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Monuments adorn the world. Monuments of all sizes. Some are large, extremely big, like the sphinx in Egypt. Most monuments however are more modest in size. They don't have to prove their greatness by means of over-dimensional size. They are just great. "Great thoughts come from the heart" wrote the French philosopher Luc de Clapier. This is true for horses too, at least for some few, very special ones.

A whole host of horse monuments exist, the history of art is full of them: The Parthenon frieze of Greek antiquity, the painting of count Anton Günther seated high upon the legendary horse Kranich; Napoleon, the fan of grey horses at Waterloo or Frederick the Great, who with the Brandenburg gate to his rear, looks towards the palace square Unter den Linden in Berlin. For the plethora of historical personalities, the horses are mere window dressing. What counts is the man in the saddle. Bygone days. Much has changed today however. The mighty personalities of the present will hardly have themselves immortalised on the back of a horse. Can you imagine Bill Clinton in bronze? He will probably be perpetuated for posterity as a cigar smoker or a jogger wearing Reebok gym shoes, perhaps with inflated nostrils - but that is undoubtedly the only parallel that can be drawn. Helmut Kohl moreover would for all intents and purposes be represented with a statesman like gesture rather than with the dynamism of a galloping horse. Nevertheless the current federal chancellor of Germany Gerhard Schröder is said to have a certain affinity to horses.

Yet even today, there are still sculptors casting statues in bronze. Statues of horses, with the difference to the past however that our hero has changed. No longer is it some ruler, general or adventurer who is the model, instead, the horse itself is reason enough for the statue. The horse is a monument. A living legend: that's Donnerhall.


Even though Donnerhall's merits did not suffice for the ultimate individual international title that horses such as Halla, whose life-sized statue is standing in front of the DOKR in Germany's riding centre of Warendorf, the phenomenon of Donnerhall cannot be calculated in terms of Deutschmarks, on the basis of medals or in terms of matter-of -fact figures. Donnerhall succeeded in bridging top performance results in the dressage arena with outstanding prepotency.

"Breeding and sport" - hand in hand is a maxim that cannot be questioned today and which has set standards. It is a maxim that would not exist without unique phenomena such as Donnerhall. Had it not been for the favourable circumstances that enabled the liver chestnut to grow up on the Gröhnwohldhof and had he not had such a memorable patron like Otto Schulte-Frohlinde and above all, if it hadn't been for Karin and Herbert Rehbein, then this model student of a horse would not have become the "equestrian professor - summa cum laude" that he did. No-one had really seriously believed that it would be possible to bring a stallion who was an active sire performing stud farm covering duties to the German championships. It goes without saying that the stallions of the state studs also have demonstrable talents. They do piaffes and march along at the annual stallion parades demonstrating precision training according to the principles of riding theory which were fostered and perfected as a science at the courts of princes and rulers, especially at the studs of the nobility. That however is show. It is an entirely different situation in a competition atmosphere, a situation in which judges scrutinise and evaluate. The generally held view of the time was "how was that supposed to function with a stud stallion?" Well events proved that it certainly could function. And how it functioned! Donnerhall and the Rehbeins have proved it to the whole world. But that's not all: His approved sons are following in their sires hoofsteps. They are federal champions, stallion performance test winners and successful up to Grand Prix.

Changing the way that people think - that is not easy, particularly in the equestrian sports scene. The ideas and concepts of the different participants are just too individualistic and the views too encrusted. "Breeding is breeding and sport is sport" was the assumption that sceptically accompanied Donnerhall's first steps. Those who regarded breeding and sport as being mutually exclusive had to admit: that they were mistaken. Die-hard critics however didn't lack arguments such as "the stallion is at the sports tournament so the mare can't be covered". That's the sour grapes, the bitter pill, that first had to be swallowed! Fortunately the increasingly popular artificial insemination is sweetening the sour after-taste of the traditionalist breeders to some extent, rescuing horse breeders in emergency situations ever more often.

