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Warmblood is a term that can cause some confusion amongst even knowledgeable horse owners. Ask a few people on your yard to define the term and you will get plenty of different answers. Essentially a Warmblood is so called to distinguish it from draught horses such as the Shire and Clydesdale which would be described as “cold bloods” and Thoroughbreds and Arabs which are “hot bloods”. In simple terms, if you mix hot and cold together then you get warm and this is how warmblood horses evolved.
The derivation of the warmblood came from a time in history when there was a need to develop an animal that was capable of being ridden into battle –so weight bearing but also able to move at speed – but one that could also be used as an agricultural animal on the farm, in harness and as a pack horse. Neither the draught horses nor the hot blooded smaller breeds were fit for this purpose so as a result, the warmblood evolved. As the historic use of these animals declined - horses were no longer needed as animal of war and agriculture became subject to mechanisation - the warmbloods were refined solely into riding horses and finally into the modern sports horses that we see today.
There are some pretty well known warmblood breeds so for example KWPN which is Dutch warmblood, the Oldenburg and Hanoverian which are both German and the Belgian warmblood. Most of these warmblood breeds are referenced by their geographical point of origin although it can be a little more complicated than that.
Some of the German studbooks will accept other warmblood breeds in the lineage of a particular horse meaning that it may be possible to have an Oldenburg for example which is not pure Oldenburg but which is nevertheless registered with the Association. Further, whilst a horse may only have one originating set of papers so a birth certificate effectively, it can also be approved and accepted for use for breeding purposes by other societies and associations. Just to complicate it even more, there are in the UK societies such as the Warmblood Breeders’ Studbook UK formerly The British Warmblood Society to support UK breeders in their quest to produce the finest warmbloods. So taking the example of an Oldenburg again, it could be possible to have an Oldenburg mare which actually has mixed parentage so say Oldenburg and KWPN registered with the Oldenburg Association but which is also approved for breeding purposes with other European warmblood studbooks and finally which is also eligible for registration with the Warmblood Breeders’ Studbook UK because it was bred here.
Warmbloods are most commonly seen in dressage and show jumping, disciplines at which they excel. But following the reduction in the endurance phase of the three day event, it is not now uncommon to see warmbloods at the higher levels of eventing. The premium placed on ability in all three phases of eventing means that their natural ability in dressage and show jumping is welcomed by event riders who need to excel in all three disciplines.
One of the main differences between the warmblood breeds and other breeds is the inspection and performance testing of stock eligible for registration; this perhaps explains why the geographical origin of a horse is far less important than known pedigree and testing and inspection. Hence the seeming mix of breeds in certain European studbooks, breed identity almost playing second fiddle to actual quality and performance, and lineage mattering far more than title. This is perhaps a different concept to those who are used to their studbooks containing one breed only verified wholly by lineage with no other outside inspection.
The other distinguishing factor with the European warmbloods is the amount of state intervention and control that can be found in the development and expansion of some of the studbooks. This is not just a matter of governmental research and support but actual state sponsored studs and stallions to support breeding programmes. Both of these factors have resulted in an absolute wealth of information about bloodlines and pedigrees which coupled with the inspection and testing, explains why the warmblood horse has become so successful as a sports horse.
So remember, a warmblood will also be a breed but it may have more than one breed contained within its pedigree even though it may have a breed name and be registered with that society. What today is classed as a traditional animal has always recognised and included by these societies but since the increase in their popularity, a new organisation- the Traditional Gypsy Cob Association- has been formed specifically for them, with no bar on colour.