The outstanding characteristics of a warm-blooded horse include a pleasant temperament—calm, trainable and easy to work with—combined with a robust, well-muscled body.
Falling into the group of middle-weight horses, warm-blooded horse types are known as show horses. They are bred to excel in several equestrian disciplines such as dressage, show jumping, eventing and combined driving.
Yet, there is more to the term “warm-blooded horse”.
What does a warm-blooded horse even mean?
Is temperament relevant to temperature?
Are warmbloods a breed like thoroughbreds?
Some people have lots of questions. We want to clear the confusion here.
Read on and you’ll understand all the potential meanings of the term “warm blood” when it comes to horses.
We’ve highlighted the three common myths and debunked them with the facts then sprinkled a bit of history in the end.
Get warmed up in this guide. No bad blood in between.
Myth #1: Hot, warm and cold refer to body temperatures in horses
Fact: Hot, Warm and Cold Blood Horses refer to a Horse’s Temperament
When someone asks if your horse is a warmblood, you might be tempted to answer in terms of the animal’s body temperature.
It’s a warm-blooded mammal.
But in horse speak, it goes deeper than that.
Hot Blood, Cold Blood, and Warm Blood informally classify horse temperaments.
Hot-Blood Horse Temperament
Hot-blooded horses get easily fired up. They are defined by their excitable energy and competitive spirit. Physically, their lightweight but powerful bodies make them agile and quick. Therefore, perfect for racing.
- Moroccan Barb
Cold-Blood Horse Temperament
Cold-blooded horses have that cool and calm demeanor. Due to their larger build, they were bred for war and work, so much, they could carry a heavy man in full armor back in the day. Today, they do well in jobs where they can pull, plow or haul, as what draft horses do best.
Warm-Blood Horse Temperament
Horses with a warm-blood temperament are obviously in between. They have the calm demeanor of their cold-blooded counterparts and the athleticism of hot-breeds. They can be sporty, depending on their breed.
The characteristics of a warm-blooded horse often excel in sports that require speed, strength and discipline such as dressage, show jumping and eventing. Some breeds with a warm-blood type can race too.
Nevertheless, some warm-blooded horse types are also ideal for cattle herding, drawing wagons and carriages making them a versatile powerhouse.
- Selle Francais
- Belgian Warmblood
- Dutch Warmblood
- Swiss Warmblood
Read more: The Five Most Common Horse Breeds in Racing.
Myth #2: Warmblood Horses are an Exclusive Breeds
Fact: Warmblood Horses are “specialized types of horses” from Mixed breeds
It’s tricky, really. Some would argue in fact that warmblood horses are a pure breed of their own.
But think about this.
Thoroughbreds are an exclusive breed. So is the Quarter horse and the Appaloosa.
They have a closed stud book. Both parents need to be of a pure bloodline.
Warmblood horse breeding operates under an open studbook policy.
Meaning, studbook selection is open to a multitude of breeds who can improve the characteristics of a warm-blooded horse.
Again, there is no purebred warmblood breed. Their bloodlines have been influenced and refined by many other genes, from other breeds.
Then why are there Warmblood Registries?
The registries want to ensure the characteristics of a warm-blooded horse produced are based on the best breeding practices, not to perpetuate a certain bloodline.
To name some, different countries have different warmblood registries such as the:
- American Warmblood Registry
- Australian Warmblood Horse Association
- The Belgian Warmblood Breeding Association
- Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association
Their criteria, registry and breeding policies support their stated goals.
Back in the day characteristics of a warm-blooded horse were ideal for carrying carriage and soldiers.
Now, most warm-blooded horses are bred (from different high-quality breeds) with the goal to compete in certain sports.
Because in order to excel in equine disciplines such as dressage, a horse must have a pleasant temperament and athleticism to win.
Other purebreds are not suitable for specific purposes.
Hence, registries have careful selection and grading of breeding stock to produce the characteristics of a warm-blooded horse.
Depending on where they were foaled, their specific breed can be Dutch warmbloods, Australian warmbloods, American warmbloods and so on.
Generally, to be considered for breeding, the warmblood horse should have 5 or more generations of registered or at least recognized sports horses’ bloodlines.
