Warmbloods-Drive, Determination & Durability

March 2008 
Discover how this dynamic group of sport horses is excelling in Dressage, Show Jumping, Combined Driving and Eventing

ImageWhat do you think of when you hear the term “Warmblood”? A powerful horse executing an extended trot? An agile athlete maneuvering through a Grand Prix show jumping course? Or maybe a highly conditioned three-day event horse or combined driving star? No matter what you envision, there is no doubt that the popularity of Warmbloods is growing in several different equestrian disciplines worldwide.

The term “Warmblood” refers to several different types of sport horses bred primarily to compete in dressage, show jumping, eventing and combined driving. Warmbloods can also make good pleasure horses well suited for activities outside of the show ring. Warmbloods are a “type” of horse—they are not a breed in the sense that we define Arabians and Thoroughbreds. The word “Warmblood” is really a term used to indicate cross breeding with the so-called hot blooded Arabians and Thoroughbreds. It is not a scientific term.

Read on to learn more about how these intriguing athletes are earning acclaim while setting a new standard of excellence in some of the world’s most popular equestrian disciplines. We’ll hear from four top ranked riders who share what makes Warmbloods so successful, current trends in the market and what type of Warmblood we can expect to see emerge in the future.

Drive: The European Standard

The Warmbloods making headlines at top-level competitions—commonly Dutch Warmbloods, Hanoverians, Trakehners, Danish Warmbloods, Swedish Warmbloods, and Oldenburgs, amongst others—were named for the European countries and regions which they were bred in. What was historically bred as an all-purpose riding, carriage and cavalry horse has evolved over time and now embodies a more refined, large-bodied, correct horse with excellent movement and a willing temperament.

Popular choices for dressage and show jumping, today’s European Warmbloods are the result of more than a hundred years of strictly controlled breeding. Studbook directors present in each region of Europe oversee the type of horse that is produced in his or her area by selecting and approving a certain type of stock for breeding purposes. Rigorous documentation and mandatory performance testing which focus on temperament and rideability are also routine practices.

Warmbloods were introduced to the U.S. market in the 1950s. Unfamiliar with the intricacies of the European breeding system, many American breeders mistakenly identified the various types of Warmbloods as different breeds. As a result, they tried to keep the bloodlines separate from one another. Eager to improve their stock and emulate the success of the European breeders, many began to look to European breeding organizations for guidance and approval of American stock. As a result, there are now American divisions of nearly all of the European regional breeding groups.

One such organization is the Dutch Warmblood Studbook in North America, created as the North American affiliation of the Royal Warmblood Studbook of the Netherlands (KWPN), which was established to encourage the breeding and enjoyment of the KWPN horse in North America. This organization, which formally became known as the KWPN of North America, Inc. in 2006, provides a variety of resources to its members and works very closely with KWPN, which is the Royal Warmblood Horse Studbook of the Netherlands.

Using a different school of thought, others worked independently to establish the credibility of American breeders using the European method as a basis for establishing their own programs. United in their vision to create the ideal American sport horse, they formed the Oldenburg Registry North America (OL NA) and International Sporthorse Registry (ISR), which operate jointly, and the American Warmblood Registry (AWR).

AWR was established in 1981 to combine all European imported Warmblood sport horses and create a distinctly American sport horse for the North American rider. Selection, inspection and evaluation are conducted along the European model with adjustments made for distinctly North American breeds which have been incorporated with great success and are quite popular in Europe with European riders.

Founded in 1983, the OL NA and ISR is North America’s largest independent sport horse breeding organization. Mandatory inspections and stallion perfor­mance tests are among the standard practices in place to ensure that top quality sport horses are bred in North America.

Determination: The Will To Win

For international dressage competitor George Williams, a Trakehner mare named Rahel, whom he trained and rode to several titles in the late 1970s, initially sparked his interest in Warmbloods. Her natural aptitude for performing the intricate movements required in dressage made a lasting impression on George. Her lighter body type and refined conformation, typical for this type of Warmblood, also help make her a success.

George reflects, “I remember thinking… ‘here are horses bred exactly for what we want to do.’ ” Since then, Warmbloods have continued to evolve due in large part to breeders’ efforts to improve their stock by introducing new breeds that embody the characteristics necessary to excel in specific disciplines.

“There are a lot more breeds represented in today’s Warmbloods,” notes George. “Temperament wise, today’s horses are more sensitive and of a lighter type. We also have a greater number of quality horses,” he continues.

