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Donnerhall was by Donnerwetter, a stallion who stood at Grönwohldhof and competed at Grand Prix level with Herbert and Karin Rehbin before he was sold to the United States in 1990. His other approved sons include Donnerkiel, Dobrock and Don Wienero L.
Donnerhall’s dam, Ninette, also produced the mare Noblesse (by Pik Bube I). Ninette was from the Nagate line of mares. Her sire, Markus, was half-Thoroughbred and his sire Manolete xx is also found in the great eventing horse Volturno, winner of two Olympic silver medals and a silver medal at the 1978 World Championships in Lexington.
Dressage career Donnerhall began his career in 1984, placing second out of 70 horses at his Stallion Performance Test held in Adelheidsdorf, with a score of 131.92. According to his rider, he was very easy to train, reaching the Grand Prix level of training in two years. He was especially known for his expressive passage, piaffe, and extended trot.
Donnerhall had a stellar career as a dressage horse, winning some of the most prestigious competitions, including over 65 FEI Grand Prix Dressage classes and a life earning of D.M. 640,000. He was 1986 German DLG Champion in Hanover, beating out the very athletic Hanoverian stallion
World Cup I. In 1994 German Champion (Mannheim), won the team gold and individual bronze at the Dressage World Championship in 1994 and at the European Dressage Championship in 1997 in Verden. In 1997, he also won the World Cup European League. Donnerhall earned his third team
gold while finishing 4th individually at the 1998 Dressage World Championship. He was also named Oldenburg Stallion of the Year in 1998.
The stallion then went on a “farewell tour” that same year, retiring from competitive sport at the age of 17. He died January 2002 of acute intestinal toxicopathy.
Donnerhall has the highest dressage breeding value of all stallions at 271, and has produced over 77 approved sons, 450 broodmares (84 State Premium), and over 636 competition horses. Like his sire, Donnerhall stood at Grönwohldhof. His first few years produced only a few offspring, as
the stud was a good distance from the main Oldenburg breeding areas. Within a few years, however, his popularity grew immensely. At the 1998 Federal Championship in Warendorf, more than 50% of the horses had Donnerhall in their pedigree.
Donnerhall passes on his flowing gait, presense, trainability, and excellent temperament. The 2007 Hanoverian Stallion had Donnerhall offspring 763 winning dressage competitors (84 as show jumpers), with prize money totaling Euro 1,502,302.
Don Primero: Champion 5-year old German dressage horse in Verden at the 1990 Bundeschampionate (score of 9.3), now a Grand Prix level dressage horse, siring offspring which sell at 6-figures.
Don Schufro: exported to Denmark, successful at Grand Prix with Andreas Helgstrand
Donnerschwee: sold for DM 220.000, the highest price up to that time paid for a horse at a German Breeding Association auction. Now competes at Grand Prix.
Primavera: Champion Mare of the Oldenburg elite mare show in 1992, Champion Riding Horse in 1992, and third in the federal championships
Deutsche Einheit: second in the Federal Championships in Verden in 1992. Sold for what was at that time a record price at the German Breed Societies auctions reaching DM420,000 (£147,000).
Rastede Schloßpark: 4th place at the German Dressage Horse Championships
Davignon I: Federal Riding Horse Champion of 1992.
Hallo: won the elite mare show in Rastede in 1994.
Duntroon: vice-champion stallion of the Oldenburg approvals in 1993; won the stallion performance test in Adelheidsdorf in 1994.
High Noon 15: top dressage mare, full sister to Hallo.
Donatello: Germany’s highest priced auction horse at the time he was sold (1996).
Deinhard: sold to The Netherlands for DM 155,000 (£54,500) at the Vechta foal auction in 1998, a record price for a foal.
There are many factors contributing to success. Pure coincidence is probably one of the most decisive factors when we speak about the careers of top horses. This is undoubtedly true as regards Donnerhall, who certainly profited from pure chance, more than once. When the mare Ninette foaled on the 30th of May 1981, the breeder Otto Gärtner was there, beside her as always when his mares
foaled. Gärtner has a little stable and a few pastures with rich, fertile soil in Wensin in the vicinity of Travethal . The Holstein hill region is not only a region that is beautiful to behold during the time of the rape blossom, but also one that seems to yearn to be populated by mares and foals. Otto Gärtner is not one of the big breeders who breed with five or six broodmares. Sometimes he’s got two,
sometimes three - depending on how many fillies are born and what he thinks of the little darlings, whether he wants to rear them and whether they are to become broodmares themselves one day or not. In his selection, Gärtner is a man of principles: “The main thing is that they are black”.
