With the withdrawal of Monica Theodorescu’s Whisper and his replacement as reserve by D’Agostino, the entire German team is made up of Donnerhall descendants and three of them by the Donnerhall son, De Niro.
Team horses: Damon Hill (by Donnerhall), Desperados (by De Niro), Diva Royal (by Don Frederico)
Individual horse: Dablino (by De Niro)
Reserve horse: D’Agostino (by De Niro)
Read Chris Hector’s fascinating chapters on Donnerhall and his sons De Niro and Don Frederico from the book, From Gotthard to Gribaldi, the Making of the Modern Warmblood:
Photos by: Werner Ernst and Roz Neave
172 cm, Dark Chestnut – Breeder – Otto Gärtner
Donnerhall was born in May, 1981 and died 2006.
It must be admitted that Donnerhall hardly comes from a ‘good family’. Admittedly his sire, Donnerwetter disappeared into the wilds of the United States in the mid seventies, but while there are a couple of Donnerwetters ‘gracing’ the German dressage arenas, they are pretty ugly, untalented creatures. Even Donnerhall’s famous rider, Karin Rehbein noted in an interview I conducted in 2000, that despite the large number of foals Donnerhall has sired, she had yet to find one that matches up to the stallion.
“There are a lot of Donnerhalls who have a little similarity to him but it is difficult to get another just like him,” said Karin, “Look at Donnerhall’s full-brothers, you couldn’t compare any of them to him. In appearance, in everything about him, the full brothers don’t come anywhere near Donnerhall. There were even two brothers who competed Grand Prix, but they were nothing compared to Donnerhall. They don’t even look the same, don’t move one little bit the same.”
Mrs Rehbein started riding the liver chestnut stallion when he was four years old. When she first got on the youngster she thought ‘this horse could be something’.
“He was always a good horse to train. Good in the head, he was always straightforward and learnt everything really quickly. He is still fantastic, he could still go out and win right now.”
To see Donnerhall compete was to marvel at the imposing power of the big stallion, but surprisingly, even though Mrs Rehbein is not very tall, and certainly not very big, the ride he gave her was ‘very good’.
“He was very soft. Sometimes you had to hold him a little bit through, but you have to do that with every horse.”
Donnerhall’s talent was apparent right from the start, and he scored 131.92 to be second in his performance test at Adelheidsdorf in 1984. Donnerhall’s competition career is the stuff of legend. He won many Grand Prix, Grand Prix Specials and Freestyles for Mrs Rehbein.
In 1994, Donnerhall was individual bronze medallist (and team gold medallist) at the 1994 World Championships at The Hague. Donnerhall won the European World Cup Freestyle League final standings twice, in 1997 and 1998. He retired from competition in 1998.
What Donnerhall seems to give to his offspring, is a trainability and a strength to handle the more collected work, even if their natural paces are not so spectacular. It would seem that the mix of Donnerhall and a large drop of ‘blood’ (Thoroughbred that is) in the dam is more likely to produce competition horses. Donnerhall’s son Davignon is out of a Pik Bube mare and those direct Donnerhall progeny that are going well at FEI level – like the mare, Dona Castania – are out of Pik Bube mares. Another son consistently producing exciting looking youngsters is Don Primero, again out of a Pik Bube mother.
Pik Bube was bred by the late Gunter Pape, the head of the well-known ‘breeding family’ that runs the prestigious Hengstation Pape.
It was a great surprise at the licensing of 1975, when the head of the State Stud Celle, Christian von Steglin failed to include Pik Bube in the ‘Celle Lot’ (the state stud director had at that time, first pick of the successful young stallions) and let him go to Grönwohldhof – where he formed a hugely successful partnership with the then resident trainer, the late Herbert Rehbein. They won 11 out of 12 advanced classes in their only competition season in 1980.
Pik Bube’s sire, Pik König is considered the most important son of the famous Thoroughbred sire of showjumpers, Pik As xx. Pik König sired 19 licensed sons and 22 State Premium mares. His offspring – such as Pirol 37 – were mainly successful in showjumping. With a dressage index of 126, and a jumping index of 131, Pik König had an overall rating of 129. His sire, Pik As xx stood at the State Stud Celle from 1953-69, where he sired four approved sons.
