useful both for the cavalry and to serve as nobility saddle horses. The Trakehner eventually became the Prussian army’s favorite cavalry horse, but in the Rhein area, there was a demand for a heavier horse that could also perform farm work.

To meet that demand for a heavier type, the Westphalian was crossed with heavier, cold-blooded horses. The resulting light draught breed could be ridden or driven.

With the cultural changes of the 20th century, demand again changed, this time to a focus on horses more suitable solely for riding. Breeders changed their tactics, incorporating Hanoverian blood to lighten up the build of the Westphalian. During this time, the original stud records were destroyed, but dedicated breeders relied on memory and provided insight and guidance on mare and stallion choice to help preserve the breed. In 1946, breed inspections began again, and Westphalian breeders focused on producing horses that are both highly rideable and athletic.

Westphalian Size

Westphalians stand between 15.2 and 17.2 hands. They tend to weigh between 1,000 and 1,300 pounds. This breed is similar to the Hanoverian, but its build is coarser.

Breeding and Uses

The modern Westphalian is bred with a focus on producing an athletic horse who is also highly ridable. As a result, the Westphalian is suitable for amateurs and upper-level professional riders, alike. Breeding programs still exist in the horse’s native Germany, though horses have also been imported to America to found breeding programs here, too.

Today, the Westphalian is used for many purposes, including driving and show hunting. It most excels in the dressage and show jumping arenas, though, thanks to its elastic gaits and generous stride. The breed has a great temperament and is known for its ridability, so Westphalians appeal to riders who compete at many different levels.

Colors and Markings

While Westphalians of any coat color can be registered, bay, black, chestnut, and gray are the most common coat colors. Registered Westphalians are branded on their left hip. The brand, a shield with the letter “W” in the middle, is easily recognizable and identifies the horse for life.

Bay Westphalian cantering in a pasture.
 Westend61 / Getty Images
Bay Westphalian cantering.
 Westend61 / Getty Images
Bay Westphalian foal in a pasture.
 Carina Maiwald / Getty Images

Unique Characteristics of the Westphalian Horse

The Westphalian is known for being a highly athletically talented horse that is still a manageable ride for many equestrians. While this breed is courageous and spirited, it’s also highly willing and docile. This great temperament means that many equestrians may find their competition partner in the Westphalian. These horses tend to have big movement, so while they might not be well-suited to beginners, they’re easy to work with and can accommodate riders of many different levels.

Diet and Nutrition

Mature Westphalians tend to be easy keepers, which can save you money on your feed bill. These horses need a diet that consists mainly of forage, including hay and grass. Horses in intense work may benefit from a feed concentrate, while others may do just fine with a ration balancer.

Common Health and Behavior Problems

On the whole, Westphalians tend to be healthy, but they are closely related to Hanoverians. Hanoverians are known for having issues with Osteochondrosis, which may also affect Westphalians. Osteochondrosis can result in leg lesions and lameness, potentially ending or limiting competition and riding careers. This condition can sometimes lead to navicular, a painful hoof condition that requires careful and sometimes intense maintenance to keep the horse comfortable.

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


The Westphalian can benefit from regular grooming sessions. Frequent currying can help to bring out a shine in its coat, a valuable perk in the show ring. Most Westphalians are shown with braided manes and tails, so maintenance can go a long way toward making show preparation easier. Keeping tails well-conditioned and detangled can improve the quality of the tail. Regularly pulling manes helps to make them more manageable for braiding.

  • Highly athletic

  • Great amateur-friendly temperament

  • Easy keepers and relatively healthy

  • Large movement isn't ideal for beginners

  • High purchase cost

Champion and Celebrity Westphalian Horses

Because Westphalians are so active in competitions, there are many notable champion horses, many of which are Olympic competitors:

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

Is the Westphalian Right for You?

The Westphalian is a versatile horse, and if you’re looking for a show jumping, dressage, or driving competition partner, you may easily find it in this breed. Thanks to its temperament, the Westphalian is ideal for many different riders. If you have a goal of advancing up through the competition levels and are looking for a versatile partner that can accompany you during that goal, the Westphalian is likely up to the task.

Keep in mind that this breed often has a large movement and is highly athletic. That movement helps it to excel in disciplines like jumping or dressage, but it can be a lot for a beginner to handle.

How to Adopt or Buy a Westphalian

If you feel that a Westphalian is right for you and want to move forward with buying one, you’ll have a few different options. The first option is that you can find a breeder or trainer in the United States who specializes in these horses. It’s not uncommon for prospects to cost $15,000 or more, and horses who have competition and training experience can fetch prices of $30,000 and up.

Another option is to import a Westphalian from Germany. Some riders choose to do this to access horses with certain bloodlines or experience. Importing is more complicated, and it’s best done under the guidance of a trainer or broker who is experienced with the process. This also carries some downsides, the main one being that you won’t be able to test ride the horse before buying and importing it.

Westphalians are highly popular and valuable, so they rarely come up for adoption through horse rescues. While they carry a high price tag, it’s also possible to carefully buy, train, and compete a horse before reselling it in the future for a profit. 

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