Donnerwetter - Donnerhall's father

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 showjumping 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 re-breeding 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 saviours 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 organisation 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 colour. Heart, what more do you want...?


Karin, Herbert and Donnerhall

9 year old Donnerhall

Donnerhall, 9 years

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 colouring 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 jetsetter.

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.



Donnerhall and Otto Schulte-Frohlinde

Donnerhall's season as a nine-year old ended with a proud tally of successes in 1990 with 33 wins in difficult dressage competitions. In addition to that, Donnerhall gradually distinguished himself more and more as a sire.

One son was sold at the PSI auction, organised by Paul Schockemöhle and Ulrich Kasselmann, Donnerhall progeny also appear from time to time at the Vechta Foal Ring (Fohlenring). Donnerschlag who was bred in Hemmoor by Günther Pape out of the Pik Bube sister Pirola became a I-e premium stallion and absolved his stallion performance test in fourth place.

A breeding bulls eye, as it proved to be later on. A permanent success for the St. Ludwig studfarm. The Rhineland is one of the first breeding regions outside of Oldenburg that profited from Donnerhall's prepotency thanks to Donnerschlag and his sons. Even the breeders in the bordering Netherlands craned their necks. Donnerschlag and his son Dream of Heidelberg have belonged to the most popular sires of West Germany for years.

In the year 1992 however, things really got started. Donnerschwee (breeder: Dr. Jobst Hartmann, Itzehoe) became the top horse of the spring auction. DM 220.000 was the price paid for the son of the best of the 1986 age class at the Federal Mare Show, Weltwunder by Freiherr. No other horse achieved such a price before at a German Breeding Association auction. Donnerschwee was the most successful approved stallion at the 1993 federal dressage horse championship. He has meanwhile won advanced dressage competitions and is now competing in Grand Prix tournaments.

The 1992 federal championships in Verden have gone into the annals of sports history as the "Donnerhall Festival". Primavera whose dam is by Pik König, came third in the three-year old championship. She succeeded in the rare feat of first winning the Riding Horse Championship at the "Rastede Schloßpark" and then being proclaimed champion Oldenburg mare.

Even more apparent was the dominance at the four-year old championships: Here the winner was the Hanoverian Davignon, second the Oldenburg mare "Deutsche Einheit". Otto Schulte-Frohlinde had presented this daughter of the mare Pik Stahl as a present to the three-day eventing team that had won the gold medal at the Olympic Games in Seoul, South Korea. Every Olympic winner was given a foal as a present, even the showjumper team,. The latter's filly, a sister of Don Primero landed at the Paul Schockemöhle stables, where the Donnerhall mare was mated with Classiker. The result: Capuccino, an approved stallion, who changed owners for a high sum at the PSI auction. No-one however profited as much from the horse gift as the Buschreiters. The vice champion mare "Deutsche Einheit" was auctioned in Vechta on the third of October for DM 420.000, bought by the Dutchman Adrie Gordijn . That was a sensation in Germany and it was believed that it would be a long time until this spectacular auction sum would be equalled. When the sum was finally surpassed by the Hanoveranians in Verden in 1996 with the price of DM 450.000, the sire of the prime quality horse was once again Donnerhall. Donnerhall, the Oldenburger is accredited for Hanoverian broodmares and wherever he is involved, good results are more than likely- even with the neighbours.

Adrie Gordijn beams radiantly and simply says the mare which henceforth is named "Donne" was a present. Under this name she became the best up and coming dressage horse of her age class in the Netherlands and today has already had successes at Prix St. George level. Sven Günther Rothenberger and his wife Gonnelien are promoting the sovereign mare with her strong nerves - one of the most noble of Donnerhall daughters. Her colleague in Verden, the champion mare Primavera took a different route. She is fully involved in breeding and is enjoying the pastures of Hemmoor. An imposing figure. Whoever sees her galloping over the green, whoever becomes witness to her seemingly galloping from out of nowhere with a powerful trot, striding along in metres, will most certainly stop and stare in amazement. She is already the mother of a stallion.