Myth #3: Warmblood Horses are always a direct cross of Hot and Cold Blooded Horses
Fact: There is no standard pattern in the pedigree of a warm-blooded horse type
Their bloodlines may have a combination of dominating, powerful or calm and hard-working horse breeds—definitely, the best of the best—to produce the characteristics of a warm-blooded horse.
In fact, not all direct and careless crosses of hot-blooded and cold-blooded horses result in the “ideal” warm-blooded horses.
Our warm-blooded sports horses today are no accident.
They are the result of years and generations of careful breeding from the world’s top horse breeds.
There is no warmblood strain with one purebred bloodline.
These horses have been infused or refined to increase speed, add endurance and improve temperament using other bloodlines as thoroughbreds, Arabians, and draft horses.
In order to understand how and why warmblood types came to be, you have to go back to history.
The First European Warmblood Strains
Necessity is the mother of all invention.
The perfect characteristics of a Warm-blooded Horse flourished out of necessity.
Now, let’s take a crash course in Warmbloods 101 and meet the ancestors of the warmblood horse types and why were they bred.
Mind you, these were the result of man’s experiment with horses to produce the desirable characteristics of a Warm-blooded Horse.
The horses rose to the challenge.
The founding fathers have become exclusive breeds known in the world today and lend their genes to produce other warm blood horse types.
Holsteiners are the oldest among the warmblood horse types with original lineage starting in the 13th century.
Today, the Holsteiners studbook makes up only 6% of the total horse population in Europe—among the smallest studbooks ever. But they are among the highest horse show jumpers in the world.
This breed began in the northernmost region of Germany, Schleswig-Holstein, where King Philip II of Spain regularly imported these horses to populate his stud at Cordoba.
For over 700 years, the monks in the monasteries of Uetersen began an organized system of breeding.
Local officials and farmers followed suit.
By the 17th century, the state would reward the finest stallions produced.
The breed was refined by genes from Baroque horses, the English Thoroughbred, Cleveland bays and Yorkshire coach horses, to name a few.
It depends on the type of horse needed at that time.
Larger horses suitable for war.
Luxury carriage horses.
Then to the modern sports horse, we have today.
All throughout the careful and systematic practice of breeding, the breeders aimed to preserve the characteristics of the warm-blooded horse.
The unique characteristics of the Holsteiners that breeders aim to retain include the horse’s active gait, arched high-set necks, powerful hindquarters and bold yet well-balanced temperament.
As popular show jumpers, the breed has been refined to have smaller heads and large eyes. These are necessary for elegance and skills to excel in sports.
To this day, the Holsteiners are medium-sized horses with a minimum of 15.2 to 16 hands in height. In order to quickly spot a registered Holsteiner, look for the markings of a crowned shield.
Foals are branded on the left hip with the crowned Holsteiner shield and two numbers when they are inspected.
These modern dressage experts used to be a carriage horse.
The Hanoverians carriage coach carry the ideal characteristics of a warm-blooded horse: good temperament, beauty and grace.
They were refined to become skillful and athletic.
Today, these breeds not only rule dressage but you can see them edging it out in the Olympics, and other competitive riding styles.
In 1735, twelve black Holsteiner stallions started the Celle State Stud.
It was under the King’s orders.
George II, King of Great Britain established a royal decree, creating a state-owned breeding facility aimed “exclusively for the improvement of horse breeding for farmers.”
At first, the purpose was to make high-quality stallions available to local breeders for work and for war.
But at the end of the war, more and more thoroughbred stallions were imported to create a high-class coach horse.
Breeding demands have changed since then.
At times, Hanoverians were bred for farm work, to pull a carriage and most notable of all, for sports.
To adapt to the needs, thoroughbreds, Anglo-Arabian or Trakehner stallions were used to refine the breed.
Rigorous selection of breeding stock also included the Cleveland Bay, Neapolitan, Andalusian, Prussian, and Mecklenburg.
Today, their studbook lists over 19,000 active broodmares and 450 approved breeding stallions, according to the British Hanoverian Horse Society.
Graceful yet strong, robust yet agile.
They are bred to have trainable and disciplined temperaments that work well with their strong athletic bodies. Hanoverians can range from 15.3 to 17.2 hands.
The Hanoverian brand (H) is marked on the left hindquarter of registered foals with the horse’s life numbers below.