Pik As was only 157 cm tall but according to Claus Schridde in his survey Thoroughbred sires in Hanover (II) in Z Magazine, June/July 2005: “far from tall, Pik As looked great and always made a deep impression at his presentations. At stud at Hohnstof in the Arlenburger Elbe polder, the superbly bred female stock in that region offered him enormous opportunities which he did not waste. With top class progeny such as Pesgö under Helga Köhler and Porta Westfalica ridden by Hartwig Steenken, he soon earned a good reputation as a showjumping horse producer. He hardly produced any dressage horses. State stud Celle had kept three sons from the last seasons in his career: the dark brown Pik König, the chestnut, Pik Junge and the grey Pikör… Pik König developed into a top-class showjumping horse producer. His sons Pik Bube I and II even produced many dressage horses.”
Pik Bube’s dam, Franka also produced the full-brother, Pik Bube II and the advanced dressage horse, Poseidon 30. Her dam, Dohlenfurstin, was an international showjumper under the name Daniela. Dohlenfurstin is also the dam of Grand Prix showjumper, Prince Charming.
Franka was by Frustra II, one of those stallions who is seldom mentioned, perhaps because he produced mares, but no outstanding stallion son to carry on his line. Frustra II is described thus by Claus Schriddde in his article Phenomenon Frustra II – A leading figure from the second row (The Hanoverian, No 3, 2002): “large frame, a mighty shoulder, lots of withers, a beautiful neck, maybe a little narrow-chested, however, well muscled and elastic movement. His long cannon bone was then and is still today a sign of growth and size. His flat front feet and short pastern were however criticised.”
Frustra II was by Futurist, a popular stallion in the 1940’s, and out of Talwiese who had in 1940 produced another stallion, Farina (Fahnentraeger). In 1941 she produced Frustra I who stood at the Otterstedt breeding station from 1944 until his retirement in 1951. Talwiese descends from the Shagya stallion, Amurath II.
Frustra II stood in Hanover for 25 years in which time he produced 782 registered foals. Again, Schridde comments: “All of his offspring had frame, expression and importance. They were commended on their good rideability and their great jumping ability.” At a time when competition prize money was low, his offspring earned a respectable DM286, 000.
Stationed at Achim in 1946, Frustra II produced the two Celle stallions, Wohlauf and Wohlan. Wohlauf produced two states premium daughters, Wunder and Winzerprinzeß, who, bred to Sender, produced the stallions, Sendbote and Saloniki.
Wohlan was out of Friesenamsel, a grand-daughter of Friesenkoenig – later the cross Frustra II / Friesenkoenig produced some exceptional horses.
Wohlan was a success at stud, standing from 1959 to 1963 at Otersen where many of his daughters were bred to Absatz, with fine results. One star was the mare Worms, a DLG Champion, and the dam of Argentan I and II.
At the age of sixteen, Wohlan moved to Hohnstorf, where a basis of Pik As xx mares, produced exciting results – the best known of which was World Champion showjumper, Mr T (out of Paedagogin by Pik As xx).
During his time at Achim, Frustra II produced Frutana who bred to Grande produced Graphit – sire of General I, Grannus, Graunstein I and II and Gloster.
Of Graphit, Schridde comments: “Despite his flat front leg (Frustra II!), his limited shoulder and saddle position and his short and less elastic hind fetlocks, he mostly produced great, impressive movement and far beyond average jumping ability. When Grande’s appearance came through in the descendants, then Graphit’s offspring were colourful liver chestnuts. Along with this resemblance to the grandsire came a hot temperament and sometimes an even difficult disposition. Grande’s immediate offspring did not show these problems. However, these somewhat difficult horses proved to have great performance abilities.”
Another of the mares from the Achim duties was Fruchtmuse, the dam of Gralsritter, who after a slow start (like Gotthard on the ‘reserve’ list for a while) gradually established himself and was eventually proclaimed, Hanoverian Stallion of the Year. His influence lives on through the stallion sons, Gralshueter and Grandeur.
Also amongst Frustra II’s early daughters was Fliedernixe, the great grand-dam of the World Cups.
Later in his life, the cross with Friesenkoenig produced Fanal, grandam of Lexikon 2, a dressage competitor with Monica Theodorescu, and the great grandam of Wenzel I & II.