In 1993 Donnerhall once again presented the champion mare at the "Rastede Schloßpark". Hallo, and again Pik Bube was the damsire. The combination à la Grönwohld developed more or less by coincidence because breeding considerations tend to predominate. This blood combination has proven to be particularly successful. Many German breeding regions have meanwhile profited from it. Hallo has got a full-sister named High Noon. One of the first horses that made public Donnerhall's qualities as a hereditary transmitter. Trained as a young horse on the Grönwohldhof, she qualified for the German Dressage Horse Championships in Munich and Verden. In Verden Julia Westphal rode the mare, which is owned by her and attained fourth place in the championship. Meanwhile High Noon has been able to establish herself in Grand Prix sport. She is the spitting image of her sire. The silhouettes of the two are especially alike in the lessons of highest collection. Ridden by Herbert Boger, the mare managed to attain many international placements in 1998. For some time now, Donnerhall has belonged to those stallions at the Vechta Elite Auctions who are represented by their own group of progeny.

The combination of Donnerhall with Weltwunder (by Freiherr-Adrian) was a particularly lucrative mating. After the aforementioned premium stallion Donnerschwee, the horses Deutscher Orden, Dr. Lobo, DJ Lobo as well as the Davignon son Dayton came under Uwe Heckmann's auction hammer with the total proceeds amounting to more than half a million Deutschmarks.

Back to competition sport: The Rehbeins are modest people. They are an exception in a field that is increasingly characterised by public squabblings about who-with-whom-on-whose horse. They provide their horses with solid training and present them in competition sport. It is not their style to curry favour with anyone. It is performance that counts. Performance in the dressage arena, not at the side of it. Insiders think that this may be the reason why Donnerhall was always passed over and nominated as a reserve horse or the "sixth wheel of the car" for international championships, thus not even making a place in the team. Donnerhall's chance came in 1994. Even though he still wasn't considered for the dressage team that was to represent the German colours at the World Riding Games in Den Haag, things turned out differently. The "destiny" factor played a role here. While the team was already preparing itself for Den Haag, the German championships were taking place in Mannheim. The hottest national contest of all times, with temperatures over 40°C in the shade.

The horses stood in the stable tents letting their ears droop. Ventilation fans provided welcome cool air. In the absence of Isabelle Werth, Nicole Uphoff-Becker and Monika Theodorescu, Donnerhall became German champion. Then the news from the training camp: Monika Theodorescu's Grunox was not in form. Donnerhall was therefore nominated to fill the gap and was allowed to travel to Den Haag.

The first day of the World Riding Games. On the programme: The Grand Prix, or more precisely, the first half of the Grand Prix. The test was ridden over a period of two days. Donnerhall being the last starter of the first half. The sun slowly sank beyond the horizon. A golden shimmer lay over the Zuiderpark Stadion in Den Haag. The terraces full to the brim. Not only the fans from Germany wanted to see Donnerhall. Due to his popularity as a sire in the Benelux countries, the Dutch, the Belgians as well as horse freaks from overseas were electrified. The sun's rays were still touching the upper terraces of the high spectator stand. Even the sun did not want to miss the spectacle. The banners cast increasingly longer shadows onto the sand of the stadium. Then there he came, majestically, self -conscious. Karin Rehbein accelerated once more. One hundred metres of powerful trot. Expressive, confident in his rhythm. Applause welled up. "Donni" knew his responsibility to his fans...

The two left the arena with a points score of 1675 points, as the following day revealed. In total, it was the seventh best result. The riders had to decide: Grand Prix Special or basic freestyle exercises? World champions were sought for both disciplines. Donnerhall began with the exercises. Music accompanied the show with its technically difficult exercises. "One singular sensation with every step that he took" - every step a sensation. The title song of "A Chorus Line" spurred the Oldenburger on. Forty-five gallop change-overs from one leap and bound to the next. Passages, traverses and piaffe pirouettes. The master student was at the height of his career.