His weakness for black horses goes back to his childhood: Gärtner originates from Silesia which prior to the Second World War was the rearing area of the Oldenburgers. These horses were heavy and solidly built - the idea of sport, of show jumping or dressage was not entertained for a long time to come. Young Otto grew up with the notion that a horse had to be black and powerful and displayed a lot of dynamism in front of a coach, really putting in a lot of effort and fascinating through the characteristic knee-action, not in an overdone fashion, but sufficiently pronounced - like an Oldenburger - what else!
That is what Otto Gärtner breeds in his new homeland of East Holstein. He had to search for a long time before finding a mare that had all these characteristics: Ninette an Oldenburg mare from the rebreeding period. Her sire Markus, a half-bred derives from Manolete xx, a Schlenderhan horse that is also to be found in the legend of three-day eventing Volturno - a sire who by the way even before Donnerhall’s entry into horse-breeding and equestrian sport, brought these two aspects of equestrian life together. Ninette cannot deny her origins from Manolete xx. When one gets down to eye contact, one sees the big black eyes of the thoroughbred that beam towards the observer. Ninette cannot deny her ancestors in other respects either. More than a century of breeding engagement pulsate in her veins. All the mares of her family begin with the letter “N”. An indicator for the cultivation of a mare bloodline in that breeding region that has for centuries practised private stallion keeping. The fact that the capital city of Oldenburg remained unscathed by the Thirty Years War is no coincidence, but rather due to a very special present to the marauding troops of General Tilly by the duke of Oldenburg, who gave presents of horses which placated the mood of the ruthless tyrant and let him remain in position in Wardenburg, a short distance from the south gate of the city.
Irrespective of whether it is legend or historical truth, the historians agree on the horses as the saviors of Oldenburg. One can read it in black and white in the chronicles. Although the bloodline of the family that would once bring forth the much praised DLG champion stallion Donnerhall cannot be traced back to the times of count Anton Günther, it can however be traced back to the nineteenth
century. The old studbooks of the “Association of Breeders of the Oldenburg Horse” reveal 1884 as the date of birth of Nagate, a daughter of the stallion Naumann. Even if the ink has faded somewhat, one can see in the curved, sweeping letters, how painstakingly the name was recorded onto the paper in handwriting: Calligraphy rather than electronic data processing. Nagate is situated near Esensham, a tiny borough in the Wesermarsch, between the Weser river and the Jadebusen bight. Rodenkirchen which today is more or less insignificant and only made the news in the nineteen seventies due to the nuclear power station Unterweser which is situated nearby, is not far away. Rodenkirchen is the seat of the North Oldenburg Horse Breeder’s Association, an organization with a good reputation world-wide. In the same manner that the classical car from Sindelfingen, with its three-sided star enjoys both a national and international reputation today, the coach horse from the marshes of North Oldenburg was a status symbol, a cult object in years gone by. It is just as true today as it was in the past: One drives black, varnish black.
The Nagate line is characterised by longevity. Whilst browsing through the old volumes that lie in the safe of the “Association of Breeders of the Oldenburg Horse” today, one encounters them time and again, mares with the letter “N” at the beginning of their names, mares that gave birth to numerous foals, with sales abroad recorded.
Around the year 1910, when the Kaiser’s Empire was in its last throes, and during the difficult years of the First World War, the catch cry was “service for the fatherland!” Mares were recruited for the cavalry. The bloodline however managed to survive the aberrations and welter of the twentieth century and is meanwhile widely distributed over the entire Oldenburg breeding region which came
into being through the fusion of the North and South Oldenburg Horse Breeding Associations. Otto Gärtner’s Ninette was born in the area around lake Dümmer in the vicinity of Osnabrück. She is black and re-awakened childhood memories of Gärtners youth in Silesia. So she simply had to be bought. Her first covering resulted in a furore, one of the first Furioso II sons, a black horse, what else could be expected? Then a filly was born, likewise black in color. Heart, what more do you want...? In 1980 a fine young stallion was standing on the Grönwohldhof, a Hanoveranian, black as the ace of spades - this already aroused Gärtner’s interest, but when the stallion went through his motions, all remaining doubts disappeared: “Donnerwetter!” This exclamation which literally translated means Thunderweather actually means more or less “by jove” In the literal translation we can certainly speak about “Nomen est Omen”.