A number of Frustra II mares were bred to the jumping sire, Don Carlos with success. His daughter Forstlady, bred to Don Carlos produced two successful jumping competitors. After Don Carlos’ death, Forstlady’s owner, Margarethe Hagenah remembered how well Don Carlos crossed with her mare, and using frozen semen, prdocued Drosselklang I (exported to Namibia) and Drosselklang II – Hanoverian stallion of the Year 2002.
But back to our story – and the Pape family’s success with Donnerhall.
Guenter Pape bred the Frustra II mare, Franka to Pik Koenig. Franka was out of Daniela by Domspatz / Der Löwe, Daniela was a successful showjumper with Hartwig Steenken. The Franka / Pik Koenig cross became the basis of the Pape family’s breeding dynasty…. The cross produced the stallions, Pik Bube I & II, and their full sisters: Paola (dam of Donnerklang A and Bergamon), Priola (dam of Ragazzo and Donnerschlag) and Polljana, the dam of Raphinus.
Frustra II also greatly influenced Gunter Pape’s other main bloodline: Gaby by Gotthard out of Fusion by Frustra II. Bred to Pik König, Gaby produced the licensing champion, Picard and the states premium mare, Philipa, who produced three licensed sons: Dobrock, Lanthanid and Rodin.
Pik Bube I sired performers in all disciplines. His daughter, Pikantje was Federal German riding horse champion of 1981, and Pik Bube’s Girl won the 1990 Federal Mare Show in Verden. Pik Primaire and Pik Royal were amongst the 49 of his offspring that were successful in advanced dressage, while 19 showjumpers achieved advanced level. Perhaps the most successful of his stallion sons has been Piaster who stands in Bavaria, Pik Labonics has been a successful sire for the Westfaliens, and Pommery has produced some useful progeny in Hanover. His son, Pik Noir competed successfully in dressage and was the sire of Prinz Paul, who placed 3rd in the six year old Dressage Championship at the 2001 Bundeschampionate.
As a brood mare sire, Pik Bube has been a phenomenon, especially when teamed with Donnerhall: Davignon, Don Primero, Don Schufro, Donatelli, Donnerbube, Dream of Glory, Duntroon – all bred on that magic cross Donnerhall/Pik Bube.
1997 saw the first of the Donnerhall grandsons to star at the Bundeschampionate, with the gelding Duvalier (by Davignon out of a Bolero mare) winning the 5 year old dressage title – while the following year, this class was won by the black Donnerhall son, Del Piero (out of a Matcho AA mare).
The Donnerhall son, De Niro (out of a Akzent II mare) started competing at Grand Prix level at the tender age of seven. De Niro’s foals look great – better than their dad.
Another Donnerhall son to impress is Dream of Glory who sired the 1998 three year old stallion winner, Dreamy’s Dream, and had a number of representatives in the finals at the 2000 Bundeschampionate, and they all looked sweet rideable horses. Once again, Dream of Glory is out of a Pik Bube/Romadour II mare). Dream of Glory died after just a few crops of foals.
The 2010 Hanoverian Stallion book (the last one that includes Donnerhall) records that Donnerhall has had 986 competitors, including 828 dressage competitors (212 at advanced level) – and even 94 in the jumping ring – for total prizemoney of €1,978,764. The most successful of these progeny has been the mare, Donatha S, who has won €159,512 before her retirement as a brood mare, followed by Don Schufro with winnings of €109,257.
Donnerhall had an FN dressage ranking of 151, jumping, 79. His Hanoverian ranking was 158 for dressage and 74 for jumping. He is the sire of 48(!) licensed sons.
Indeed there are those, like the trainer Jo Hinnemann, who believe that it is the second and third generations of Donnerhalls that will produce the goods:
“Donnerhall produced a lot of good stallions. You see a lot of very good performing riding horses by Donnerhall. He makes them pretty – sometimes I think that in his time, like Rubinstein, it was a very very good generation, but when you see horses like Roman Nature or Fidermark, or Laurentianer, it is a step further on in the breeding. They are always a little more pretty and more elastic. The breeding becomes again a little bit better – but if you didn’t have a Rubinstein or a Donnerhall, there is no going further in the breeding. These stallions were good in their time – perfect – but I think the three stallions I have named are a step further on in the breeding already.”
