Anyone familiar with KWPN Horses, also known as Dutch Warmbloods, knows they’re strong competitors in dressage and natural-born show jumpers. Their conformation, temperament, fluid gaits and athletic skills are the result of generations of careful breeding.

The KWPN has produced more winning show jumpers and champion dressage horses than any other breed registry in the world. According to the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH), Dutch Warmbloods took the lead in 2010, when they were ranked first for show jumping and dressage. Some of their names may be familiar: Royal Kaliber, Ferro, Udon, Authentic and Breitling LS (the latter two both ridden by Beezie Madden), champion dressage horses Valegro and Totilas and the legendary Olympic gold medal jumper Hickstead, ridden by Canada’s Eric Lamaze.

Origins of the Dutch Warmblood horse breed

Mac Cone and Ole, a Dutch Warmblood gelding, were part of Canada’s show jumping team silver medal at the 2008 Olympic Games.

As the name suggests, Dutch Warmbloods hail from the Netherlands, and they’re notably rooted in the sandy province of Gelderland, and the clumping-clay region of Groningen. The Dutch have a long history of breeding horses, and archeologists have unearthed evidence that suggests horses have been selectively bred in Holland since the 4th century. The most famous breeds are associated with the host provinces and in many cases the livestock was developed to meet the unique farming needs of that region.

Throughout the 1700s, horse breeders from the Netherlands crossed their mares with Andalusian, Neapolitan, Norman, Norfolk Roadsters, and Holstein stallions. The resulting horses had all the right properties for local farmers tilling the area’s light soil. They called their horses Gelderlanders, and it was a coveted breed across their nation and well-known abroad. In the nineteenth century, other bloodlines were introduced including Friesian, Hackney, Oldenburg and Thoroughbred.

Meanwhile, a neighbouring horse breed, the Groningen, was developed for tilling their clay soil. Their genes were influenced by Friesian, East Friesian, Alt-Oldenburger, and Holsteiner horses, but also medieval destriers and Arabian horses in the 17th and 18th centuries. Horses such as England’s Cleveland Bay were utilized and the Groningen horse in the early 1900s was tall with deep, wide haunches and a thick, high-set neck These animals were coloured solid black, brown, or dark bay, while the Gelderlands were chestnut coloured with white markings.

Horses are typed according to behaviour as either hot-blooded or cold-blooded. Arabians and Andalusian horses are notoriously hot-blooded animals, while drafts such as Friesians and Clydesdales are considered cold-blooded. Cold-blooded equines are well-suited to being harnessed and for farm work, hauling wagons and plows. Hot-blooded horse breeds are more easily excitable and better suited to racing and warfare. The Dutch breeders in the 1900s sought to develop a mix or a ‘warmblood’ which had all the best properties of each.

As Europe recovered from the Second World War, automobiles and tractors changed the transportation and agricultural sectors and horses were negatively affected. The need for strong horses with lots of pulling power for hauling wagons and plows changed to the desire for elegant riding horses with perfect conformation and proud bearing. It was in this post-war time period the two breed registries, the Gelder horse and Groningen, merged to form the Royal Warmblood Horse Studbook of the Netherlands (KWPN). The horse they eventually developed was considered a ‘warm blood’ because it blended the behaviours of these two and other disparate breeds.

But are not all horses warmblooded?

All horses are warm-blooded, metabolically speaking. The word ‘warmblood’ is being used here as a breed descriptor. A warmblood is not a horse breed, but rather, a horse behaviour type. There are three categories: hot-blooded, warm-blooded, and cold-blooded. These terms have nothing to do with the actual temperature of the horse’s blood, but everything to do with the temperament of the horse.

Hot-blooded horses are light-bodied and tend to be nervous, excitable and energetic. They’re the breeds most often used for horse racing. Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Anglo-Arabians and Akhal-Tekes are all good examples of hot-blooded horse breeds. Warm-blooded horses tend to be an average weight, athletic, versatile, and even-tempered; they’re used for equestrian sports. Hanoverians, Dutch warmbloods, Trakheners, Holsteiners, Oldenbergs are examples of warm-blooded equines. (Note however that the term ‘warmblood’ as a breed description is reserved for specifically-bred horses of European origin, and a few registries in North America such as the Canadian Warmblood and American Warmblood.)