Rocher, the popular black Westphalian mare who has climbed up through the dressage ranks under George’s guidance, exemplifies the suppleness of Warmbloods. Rocher was imported in 2001 after she was purchased in 2000 by JoAnn and Chuck Smith. Her conformation, character and rideability personify the best of what the Westphalian has to offer. “She is very people-oriented and likes to work,” explains George. As far as her conformation is concerned, “She has a very good hind leg,” he notes. “Breeders are breeding for a strong hind end.”

Westphalians are known for their innate talent in dressage and show jumping due to their bold, elastic gaits and exceptional character. They originally come from western Germany and, second only to Hanoverians, have the largest breeding population of any Warmblood in Germany.

Durability: Going The Distance

International combined driving competitor Chester Weber also emphasizes the importance of correct conformation. He explains, “a good temperament and the ability to push well into a collar are essential traits for success. A driving horse must have a motor, hind end activity and strength,” he continues.

Chester competes internationally with his four-in-hand of Dutch Warmbloods—a team that was bred specifically for driving. This dynamic foursome has the stamina, conformation and heart to succeed in the toughest combined driving competitions. Their highly refined conformation and willingness allow them to execute precise dressage movements in one phase and then navigate a grueling cross-country course with speed and precision in the next phase. Their common sense and agility is also invaluable in the third and final phase of combined driving, the obstacle course.

According to Chester, the conformation of Warmbloods bred for driving has changed over time. The larger, coarser looking horse has evolved into a smaller, agile athlete with a lighter bone structure. Powerful hind quarters and strong legs with long forearms also help them excel. Today’s top Warmblood driving horses have a good sloping shoulder that gives them longer and flatter movement. Their calm, even temperaments make them easy to work with and train. In addition, the influence of the Thoroughbred has helped to improve their speed and stamina.

These important traits have also helped Warmbloods become a household name in show jumping. “They are fast, careful and scopey,” notes Grand Prix show jumper Kent Farrington. “Today’s Warmbloods blend all of the best qualities of the ideal sport horse,” he continues. Kent first started riding Warmbloods when he was fifteen. In recent years, he has seen the number of Warmbloods imported into the U.S. increase tenfold. He attributes this trend to the sheer numbers of horses bred in Europe that have been made available to the U.S. market. And even though the European bred horses are still a popular choice, Kent acknowledges the progress that American breeders have made—noting that some of the best Warmbloods in the world are now bred right here in the U.S.

Kent has been lighting up the leader boards with Up Chiqui, a ten-year-old Belgian Warmblood gelding. “He has the speed, talent and sheer heart to make it through the toughest courses,” Kent explains. He attributes Up Chiqui’s success to his selective breeding, and adds, “Warmbloods have been bred to do show jumping for years and years.”

Belgian Warmbloods were first introduced to the U.S. market in the 1970s. They are the result of careful breeding of Belgium’s best cavalry and agricultural horses with Thoroughbreds, Anglo-Arabs and other European Warmbloods including Dutch, Holsteiner, Hanoverian and Selle Français. The influence of the Thoroughbred and Anglo-Arab added refinement and speed as well as beauty. The resulting horse has proven to be an ideal sport horse of international quality with free movement and a higher level of athleticism. Many world-class riders, including Joe Fargis and Robert Dover, amongst others, have discovered the talents of the Belgian Warmblood.

For nine-time USEA Rider of the Year Phillip Dutton, Warmbloods are an ideal choice for three-day eventing. Phillip and Connaught, a seventeen-year-old Irish Draught Sport Horse, boast a long list of three-day eventing titles. “He has a fantastic natural jump—and covers ground well,” explains Phillip. “I didn’t have to teach him to jump, it came naturally to him,” he continues. As far as what sets Warmbloods apart from the competition, Phillip notes “in general, they have a bit more substance and bone structure, and [their larger] size can be helpful as well.” Larger horses with better movement and naturally elastic gaits are top priorities among Warmblood buyers.

The Irish Draught Sport Horse combines the even temperament and durability of the Irish Draught with the speed and agility of the Thoroughbred. Additional crosses to the Irish Draught include Warmbloods, Quarter Horses and Arabians; however, the Irish Draught/Thoroughbred cross has received the greatest acclaim to date. They are known for their jumping and cross-country abilities, for being honest and tough––and yet they can also serve as good beginners’ mounts for lower level riders.

Warmbloods offer endless opportunities for the sport horse enthusiast. The different types of Warmbloods, each with their own distinct characteristics, offer riders of all levels and interests the opportunity to pursue their equestrian goals. From the introductory level dressage rider to the international three-day eventer, there is a Warmblood out there perfect for the job at hand. Carefully select a Warmblood that is well suited to your discipline of choice and you are sure to enjoy many fulfilling rides and the opportunity to shine in the show ring as well.

Categories: Feature Articles