170 cm, born 1993, Black – Breeder – Brigitte Pahl
Licensed for Hanover, Oldenburg, Westphalia, Rhineland, Saxony-Anhalt, Mecklenburg-Vorpommern, Sweden, Denmark and France
Donnerhall was the first of the great competition dressage stallions. Instead of staying at home in his breeding barn, coming out to cover mares (or more likely the phantom mare), Donnerhall hit the competition trail so successfully that he was a valued member of the all-conquering German dressage team, and in doing so started the fashion for breeding stallions who were also serious competitors – a fashion carried on by his son, De Niro.
De Niro comes from the Akzent II mare, Alicante, who was herself a successful dressage competitor, and who produced De Niro’s full brother, Dimension, a stallion with a good reputation in Westfalia. Akzent II was particularly noted as a sire of broodmares and as well as De Niro and Dimension, he is the dam sire of: Gralshüter, Carismo, Welton, Trend, Pik Labonics, World Man G, Grannus As and Gracieux.
The dam sire is the Thoroughbred, Wiesenbaum, with the great Ferdinand on the dam line – from this dam line comes Franke Sloothaak’s international showjumper, Landdame.
At the stallion licensing in 1995, De Niro demonstrated his jumping ability, and although in his performance test at Adelheidsdorf the following year, he went better in his riding score – 145.41 and best of the year – he was also competitive in the jumping section with a score of 117.75 which put him into 11th. Overall De Niro finished 2nd with a score of 141.93.
By the year 2000, and at the age of only seven, he was already competing in Grand Prix dressage with Dolf-Dietram Keller – and the following year carried Mr Keller to the title, German Professional Champion. In 2002, De Niro won international Grand Prix and Grand Prix Special tests at Saumur and Berlin, and in 2003, he was the winner of the German Dressage Derby at Hamburg.
Later the young rider, Theresa Wahler took the ride on the stallion, competing him at Grand Prix level.
As a sire, De Niro has been a huge success.
In 1997 he was awarded the 1-a main premium by the Oldenburg Association on the basis of his progeny.
In 2000 his daughter, Die Weingard was the 1-b ‘diamond ring’ mare at the Oldenburg Elite Show at Rastede.
In 2004 he was the sire of Dancier, the Hanoverian licensing champion at Verden, as well as two of the vice-champions. The following year, the Verden champion, Hotline was out of a De Niro mare – this young stallion was sold for the record price of €800,000.
In 2006, De Niro was represented by 14 progeny at the Bundeschampionate, making him the most successful sire.
The 2012 Hanoverian Stallion Book records him as having produced 929 (!) competitors, with winnings of €995,592, with 148 of his progeny competing at S level of above.
When I interviewed his owner, Burkhard Wahler in 2007, he was rightly proud of his horse:
“Some people might disagree, but in my opinion, there is no son of Donnerhall as successful as De Niro. He is only 14, the oldest progeny are ten, four are already placed in Grand Prix. Twenty-four are placed in Prix St Georges and Intermediaire. The offspring last year won almost €195,000, in just one year. When you start thinking that next year there will be more horses, at a higher level, that means they will probably win even more – and the stallion is still very young. My daughter Theresa competed last year with him in Grand Prix, and she will ride him again this year.”
Mr Wahler liked the cross of Donnerhall on Akzent II:
“I love to buy the Donnerhall blood but I don’t like the very popular Donnerhall / Pik Bube cross – very heavy big horses, and I didn’t like that so much because I am from the other side, from the Trakehner side and I like more an elegant horse. I really liked De Niro, because he was out of a mare with Wiesenbaum / Akzent breeding. Akzent is through Absatz, Trakehner, Wiesenbaum is from Thoroughbred – so in my opinion, this was a very interesting bloodline.”
The story of how Burkhardt Wahler acquired De Niro is entertaining, and bears out Burkhardt’s maxim that with every stallion comes a story…
Wahler’s Klosterhof Medingen stud is in the middle of Hanoverian breeding country, but had always stood Trakehner stallions. He found the Hanoverian breeders would only visit his farm once:
“We thought, okay we have so many Hanoverian breeders but they don’t come back – because they used our stallions to breed F1 – half Trakehner, half Hanoverian, then they go back to a Hanoverian stallion and not to a Trakehner again. We had to buy a Hanoverian stallion.”