The salutation stop at precisely the last chord of the music. Karin Rehbein took the reins in one hand and nodded. Deafening applause in the stadium. Whilst his wife left the dressage arena waving and Donnerhall appeared to be enjoying the applause, Herbert Rehbein who had already discovered and promoted so many horses and brought them on the trophy winning course, surreptitiously wiped a tear of joy from the corner of his eye. "Thanks Donni!" The bronze medal from Den Haag is the crowning glory of Donnerhall's most successful sports year. It is no surprise to Karin Rehbein that of all things, Donnerhall triumphed in the basic freestyle exercises for the world championship honours. "He has always had an affinity to freestyle exercises, even when they were not so popular yet, we always rode them". Asked whether Donnerhall were musically inclined Karin Rehbein just laughed it off - "musical, I don't know, but it's fun for him. When he hears the music, he always wants to give his best. he just loves it when the audience becomes involved". The audience was often well-disposed towards Donnerhall. Certainly, where there are strengths there are also weaknesses. And the judges watched like hawks, to find one thing or the other that might lead to a subtraction of points. Still one either has charisma or doesn't and Donnerhall has plenty of it.

The problem of dressage sport is discipline, the discipline that is required of the audience when for example in a Grand Prix, the change of leg is splendid, dead straight and jumped with an upward tendency, then immediate applause is not allowed, or when in the Grand Prix Special the concluding passage volts and the piaffe in X sends shivers down people's spines, they have to hold still and keep quiet. Only when the salutation has been completed are the spectators allowed to give vent to their feelings and applaud. That is sometimes at the expense of spontaneity where people cannot react to immediate experiences. On the other hand, the total impression is also important. Anyone who applauds frenetically after the first set in a piano sonata would attract the displeasure of the other members of the audience.

Why make this comparison between classical music and the art of classical riding? Only to honour the virtuoso Donnerhall. How strong the personal magnetism of the bundle of power in the liver chestnut coat really could be was demonstrated by an evening at the Oldenburg state tournament in Rastede.


Saturday evening. The terraces are fully sold out. There is a colourful programme under floodlights: foals, conformation show horses, young mares led by hand! Donnerhall is the star guest of the night. Ten o'clock in the evening. The weather is good, untypical for the state tournament, the weather god was kind to the 8.000 spectators - a mild summer's night. Floodlights throw a mantle of glittering white over the whole scene. Colourful flowerpots outline the arena. The music begins Strauß Polka rhythms. Then Donnerhall appears. His coat gleaming. The light accentuates the well-trained muscular body. The audience follows Donnerhalls performance, three four, perhaps five minutes, suddenly the first people jump up, jump over the enclosure, they want to get closer. Not even 60 seconds later, the crowd is thronging around the arena. They clap hands rhythmically. Donnerhall really gets into the spirit of things: Passage, piaffe vigorous leg movement by the chestnut. A bundle of power! Springy elastic motions. Everyone is thrilled".

It has already been said that 1994 was Donnerhall's most successful year. In breeding terms, this is also true of a further highlight "Donne's" younger brother Duntroon. In autumn of 1993 he became vice-champion stallion at the Weser-Ems Hall in Oldenburg, then in 1994 the impressive liver chestnut was brought to the 100 day test in Adelheidsdorf: He won the most reputed stallion performance test of Germany. The best of 50 contenders with a points score of 137.76. Over the next few years the stallion was stationed in Holtrup. A number of auction foals derive from this period, in which Duntroon was not promoted much in terms of riding. That changed radically when the stallion went to his owner Kristy Oatley-Nist on the Grönwohldhof in the autumn of 1997. At that stage Duntroon only mastered elementary skills and was sent into training. He learned fast. Already in 1998, he successfully went to the start in advanced dressage competitions under Karin Rehbein. Duntroon is meanwhile celebrating successes under his half Australian owner, who as a young rider still had a German passport and won several European Championship titles.

