Donnerhall: The contemporary dressage horse’s founding father


1981–2006 DONNERHALL Breeder of 172 cm liver chestnuts: Otto Gärtner

Donnerhall, a liver chestnut stallion, played a significant role in the development of modern dressage breeding. He was the founding sire at Grönwohldhof, one of the first glamorous Oldenburg private studs, which reflected the affluence and taste of its mega-rich owners. Grönwohldhof had a mill pond, waterwheel, beds of azaleas, and picture perfect paddocks with foals with neatly trimmed tails.

Donnerhall was also a magnet for mare owners, as he was one of the first super star stallion competitors. Although his sire, Donnerwetter, disappeared into the wilds of the United States in the mid-70s, his full-brothers were nothing compared to him. The dressage big three, Donnerhall, Weltmeyer, and Rubinstein, had full siblings who were very ordinary.

Donnerhall’s talent was apparent right from the start, scoring 131.92 to be second in his performance test at Adelheidsdorf in 1984. His competition career is legendary, winning 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. He won the European World Cup Freestyle League final standings twice, in 1997 and 1998.

However, the trend has been reversed, and many of the famed Oldenburg studs, including Grönwohldhof, have disappeared. Donnerha ll’s legacy continues to inspire and influence the modern dressage industry.

Donnerhall, a Thoroughbred horse, is known for its trainability and strength, making it suitable for competition horses. The mix of Donnerhall and a large drop of Thoroughbred blood in the dam is more likely to produce competition horses. However, what distinguished Donnerhall from the other big three was his ability to establish a stallion line. De Niro, the most successful son of Donnerhall, started competing at Grand Prix level at the tender age of seven.

Donnerhall has had 998 competitors, 840 dressage competitors (226 at advanced level), and even 97 in the jumping ring, for total prizemoney of €2,137,490. The most successful progeny has been the mare Donatha S, who won €174,242 followed by Don Schufro with winnings of €109,257. At that point, there were 40 horses with dressage winnings of more than €10,000.

Donnerhall was ranked fifth on the WBFSH rankings for 2013 based on FEI recorded performances, with most of his points earned by three of the world’s top ten – Damon Hill, Donnperignon, and Digby – with one son, De Niro, ranked number one, and another, Don Schufro, in sixth place.

The ‘D’ line horses were out in strength at the London Olympic Games, with Donnerhall himself, Donnperignon, Damon Hill, Digby, Dablino, Donnerfee, and Desperados. The percentage of D’s rose to 46.66 (7 out of 15) in the Freestyle.

Jan Tönjes, who worked with the Oldenburg Verband, believes that Donnerhall’s dominance can be attributed to two reasons: firstly, the solid type of horse, with the third dam still belonging to the old Oldenburg Coach type. Second, the horses were eager to work every day, had a super attitude, and had to stay sound conformation-wise.

Ludwig Christmann points to the toughness of Donnerhalls, stating that they are always fit, even in 35 degrees like Rio.

De Niro, a stallion from the Oldenburg Verband, was one of the few to return to the scene after a difficult start in the industry. His outstanding first foal crop and expensive auction foals led to many breeders re-using him. The influence of the ‘D’ line has not disappeared, with 2021’s highest ranking of 144 shared by Don Schufro and Dimaggio. Don Schufro died in 2020, while Dimaggio died in 2015, but his influence is still felt.

Don Primero, the first stallion star by Donnerhall, was the Champion 5 year old Dressage horse at the 1990 Bundeschampionate and went on to compete at Grand Prix level with Karin Rehbein. He is a full brother-in-blood to the more famous stallion and Grand Prix performer, Don Schufro. DiMaggio, who spent much time in England, was an amazing stallion with three super gaits, walk, trot, and canter. He was a full brother-in-law to the more famous stallion and Grand Prix performer, Don Schufro.

Half Moon Delphi, Dimaggio’s most successful offspring, won team gold with Michael Eilberg at the 2013 European Championships and team silver at the 2014 World Equestrian Games. He has sired 30 Grand Prix competitors and continues to produce them seven years after his death in 2015.

Destello, the reserve champion of the Seven Year Old horses, was by Dimaggio out of a mare by Fürst Fugger. Don Frederico, one of the first ‘D’ Line stallions at Celle, was also a key figure in the creation of the modern dressage horse.

In summary, the ‘D’ line has had a significant impact on dressage breeding, with notable stallion names like De Niro, Don Schufro, and Dimaggio. Their influence continues to be felt today, with the ‘D’ line continuing to evolve and influence the industry.


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