Cold-blooded horses include the big draft horses who are strong, gentle and calm, and who were traditionally used for agricultural or harness work (and still are today). Clydesdales, Belgian Draft horses, Shires, and Percherons are cold-blooded breeds.

Why are Dutch Warmbloods also called KWPN Horses?

Ashley Holzer and Pop Art, a Dutch Warmblood gelding, at the 2010 World Equestrian Games

Ashley Holzer and Pop Art, a Dutch Warmblood gelding, placed eighth in the Freestyle at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

The anagram KWPN is the short form for Koninklijke Vereniging Warmbloed Paardenstamboek Nederland, the name of the breed’s stud book. A Dutch Warmblood is a warmblood type of horse registered with the Koninklijk Warmbloed Paardenstamboek Nederland, which governs the breeding of competitive dressage, show jumping and eventing horses, as well as the show harness horse and Gelderlander, and maintain a hunter / jumper studbook in North America.

In 1969 the VLN and the Groningen register (NWP) merged to form the Royal Warmblood Horse Studbook of the Netherlands. Three registries were formed within it: one for riding horses, which are better known as Dutch Warmbloods, one for the Dutch harness horse and one for the “Gelderlander Versatility Horse.”

Since 2006, the KWPN has recognized three different categories of Dutch warmblood: riding horses, which are subdivided into dressage and jumping horses and make up 85% to 90% of the studbook; elegant harness horses; and the Gelders horse — a working animal similar to the old Gelderlander. Like many warmbloods, the horses must undergo a rigorous inspection process (called a keuring), proving they meet the breed standard before being admitted into the stud book.

How big are Dutch Warmbloods?

Dutch Warmbloods are a little taller than most other breeds. They average about 16.2 hands (1.64 meters) with some reaching 17 hands (1.72 meters) in height. These horses appear refined and elegant with muscular, arched necks that meet prominent withers. They have long sloping shoulders which help them make expressive, elastic movements, and their hind quarters are powerful, with hock joints low to the ground. They are long-legged, elegant horses with a smooth topline. The conformation and temperament of KWPN horses varies slightly depending on whether the horse is from jumper or dressage lines, but overall, they are intelligent, friendly, and supremely athletic.

How long do Dutch Warmbloods live?

Dutch Warmbloods can live for 25 years or more. Additionally, these horses can live outside just fine if they have adequate food, water and shelter with blankets at night and during colder months.

Dutch Warmbloods are long-lived due to their breeding. The arbiters place stringent requirements on stallions and elite mares in the KWPN studbook. While mild navicular changes, sesamoids, pastern arthritis and bone spavin may be permitted on radiographs, osteochondrosis in the hock or stifle is not allowed. Horses are disqualified from breeding for congenital eye defects, underbites or overbites, or a lack of symmetry in stifles, hocks, hooves, or in their movement in general.

Are Dutch Warmbloods good for beginners?

Dutch Warmbloods are bred to be suitable for all levels of riders, even beginners. Because of their breeding and their blended personalities, the Dutch Warmblood has an ideal temperament for equestrian sports and pleasure riding. They hold their value throughout their long lives. Horses trained for dressage or hunter competitions can become the best school horses for riding lessons. These are calm, reliable horses that are generally easy to ride and train.

What are Dutch Warmbloods used for today?

Dutch Warmblood excels at show jumping, dressage, driving, and eventing at the top levels of the sport. In 2018, the breed continued to lead the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses rankings in all three categories: Jumping, Dressage and Eventing.

In North America, the Dutch Warmblood is a favourite choice for the hunter ring. The North American branch of the KWPN has begun selection for Dutch Hunter horses. Ashley Holzer and Pop Art, a Dutch Warmblood gelding, placed eighth in the Freestyle at the 2010 World Equestrian Games.

For more information, visit:
Royal Dutch Sport Horse