Karin Rehbein says "next to no other horse reminds her of Donnerhall, like Duntroon does. Duntroon's reputation as a sire was underscored at the 1998 Oldenburg Stallion Days, where the liver chestnut presented the vice-champion, who was sold for DM 400.000, the sum of DM 400.000 only being surpassed by the champion stallion. Kyra Kyrklund is to train this marvellous model of a riding horse. This Belgian born horse also has Donnerhall blood pulsating in his veins, a Rohdiamant son, out of a Donnerhall mare. He was purchased by Paul Schockemöhle for DM 500.000.


Let's wait and see whether these Donnerhall grand-children will be able to keep up Donnerhall's tradition at the stallion performance test. High scores particularly in the partial index of rideability are meanwhile considered as a seal of quality of Donnerhall offspring. Dream of Glory, who goes back to the famous Holstein bloodline of the mare Rappel, via Pik Bube, Romadour II and Urioso became rideability winner at the 1993 stallion performance test in Medingen with a points score of 146.06 points. He was sold to the Alsenhof via the PSI auction.

The tally of expensive auction horses produced by this black stallion's first few age classes and sold at diverse auction sites is considerable. Dream of Glory progeny are having great successes. There was once again a sensation at the 1998 federal championship in Warendorf as regards the pedigrees of the successful horses, with more than 50 % of all the finalists of the three year old stallions carrying Donnerhall's blood. Dream of Glory presented the federal champion, the Hanoverian Dreamy's Dream and the third of the three year old stallion finals, the Württemberger Dr. Jackson, whilst the vice-champion of the mares and geldings was the Don Primero daughter Donna Primera from the Zweibrücken breeding region. Donnerhall and his sons are enriching horse breeding throughout Germany. Not to forget the champion five-year old dressage horse Del Piero (out of a dam by Matcho AA). The Hanoveranian is a direct Donnerhall son. His rider Susan Draper also had a finalist of the three-year old stallions under her saddle, the Oldenburger Ducello (by Davignon). In many respects, the results of the federal championships of 1998 are characteristic of the prepotency and significance of Donnerhall. He is fashionable, but he is not a stallion of fashion: High heeled shoes come and go, but the small black horse always remains up-to-date. Other than numerous passing fancies, whose stars rise to shine so rapidly that we have just barely begun to notice them and they already go out again, Donnerhall's light remains a fixed constant, almost a fixed star in the dressage sky. He is perhaps best compared to Venus, whose presence is made apparent by its intensive shine and cannot be missed even by a casual glance into the heavens. It is already there, when other stars are just beginning to shimmer weakly and it is still there when the rosy dawn challenges the light of the starry sky anew each morning.

The great demand for his sons and daughters at the diverse sales venues of almost all the German breeding regions shows that he passes his own qualities on to his progeny. The Trakehners are an exception here, although the mating of Donnerhall with representatives of the East Prussian horse nobility has in particular, proven to be successful through and through. Donnerhall occupied the third position of the permanent list of the most sensationally priced top German auction horses (Verden DM 450.000) and fourth position (Vechta DM 420.000) in November 1998. He is both undisputed and double record holder in respect to foals.

The first sensation: In 1995 during the 43rd Elite Auction in Vechta. A colt with the catalogue number 17 danced into the hall. A Donnerhall from head to hoof. Only one look into the little fellow's eyes sufficed. Unmistakable! His dam derives from no less than Pik Bube. "Donovan Bailey" is the name given to the youngster by Uwe Heckmann. Not a bad name, as Donovan Bailey had just won the title of world champion in the track-and-field athletics world championship. One has to think of tomorrow and invest in the future! Once again, in the bidding duel, Adrie Gordijn's hand was the only one that remained held up high long after the others had given up. Resigned, the bidding adversaries noted down the price of DM 130,ooo for the colt in their catalogues. In 1998 the chestnut took part in the federal championship and was sold via the PSI auction.