Ninettes partner, Donnerwetter derives from Disput. Otto Schulte-Frohlind purchased the stallion at the Verden stallion market from Günter Pape from Hemmoor. Ninette became pregnant and gave birth to a colt, her first son. On the 30th of May 1981, the foal was born that would become DLG champion stallion, German champion and team world champion one day. The breeder was however
initially shocked: A white nose appeared, but once the foal lay in the straw it soon became apparent - a chestnut. Black horse here, black horse there and then a chestnut! Nevertheless, a dark chestnut - a liver chestnut. Otto Gärtner was dismayed. He had Ninette covered once more, and again it was a chestnut. Discovery was meanwhile successful in advanced dressage. Yet Otto Gärtner decided to change sires. Wanderfalk was black, but the colt which was born in 1984 was also a chestnut. It was hardly six months old, when his older brother made the headlines for the first time. At the stallion performance test in Adelheidsdorf, Donnerhall achieved the second best result - vice-champion, unbeatable in rideability, with a score of 9.5.
The path from the pastures of Otto Gärtner in Travenhorst via the Grönwohldhof to the stallion performance test is however everything else but stringent. Donnerhall only reached the Grönwohldhof by roundabout ways. Gärtner fondly remembers the devotedness of this conspicuous colt, which characterised Donnerhall from the very beginning, but nevertheless he decided to sell him. A prominent interested customer was soon found: Bernhard Huslage from Brokstreek in the South Oldenburg region came to Holstein as part of his duties as approvals commissioner, to inspect foals reared in the exclave. The liver chestnut with the big dark eyes caught his attention right away. Huslage and Gärtner made a deal: the stallion was to cost DM 5.000. When it came to branding him, the stallion winced so strongly when the branding iron neared him, that the crowned O was from thereon resplendent on his hindquarter at a significant angle. According to the agreement, all further formalities were to be completed via the head breeding official of the Oldenburg Horse Breeding Association of that time, Dr. Roland Ramsauer a very busy man who could at times forget one thing or the other: bureaucratic stress! Otto Gärtner rang up in Oldenburg a number of times and each time Dr. Ramsauer forgot to pass on the information entrusted to him. Gärtner thus had to assume that Huslage had backed out of the bargain and that his interest in the Donnerwetter foal had lapsed. That was a blessing in disguise: Otto Schulte-Frohlinde wanted to buy the liver chestnut foal. Donnerhall then went to the Grönwohldhof where he was reared as a stallion. That autumn, Bernhard Huslage and Otto Gärtner met. The breeder wanted to know why the approvals commissioner had lost interest in owning the stallion.
That was the first time that Bernhard Huslage heard about the telephone calls and the neglect of Dr. Roland Ramsauer. He confronted the head breeding official. Still, his summary today is that it was actually fortunate that the Grönwohldhof got the stallion in the long run, because “if I had had him, Donnerhall would not have become what he is today”. The potential of the horse that caught
everyone’s eye, especially because of its very dark coat, the deep red bay chestnut coloring was something that the approvals commissioners of the 1983 approval were not yet aware of. Even though they go off into raptures about him today, the judgement at his approval was no more than simply “approved”, nothing more. He was not considered for a premium, that was reserved for others.
The names of the radiant horses of the 1983 young stallion approval, Welttraum and Fernblick are hardly known by anyone today. But they were mature and proper whilst the little Donnerhall on the other hand was still quite slender, the neck not so developed yet and the top line, that was an issue that the fanatics of correctness liked to address. Forget such trivialities - what genius is recognised
from the beginnings? Child prodigies are in the limelight from early on. A title like that was granted to Donnerhall belatedly as a three-and a half-year old ! In the heath landscape outside the gates of Celle the stud grooms were fond of the liver chestnut who was slowly but surely growing up and taking shape. After 90 days it was clear: Donnerhall would most certainly absolve one of the best performance tests of the 1984 Adelheidsdorf age class. But how well would he do? Full of suspense, Otto Gärtner watched the rounds of “his” stallion on the course. No-one doubted that he would sovereignly be in the lead in dressage. But what about the coloured poles? Gerd Folkers a member of the approvals commission had his doubts, which were not however shared by Otto Gärtner, “he won’t throw down any poles, he is related to Deister”.