“It was the first time I’d been to the Stallion Licensing in Verden, and in the catalogue, I had three stallions marked – and one of those three was De Niro.”
“At that time, Celle could choose ten stallions for a certain price and it was not possible for private breeders to buy those stallions. When I looked at the stallions, there was only one I wanted to buy, that was De Niro. Then I asked Mr Jahncke, the President of the Hanoverian Association, do you think the state stud will take him? Yes. Probably he goes to Celle.”
“It’s always the same weekend with two stallion licensings – Verden has the Hanoverians, Neumünster has the Trakehners. So I left Verden and went to Neumünster. I called the next day after the freejumping – is he going to Celle? No. They thought Dr Bade didn’t take him because he is by Donnerhall, and Donnerhall was a private stallion, and he didn’t want to make private stallions popular. In this time they took Weltmeyer, Weltmeyer, Weltmeyer…. Every year twelve Weltmeyer stallions. So then I called my partner, Tönne Böckmann from the Böckmann stallion station, and I said, I am here in Neumünster, you go and buy that stallion…”
“It was in the days when they didn’t have a proper auction for the licensed stallions, just the people who are interested used go into some rooms of the Verband office and bid amongst themselves for the stallions. Paul Schockemöhle was on the phone to the Hanoverian breeding director, Dr Wilkens who was doing the deal. The price went up to 150, 170, 180 Deutschmarks – so 80/90,000 euros – and Schockemöhle asked, who’s bidding against me? Oh it doesn’t matter… No, who is it? Böckmann. I want to talk to him… Okay, Paul said, I stop now, you buy him and we can talk later. But what he didn’t know was that Böckmann already had a partner!”
“Then on Monday the telephone was ringing, Schockemöhle’s manager was ringing Böckmann wanting to know how they were going to make the arrangements for the stallion. There’s one problem, Böckmann said, I have already a partner, and you have to talk to him. Two days later Paul calls me and says, listen I stopped bidding. And I said, yes Paul that was very nice, we have been friends for a long time… but now I have him and I am not interested in having a third owner in him. You should think about it, Paul said. At the end, I had no more arguments, and I didn’t know what to say, so I said, I really can’t decide – I have to ask my wife!”
“Paul said, are you crazy? Böckmann says ‘I can’t decide, you have to ask Wahler’. Wahler says ‘I can’t decide I have to call my wife!’ At the end Böckmann and I had De Niro ourselves. We got very lucky…”
According to Mr Wahler, De Niro crosses over a wide variety of mare lines:
“We have bred a lot with Weltmeyer mares, in Oldenburg with many Rubinstein mares. Okay with the Donnerhall blood, once in a while they could be a little heavy, Donnerhall himself produced some heavy horses, that can happen – that’s why we try all the time to make sure we don’t get too heavy mares for De Niro. He makes very good dressage horses, especially with a good hindleg.”
Currently De Niro is the sire of more than 60 licensed stallion sons around the world.
Katrin Burger of the Oldenburg Verband, makes the interesting observation that De Niro had two starts to his breeding career:
“De Niro was one of the few stallions to come back. He had an outstanding first foal crop, some really expensive auction foals – and then everyone was in deep shock when they were three year olds because they weren’t not as nice as they had been as foals. They changed, they were a little bit flat – a good trot, but a lot of them had problems in canter. This is a difficult issue until you go to Grand Prix because there if they do one times changes but the canter is flat, no one cares, and there is no question that a lot of De Niros go to Grand Prix, and that is why he came back and the breeders started to use him again.”
One of the most popular stallions at the Hanoverian state stud at Celle is Don Frederico, and interestingly his popularity goes against the fashion, since he is anything but a ‘foal producer’. Indeed when his first crops of foals appeared, his breeding stocks plummeted, and it was not until the breeders saw that while they might not be the most attractive of foals, the Don Federicos made excellent riding horses with real dressage talent, that the mares started flowing in his direction again.