Then in the autumn of 1998 the unbelievable happened: Yes, DM 130.000 for a foal was surpassed. Once more it was the Vechta auction site and like before, it was Uwe Heckmann's hammer and again the buyer was Adrie Gordijn. This time, the price that the chestnut colt named Deinhard, who was bred out of a Lemon Tree dam fetched, was DM 155.000. The horse scene in Germany was agog, because for the first time, the prime quality foal cost more than the most expensive riding horse. This riding horse was the gelding Duisenberg who derives from Davignon and was available for sale for the sum of DM 150.000. The next highest priced horse of the auction was Dark Dream by Don Gregory. The buyer of the second highest priced foal Dollar (by De Niro) on that day had to invest the sum of DM 70.000. Dollar and Donnerhall - both begin with the letter d!

"Wouldn't it be nice to be a millionaire" - one does not have to be a prince to be able to dream this dream. But a Donnerhall progeny! The upper crust of the equestrian scene met at the 1998 PSI. Their motto: Look, be seen, buy. When it comes to the dressage horses, the wishes of the interested parties are concentrated on a large chestnut horse. It's not necessarily a fairytale prince as regards the type, but a horse with three very good basic gaits and overwhelming talent for the piaffe.

The liver chestnut named Diamant bears the Bavarian brand. His dam derives from the Bolero son Bolschoi. The chestnut was sold to Bonn for the round sum of DM 1.000.000. The Haribo sweets tycoon being the buyer. Ulrich Kasselmann discovered the solidly built chestnut at a dealer's. The breeder had sold the gelding there after the Bavarian auction selection commission had twice rejected the chestnut for alleged "unrideability" which is a quite unusual characteristic especially for a Donnerhall son. In Bavaria however some things are different....

Don Gregory, who was bred in Hanover and who is stationed in the Oldenburg breeding region of Cappeln is well on the way of following in Donnerhall's hoofsteps both as a sire and in sport. In 1996, he won the Grand Prix under Martina Hannöver and is thus already a "classical winner". Since then he has increasingly had successes in breeding: Daydream, out of the Trakehner mare Cinderella, was top horse in Vechta and in the following summer dominated the stallion performance test in Medingen. He was followed by several others, who succeeded in jumping into the "hundred thousand (Deutschmark) club".

Even though Don Gregory's prepotency has far from waned, the next stallion is already pounding against the door laying claim to his own chapter in the big book with the heading "Foundation Sire Donnerhall": De Niro. In 1996 he was at the very front at the stallion performance test in Adelheidsdorf. The black Hanoveranian horse won the partial index of rideability with a score of 145 points and became vice-champion of the whole event. He presented highly remunerated foals and was proclaimed champion stallion in Oldenburg as a four-and-a-half year old. Performance record and progeny left no doubt about De Niro's championship title. The Oldenburg stallion Days of 1996 could not do without Donnerhall either. Three direct sons were approved, of whom the extremely true to type Donatelli was able to advance into the premium lot as the best. He was then stationed at the traditional Kathmann station in Holtrup and two years later was awarded the I-c main premium. The darling of the audience at this approval was a Donnerhall grandson. The I-c premium stallion De La Gardie, a Davignon son at the start of a long journey who became a state stallion in Sweden, at the Flyinge stud. He did brilliantly in his stallion performance test in Medingen in Germany but his performances are equally good in his new Scandinavian home.

Back to Donnerhall once more, the years after his success in Den Haag. The first climax of the year 1995: Hollywood. The Place where the stars meet. The place where the finals of the Volvo Dressage World Cup were held. The preliminaries, the Grand Prix, were absolved with faults. A bad starting position for Karin Rehbein, who nevertheless managed to attain fifth place after a very good presentation of the basic exercises. The goal for that season was clear: The European championships in Luxemburg. An accident however prevented participation in Luxemburg. 1995 was the only year in Donnerhall's long career in which he did not enjoy perfect health.

The dream of a second performance in the USA, the dream of Atlanta and Olympic gold however remained a dream for ever. The dressage committee decided on a quartet without Donnerhall in 1996. Donnerhall and Karin Rehbein made a successful comeback at the indoor season in autumn. In Berlin the pair won the basic exercises in the "Deutschlandhalle". The dressage judge Heinz Schütte was impressed by the freshness of the then fifteen-year old. In Neumünster in February 1997 "Donni" was even so saucy, during the basic exercises, that he pertly aimed at the thigh and gained third place.

