WHAT IS A WARMBLOOD?
- Martha Utley Aitken © 1999
Warmbloods have been in existence in
In the past, the
Let's begin by discussing what is not a Warmblood. A Warmblood is not a cross of a coldblood,
i.e., a draft, on a hotblood. The usual cross in the
A Warmblood was begun as a crossbreed. Then these crossbreeds were selectively bred to bring out the characteristics that were desired. This evolution did not occur overnight but over many years. Each generation of a horse represents four or more years. The horses were originally bred to be used in war, agriculture or transportation. They were refined to suit the tastes of the rich. The breeds were named after a region were they were developed, such as Holstein, Hanoverian, Westphalen, Oldenburg, Bavarian, or country of origin, such as Danish, Dutch, Selle Francais, Swedish and so on. Purity of blood was not the top priority but rather creating a type for a given performance, and above all it was to be a symbol of the owner's wealth, power and prestige.
In the 1500s, aristocrats preferred breeds similar to today's Lipizzans, Andalusians and Friesians who excelled in the art of manege or school riding. These horses had upright necks, low hindquarters and high knee action. War was very real and frequent as dynasties quarreled over boundaries and possessions. Soldiers had to have horses who were thrifty, had great stamina, but which were very tractable and willing to obey. Each state competed to have its own distinctive type of horse since the potential for profit and fame was so evident.
The states selected only the best specimens for their studs and they offered the use of these stallions to local farmers and wealthy owners. The state stallions influenced the type horses produced in that area, plus it assured a steady supply of good quality horses for the cavalry and for riding or driving.
As many states and countries were linked by marriage, bloodstock was exchanged. Through spoils of war, horses were captured and introduced as new blood in the studs. In the 18th century improved methods of breeding began. Thoroughbreds and Arabians were used to improve the breeds. Standards of quality were established and judges began to select the best specimens. Stallions and mares were culled from the gene pool for undesirable traits. Thoroughbred stallions were then, as they are today, the most important infusions in the breeding lines. The Arabians used were neither the desert Arabian type nor the show performance type that we see today but probably were like the Shagya with traits similar to the modern sport horse. The cross would maintain the substance and ability of the original European Warmblood but would refine the traits to be even more agile and appealing to the eye.
The Olympic Games added equestrian events in
1912. Cavalry officers in the military dominated the events for the next thirty
years. The Germans excelled in show-jumping and the Swedish excelled in
The exception to this trend was the Trakehner, who has always maintained a closed book. The Trakehner was developed through the years to have thriftiness, stamina and trainability, but was more elegant and stylish because they were the mounts for the officers in the military. The horses had to look the part in a garrison parade as well as in the battlefield. As might be predicted, they were a higher strung horse and perhaps a bit difficult for the average rider. Only Arabian and Thoroughbred blood was accepted into the studbook and this rule remains in effect today.
After World War I mechanization came about and most coach horses were replaced with motorized vehicles. Horses were needed for agricultural work and a bit for harness use. These horses had longer backs, shorter croups and were a heavier type of Warmblood.
Because the other breeds were willing and
able to exchange breeding stock and to infuse outside blood the transition to
the modern sport horse was made rapidly. Studs actively promoted their horses
in their country and abroad. By 1970,
It is quite difficult to tell the difference
between the breeds by looking at the horse or its pedigree. The same bloodlines
are found in many of the breeds. A breed name is rather like a passport. It
denotes origin of birth rather than bloodlines so stallions appear in more than
one studbook. Today many of the European Warmblood
registries have parallel registries in the
To help establish the Warmblood
In the competition arena, eventing and show jumping are very popular; however, dressage is the fastest growing discipline worldwide, followed by a rapidly increasing number of competitive driving horses. Warmbloods prevail in all of these disciplines; however, more and more breeders are seeing the lucrative side of sport horse. Many breeds are now actively promoting the sport horse disciplines in their shows and the award programs.
Today, the look of the Warmblood
is again changing. No longer is bigger better. Instead the most desirable horse
is rarely taller than 16.2 hands. An effort by the European registries is being
made to breed for a horse who stands 15.3 to 16.2
hands. The reason is simple: the 17 to 18 hand horse is difficult to control
and maneuver in the dressage and jumping arenas. Most riders in the show ring are
female. Smaller riders with shorter legs are more suited to a smaller horse. It
is not surprising that the change is being made. To accommodate the child or
small adult rider, a Sport Pony registry is also maintained in Europe and the
Warmblood sport horses will continue to change as tastes and
needs change. American Warmblood sport horses will
become more distinctive. In the years to come it will become a formidable
competitive horse, bred for an attractive look, tractability, athletic ability,
trainability and stamina. While cross-bred European bloodstock on American
breeds prevails today; in time, this will be replaced with purebred
bloodstock. The American Saddlebred is known
worldwide as a high-stepping set-tail traditional show horse. Many
breeders are now seeing that the five-gaited horse is a versatile power house
and loves to jump with many others excelling in dressage, eventing,
endurance, competitive trail and driving. We are on the threshold of a
whole new exciting breed, a Warmblood created in
Wallen, Kidd, & Clarke, 1995. The International Warmblood
Horse, The Kenilworth Press, Addington,
Strickland, Charlene, 1992. The Warmblood Guidebook. Half Halt Press Inc.,
Loving, N. S., DVM, 1997. Conformation
and Performance, Breakthrough Publications,