Don Frederico illustrates the thinking of some breeding experts – like Ludwig Christmann – that a little jumping blood can add to the dressage sire. His sire, Donnerhall needs no elaboration, but on his dam’s side we find the Trakehner Consul (by the Thoroughbred Swazi) who produced an international dressage performer, in Crisp who represented Australia at two Olympic Games (Sydney and Athens) with Ricky MacMillan, combined with the jumping blood of Gotthard and Ferdinand, through Gardulan and Wenderkreis. Consul who was awarded the Trakehner Stallion of the Year title, has been responsible for many successful mares. The cross Donnerhall / Consul, also produced Don Vino who won the Verden stallion licensing in 1999.
Don Frederico descends from one of the more famous Hanvoverian mare lines – that of Fassa (by Flingarth-Königskind), a line that has produced a string of stallions, the most notable of which was Lanthan.
Don Frederico was the champion of the 1999 Hanoverian licensing, and second in his performance test at Adelheidsdorf. He went well at the Bundeschampionate in 2002 and 2003, before commencing an FEI level dressage career with Ole Köhler. The pair were sixth in the Nürnberg Burgpokal in 2006.
According to the 2012 Hanoverian Stallion Book, twenty five of Don Frederico’s sons have been licensed, and 178 of his daughters awarded the states premium. His son, Dantonius was the three year old Mare or Gelding Riding Horse Champion at the 2005 Bundeschampionate.
In his review of the top stallions at Celle in 2006, Ludwig Christmann celebrated the rise to the top of Don Frederico:
“Don Frederico is the absolute shooting star. In the breed value estimation of the National Federation (FN) Don Frederico is classified as an exceptional producer with a score of 174 in the dressage breed value. On the federal level only one stallion surpasses him, Don Schufro, also a son of Donnerhall, with a score of 178. In the breed value estimation of the Hanoverian Association, which is based on mare performance test results and auction selection, Don Frederico was also rated highly with a score of 151.”
“It is interesting to look behind the scenes. In his first crop of three-year olds already 54 descendants – 39 in mare tests and 15 in the auction selection process – were evaluated. This large number of evaluated progeny increases the breed value considerably, which the accuracy rating of 0.89 expresses.”
“In the breed value of the FN it is worth looking at the individual components of the breed value for Don Frederico, the black champion stallion of the stallion licensing in Verden 1999. The component “stallion performance test” stands out. His own performance test results and the results of two descendants are recorded. Don Frederico won the rideability index of the performance test with an impressive score of 151.67. The competition breed value is also fairly high, 168. Don Frederico’s own exceptional successes in Young Riding Horse Classes were recorded. Furthermore, he profits from a huge family with many other successful horses descending from his sire, Donnerhall.”
“Horse show successes of his offspring are not yet available, since results from basic tests for three-and four-year-old riding horses (Reitpferdeprüfungen) are not being considered. This even pertains to the Bundeschampionate, where his son Dantonisius received the winning ribbon in the class of three-year-old mares and geldings in 2005.”
“To be recorded in the top list for dressage or for jumping, stallions have to fulfil the following conditions: They must be registered in the Hanoverian Stallion Book I for the breeding season 2006 or in one of the daughter associations. They must have 130 points or more in the dressage or jumping breed value, either with the Hanoverian breed value estimation or with the breed value estimation of the FN. His breed values for type and conformation are not quite as high, but still clearly on the positive side.”
“Don Frederico is definitely not known to produce type, which needs to be taken into consideration when selecting him for a breeding stallion. His breed value component for limbs (this score is for front legs, hind legs and correctness) is similar. However, the fear that the correctness of limbs might be a very weak point in his progeny, has proven unfounded on the figures available now – although his score of 108 for correctness of limb, is well below that of the perennial star of Hannoverian breeding, Weltmeyer, who scores 174. The breed values confirm the impressions, which we got last season at mare performance tests, the Federal Championships and at the auctions, that in Don Frederico, the State Stud Celle has a first-class dressage horse producer, which Hanoverian breeders will hopefully be able to enjoy for many years to come.”
In the 2012 book, Don Frederico’s correctness of limb score has fallen further – to 72.
Don Frederico occupies 9th place on the topliste of Hanoverian dressage stallions with a ranking of 144 – scoring 141 for trot, 146 for canter, 146 for walk, and 117 for rideability. He has a very poor jumping ranking of 78. As yet he has produced 536 registered competitors with winnings of €186,784. Fourteen of his progeny have placed in dressage competitions at advanced level.
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