Donnerhall went to the start as winner of the Western European League at the finals in the Dutch t' Hertogenbosch. This time he attained fourth place. Donnerhall's last great success, which Herbert Rehbein was still able to witness. In the summer of 1997, the probably most significant dressage trainer of the past few decades died of cancer. Whenever Karin Rehbein's name was mentioned (or for that matter is mentioned) in context with Donnerhall, his name is also in people's minds. Karin and Herbert Rehbein together advanced many internationally successful horses and Donnerhall is their masterpiece. The quintessence of a marriage in which everything revolved around horses. The 1997 CH 10 of Aix-la-Chapelle was the qualification tournament for the European championships which in that year were held in Verden in Lower Saxony. Karin Rehbein refrained from starting so soon after the death of her husband. She was still unable to ride, too deep was the sorrow that she felt. She finally did make use of the last qualification however and came second in the German Championships. Following her ride she said "Herbert would have wanted it this way". The vice-champion was thereupon nominated for the European Championship in Verden. There, the German dressage riders won the anticipated team gold medal. But who would win in the quest for the individual bronze medal ? Who would succeed in the jump onto the winner's steps next to Isabelle Werth and Anky van Grunsven, the two riders who would most certainly win gold and silver? Numerous wagers were placed on Louise Nathorst and Walk on Top, the winner of the World Cup finals. But things came differently than expected, Donnerhall put up the third best performance of the European Championship therefore winning the bronze medal. Even though Nadine Capellmann-Biffar had the same points score, she only came fourth in the three index evaluations. Donnerhall's show talent, the better placement for the basic freestyle exercises were the basis for the success at that event, which Karin Rehbein retrospectively regards as the greatest of her career.

She almost won a further individual medal at the World Riding Games in 1998. The year had begun well, the riding duo was among the best at the World Cup finals, then the Derby win in Hamburg. Donnerhall furthermore did well at the German championship in Gera and even though that did not suffice to win, there were enough people at the edge of the dressage arena who were of the opinion that Donnerhall was the actual winner of the test. Donnerhall nevertheless qualified for the World Riding Championships in Rome.

The stakes were high once more in the eternal city. After the Grand Prix, Donnerhall was fourth, which meant team gold for Germany. Thereafter the duo came fourth again in the Grand Prix Special which sufficed for the third place in the intermediate evaluation and was the best prerequisite for the basic freestyle exercises. Here his performance was however "only" good enough for fifth place, which added up in the final score, amounted to place four. In Rome, Karin Rehbein reached the decision to withdraw Donnerhall from active competition sport. Karin, as head of the Grönwohldhof had earlier on already stressed that if Donnerhall were to retire, he would only do so at a nice tournament and what's more, he still had to be 100% fit. She had seen too many great dressage horses disappear without a trace, too old to really have great successes in the dressage arena, or the official veterinarian might see himself in the predicament of having to end a world career through a routine check up for the condition of a horse. Donnerhall would not become the victim of such a fate.

Donnerhall rode his last salutation round in Rome, at least as regards competition sport, but he still had a long period to fulfill on the breeding stage. It was only his farewell from sport that was celebrated. More than 3,000 thrilled spectators showed their reverence to that wonderful personality of a stallion at the 1998 Oldenburg Stallion Days, who had already become a legend during his own lifetime. Successful sons such as Dream of Glory, the former federal champion Davignon and the current German class champion Del Piero took part. Then there was the five-year old De Niro, who suddenly started doing piaffes as though it were the most natural thing in the world to do and of course Duntroon, who is well on the way to the very top and not to forget the Grand Prix winners Don Gregory and Don Primero.

