Donnerhall (Donnerwetter [Hann] - Ninette [Oldbg] x Markus) ridden by Karin Rehbein in the 1998 World Equestrian Games in Rome

By Christopher Hector
Photography: Peter Llewellyn and FEI

Bred by Otto Gärtner, the great stallion was born in 1981 and died in 2006, but not before he established a dynasty that continues to dominate international dressage to this day. Donnerhall was the founding stallion at one of the first truly glamorous private studs – Grönwohldhof. It was a trend that was to strengthen and grow in the 1980's as the private studs that reflected the affluence and taste of their mega-rich owners mushroomed.

åçGrönwohldhof with its mill pond and waterwheel, its beds of azaleas, and picture perfect paddocks with foals with neatly trimmed tails, set the standard. Sadly in recent years, many of those famed Oldenburg studs – including Grönwoldhof – have disappeared.
But beautiful as Grönwohldhof may have been, it was also brilliantly designed and laid out so that the founder, Otto Schulte-Frohlinde, who was confined to a wheelchair, could observe all of the operations of the establishment via closed circuit vision in the central control room, from which the various wings of the main stud building fanned out.
There was the round court at the centre, usually packed with the luxurious tack boxes of visiting teams, celebrity riders, and the rich and hopeful. Off to one side, in the centre of the riding hall sat Herbert Rehbein, like an oriental pasha, surrounded by his followers, as he directed the activities of the dozen or so riders in the school at any one time.
And what riders he produced! Riders like Martina Hannöver, Ingo Pape, Susan Draper (now Pape), Falk Rosenbauer, who came out of the stables themselves – and visitors from all over the world.
Although the Swedish Olympic competitor, Gaspari (Parad [Trak] x Haffner [SWB]), was the first of the modern stallions to combine stud and competition, Donnerhall was an imposing presence on the competition scene, and was a magnet for mare owners at a time when suddenly the breeders realised that there was a market for dressage horses and that they were easier to sell than jumpers. In the past dressage horses had largely been the ones that wouldn't / couldn't jump, now they were THE market, particularly in Hanover and Oldenburg as wealthy Americans flocked to Germany waving their cheque books.

Not a ‘good family’

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 were a couple of Donnerwetters ‘gracing’ the German dressage arenas, they were rather ugly, untalented creatures. Even Donnerhall’s famous rider, Karin Rehbein in an interview I conducted in 2000, drew attention to the distance between Donnerhall and his siblings... To read the complete article you need to be a subscriber

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