Whether it was luck or breeding efforts - Donnerhall remained faultless becoming vice-champion of the stallion performance test. What great joy! Not only the breeder was happy, the owner, too. Otto Schulte-Frohlinde had a soft spot for him in his heart. A liking that Otto Gärtner would also profit from: Since then, the man from Travenhorst has always been invited to the annual duck shoot.
Donnerhall prospered well. He changed over to the dressage stables and quickly developed to the darling of the Stallgasse scene under Karin and Herbert Rehbein with the nickname “Donni”. A personality from the very start. Easy to work with and eager to learn. In breeding terms his career also constantly improved. 1986 was a milestone, not only in Donnerhall’s career, but also in the
chronicles of the Oldenburg Horse Breeding Association. The DLG is held in Hanover. Traditionally the state stallions from Celle and Warendorf decide events there. The representatives of other breeding regions usually only have a minor role to play there. This seemed to be the case at first in 1986 too, when Hanover unleashed its “secret weapon” World Cup I, hoping that the chestnut would
win the sought after trophy in the second round. But then there was Donnerhall and he was really well-liked, especially by the audience, which celebrated him frenetically: Ingo Pape led the five-year old and he left quite a few kilometres behind that weekend. “The people just wanted him” remembers approvals commissioner Bernhard Huslage. And his colleague Folkers adds “There was a fantastic hullaballoo each time that Donnerhall entered the hall”. It did not take long for the feeling of the audience to jump over to the jury, too. Whilst the German representatives tended to fault the top line of the stallion somewhat and constantly looked in the direction of World Cup I, there was no doubt about it for the Dutchman Van der Veen: The Oldenburger deserved the crown!
The decision was felled for Donnerhall. Indescribable jubilation in the hall. Ingo and Donnerhall took deep breaths and sprinted as best they could. Otto Schulte-Frohlinde let the marionettes dance per telephone, it was not possible for him to be present. He gave his orders: “Irrespective of what it costs - I’ll pay for it” The Oldenburgers did not have to be told this twice... Karin Rehbein, who afterwards also presented Donnerhall under the saddle remembers as if the show had been decided yesterday. “He is a showman, he loves the big stage. When the people participate then he really gets going”. That was already the case then, even when Donnerhall was not yet such a widely-travelled jet setter. And he’s certainly got strong nerves. When the Equitana, the World Equestrian Fair calls, Donnerhall comes, with the champion’s ribbon. Things really got going at the Hop Top Show. Bright lights, glaring spotlights, loud music. Behind the scenes: ponies, torches, coaches. “Still Donnerhall remained cool and that at his - oh so young age”. At the latest at that moment, it was clear for Karin Rehbein that Donnerhall was an exceptional horse. Donnerhall was a quick learner. Flying changes being no problem for him, a characteristic that is just as true for his progeny. After two years of training,
the stallion mastered the Grand Prix programme. Before Herbert and Karin Rehbein decided to utilise him in the most difficult class of the dressage sport however, they first of all let “Donnie” gain experience in intermediate class dressage and Prix St. George tournaments. During the first start it was impossible not to take notice of the stallion, as he neighed from the beginning of the first greeting parade to the end. On the next day it functioned more smoothly. He boldly announced himself when he stopped at X, but then concentrated himself fully on his task.
It did not take long for Donnerhall to start in Grand Prix. He received placements from the outset and the first win was soon forthcoming. Highlights of the programme included extended trots, the magnificent gallopade, passage and piaffes.
The first Donnerhall progeny were now coming under the saddle. During the first few years only few mares were led to Donnerhall, as the Grönwohldhof is too far away from the core Oldenburg breeding region between the Weser and Ems rivers. Nevertheless one stallion from the first age class which was bred at the Grönwohldhof was approved: Don Primero. As a five-year-old he became federal champion 5-year old German dressage horse in Verden with a points score of 9.3. Today he is successful up to grand Prix Special. Like his sire before him, the performance class I tested stallion has also presented horses for the Vechta auction, which were sold for six figure sums.