The History of the Trakehner

The Trakehner horse was developed in the early 18th century by King Wilhiem I of Prussia, the father of Friedrich the Great, seeing the need for a new type of cavalry mount for the Prussian army. War tactics had changed and now required a lighter more comfortable horse with more endurance and speed than the heavier horses previously needed to carry armour and haul heavy equipment. The King wanted horses for his officers to ride, attractive enough to make them proud, solid enough to stay sound, with a comfortable, ground-covering trot that would enable to travel quickly and efficiently. He chose the best horses from seven of his royal breeding farms and in 1732 moved them all to the new royal stud at Trakehnen, began selective breeding among them and the Trakehner breed evolved. The breed has been selectively bred since that time with a closed stud book.

History was to deal the Trakehner a nearly fatal blow. The breed had easily recovered from the population being halved during World War I, but in October 1944, as World War II was in its final stages and the Soviets were closing in on the lush and beautiful area around Trakehnen, orders came to evacuate the horses from the Trakehnen Stud. About 800 of the best horses were hastily transferred both by rail and by foot but unfortunately they did not go far enough west. Most of them, together with all their documentation, eventually fell into the hands of the Russian occupation forces and were shipped to Russia. The private breeders and their horses, however, were determined to save their valuable horses. What followed was a horror story that went down in history as “The Trek”. Hitching their precious breeding stock to wagons laden with personal possessions and all the feed they could carry, these proud East Prussians fled, some 800 horses strong. They were mostly women, children and elderly people and they were leaving their whole lives, bringing along only what their wagons could hold. It was the dead of winter. Snow was deep on the ground, and the broodmares were heavy with foal. Many horses were left behind to be claimed by the advancing Soviets and many were lost or let loose along the way to be eventually taken in by the conquering troops or to die.










The East Prussians headed west, literally running for their lives. They could not stop when mares lost their foals or horses went lame or became ill. Their feed ran out and the horses had to live on what they could scavenge along the way. For two and a half months and 600 miles the nightmare continued, while the refugees were constantly pursued by Soviet troops. At one time it looked like the East Prussians had reached the end. The Soviets had them surrounded on the shores of the frozen Baltic Sea. The only escape was across the treacherous expanse of ice, so across they went - at times knee deep in water covering the ice - galloping to stay ahead of the ice breaking behind them. If any dared to stop or attempt to dodge the fire of the Russian planes overhead, they were doomed to sink helplessly into the freezing water. Many did not make it across.

At last the survivors limped into West Germany, the once proud and beautiful 800 horses reduced to less than 100 pitiful skeletons, carrying wounds from shrapnel. Only the hardiest had survived. The next decade was spent re-establishing the breed in the West. In October 1947, the West German Association of Breeders and Friends of the Warmblood Horse of Trakehner Origin, today know as the “Trakehner Verband” was formed, replacing the East Prussian Stud Book Society. Horses that had fled to the west were spread all over Germany and only a few hundred Trakehner horses of the original 80,000 in East Prussia were available by the time the rebuilding process began, for though between the Trek and various other evacuation attempts, almost 1000 horses had actually reached the safety of West Germany, most of them were eventually lost to the breed. However these horses became the founders of today’s Trakehner horse. A very hardy breed.