Above all however, Donnerhall was there. A stamping rhythm resounded from the loudspeakers of the sold out Weser Ems Hall in Oldenburg. Synthesizer sounds; music to get everyone swinging. The stallion with the D.M. 640,000 life winnings sum trotted in regally. He knew his audience and was aware that that was his show. Once more, Karin Rehbein dug deeply into her bag of Grand Prix sports tricks: Change of canter "a tempi"- not ten, not twenty, no - far in excess of forty. And piaffes, passages, pure energy! Joie de vivre, power! Then the solemn moment: Donnerhall stood in the middle, his breeder Otto Gärtner next to him. Peter Wandschneider, the stable manager of the Grönwohldhof was also asked to join the group, as was Paul, the English horse keeper, who had looked after Donnerhall over the past years. Donnerhall, who was awarded the title of Oldenburg Dressage Stallion of the Year for the second time in his life was presented with a large wheelbarrow full of carrots. Then his sons appeared, taking their positions in a semi-circle. The lights went off. Oldenburg's auction manager Uwe Heckmann worked out the event as master of ceremonies. Suddenly 80 small children came into the blacked out arena carrying lanterns, each lantern bearing the Oldenburg brand. "A breeding region says thank you to Donnerhall". The candles flickered in the lanterns carried by the children. Diffuse light lit up the scene: the protagonist standing there just like a monument, motionless, only his eyes gleaming. The goose pimple chorale " I pray to the power of love" rang out. All the able-bodied people in the Weser-Ems Hall were meanwhile standing, solemnly listening to the sounds, with more than just the occasional tear in some of their eyes. Then came the finale, with the 80 children forming a narrow lane. Donnerhall definitively made his last round of honour over the centre line in front of the eyes of "his" Oldenburg breeders. Karin Rehbein passed through the sea of lights accompanied by a spotlight doing two, three piaffes along the route outside. Donnerhall danced and beamed. The public was enraptured . The final 20 metres were covered at a last heightened trot, with Karin Rehbein waving to the crowd. Outside she was presented with a red rose by each of the 80 children.

Scenes like these were repeated over the following weeks in the big farewell tournament through the whole of Germany. He was a triumph everywhere, whether it was in the Stuttgart Schleyer Hall, on the second last November weekend or in front of his home audience in Schleswig Holstein, in the Baltic Sea Hall of Kiel (Ostsee Halle) on the first Advent.

It is beyond question, that Donnerhall succeeded in founding his own stallion line. He is an exceptional sire, who was even permitted to cover Holstein mares even though the Holstein breeders are rather sceptical and essentially disapprove of all stallions from other breeds. Donnerhall is recognised in the Netherlands and Belgium, in the U.S.A. and Denmark, as well as in France. His sons and grandsons are growing to maturity all over the world and seeing to the dissemination of Donnerhall genes, which above all, guarantee one thing, namely rideability and intellect, factors, which when viewed soberly, are probably the most important characteristics of warmblood breeding. A glance at the approvals sites of the leading German breeding regions in the autumn of 1998 verify Donnerhall's significance. A number of Donnerhall sons and grandsons were approved in Hanover. A direct Donnerhall son (dam by Matcho AA) was in the first Celle lot looking forward to a career as a state stallion. He was furthermore a thunderclap in Warendorf at the North-Rhine Westphalian approvals, where the champion stallion was by Donnerhall (dam by Rosenkavalier), another horse predestined for a career as a state stallion. The vice-champion (by Donnerwind-Mephistopheles is carrying on the succession of generations. In Oldenburg, the winning stallion was out of a Donnerhall dam and the vice-champion had the blood of the legendary sire pulsating in his veins in the second generation via his sire Duntroon.

The tally of Duntroon's successes includes one-hundred-and-eighteen wins in advanced dressage competitions and life winnings of around DM 640,000. There are more than 250 progeny performing successfully in competition sport in Germany alone, apart from those in other countries. Donnerhall is without a doubt the most important contemporary dressage stallion. It also goes without saying that he is a foundation sire: one that will still be talked about with respect even in the year 2050. Irrespective of which direction riding horse breeding will develop to, the world will always need a stallion like Donnerhall.


Donnerhall and Maxim

Donnerhall and Peter Wandschneider