The modern Trakehner is another disciplined sports superstar. They are part of the modern “refiners” to produce the desirable characteristics of a warm-blooded horse when mixed with Thoroughbred, Anglo-Arabian and other Arabian bloodlines.
Considered among warmbloods to have the lightest frames, these horses hailing from East Prussia, do best in the sport of eventing.
Trakehners were first bred in East Prussia. The origin of the breed is said to be a small horse – known as the “Schwaike”.
These small horses were versatile and could use further refinements.
It was in 1732 when Friedrich Wilhelm II ordered the establishment of the Royal Stud in the town of Trakehnen. Initially, all horses produced were still no good.
Until they opened up the breeding to other bloodlines.
When this breed was crossed with imported English thoroughbred and Arabian stallions, the resulting horse was named after the town of the stud: Trakehnen.
The original purpose of the Trakehner was for use as cavalry mount. Over time, Trakehners became suited for farm work.
But the mix of the English and Arabian thoroughbreds became a power boost to the breed’s beauty and elegance making them adept at competing in sports from dressage to eventing.
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Breeding of Trakheners is under a closed studbook with the entry of selected quality thoroughbreds and Arabian horses.
This is to ensure the characteristics of a warm-blooded horse.
Their medium-built is distinguished by their powerful hindquarters, sloping shoulders, and a broad forehead.
Trakheners are not only versatile and trainable, they are known for their energetic spirits compared with other warm-blooded horses. Their endurance is also better compared with other breeds and a valuable addition when improving warmblood breeds.
From Germany again, hails the grand Oldenburg horse breed, famous for their dressage, hunter or show jumping skills.
But they once lived a life of carriage horse, artillery horse, and farm horse. Until they were bred with Thoroughbreds to add speed to their calm temperament.
The Oldenburg breed is controlled by the Oldenburg Association and has one of the largest stud books in Germany.
One man started the breeding game, Count Anton Gunther von Oldenburg.
In the 16th century, these horses also used to be small and plain yet strong enough for farm work.
Gunther wanted more from these horses.
So he made it his mission to cross them with his breeding stocks: thoroughbreds, Hanoverians, Cleveland Bay with the occasional influence of Friesian, Iberian and Barb bloodlines.
They were initially intended as a large coach horse. But needs changed. They became farm horses in the second world war before becoming into the modern sports horse we know today.
The Oldenburgs are distinguished by their distinctive branding of “O” or “S” on the left hip, as a yearling.
They stand out with their long legs, powerful deep body, long neck and expressive heads. They are also tall warm-blooded types reaching up to 17.2 hands.
While they excel in many equestrian disciplines they are also popular as a riding horse given their calm temperament.
The Australian Warmblood Horse Association
In 1968, Australia entertained warmblood horse breeding with the arrival of the first warmblood type—a massive four-year-old Holsteiner stallion named Flaneur.
Flaneur was bred with Australian thoroughbreds and interest in breeding then expanded, giving birth to the first German Warmblood Horse Association in Australia.
This later became the Australian Warmblood Horse Association Ltd (AWHA), established in 1972.
Now the oldest and largest Warmblood society in Australia, branches are found in New South Wales, Victoria, Queensland, South Australia and Western Australia.
The AWHA aims to uphold the long-held breeding system of warmblood horse types along with other goals:
- To encourage and improve the breeding of the Warmblood horse in Australia;
- To promote the Warmblood horse as a performance horse at a national and international level;
- To maintain sound breeding guidelines and set standards for classification;
- To keep and maintain a studbook for mares and stallions approved for breeding, and a performance register for nonbreeding purposes;
- To unite, throughout Australia, all people interested in the furtherance of the Warmblood horse; and
- To promote and encourage the use of the Australian Warmblood, both in Australia and overseas, and to support our Australian Breeders.
Today for a horse to be acknowledged as a warmblood, they need to bear the required characteristics of a Warm-blooded Horse demanded by the respective registry.
Often the standard includes a certain coat color, easy-to-work pleasant temperament and most notable of all, the ability to compete in sports as show jumping, dressage, and other events.
In the future, these may all change.
Because if horse history taught us anything it’s this: change is inevitable and men find ways to adapt.
So do horses.