Written by: Chris Gould

The Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association, which established Warmbloods as a distinct breed in 1991, has triumphed after a 12-year controversy to ensure that they remain a distinct breed.

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The history and pedigrees of the Warmblood horse in Western Europe reveals one breed with many regional expressions, with bloodlines inextricably interrelated to a very high degree. A common history and the pre-eminence of a few superior stallions from the late 19th century overwhelmingly confirms the relatedness of the Warmblood population.

Unfortunately, the term “warmblood” has a confusion of meanings. For some it refers to a particular cross, for others a type of horse, and for many it is the distinct Warmblood breed.

In North America this is particularly so, where the small “w” warmblood has even been applied to draught crosses that had some rideability. The problem is made worse by the classifications in ‘big W’ Warmblood breeding: Oldenburg versus Hanoverian versus Dutch Warmblood – are they the same, or are they different? Industry insiders understand the nuance of the term, but government regulators often do not.

In Canada, where breed societies are regulated under the Animal Pedigree Act, this confusion spawned a 12-year controversy between the Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association (CWHBA) and officials in the department of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada (AAFC). At the centre of this controversy was conflicting interpretations of the Animal Pedigree Act (APA). According to the APA, if the animals look the same, are genetically the same, and reproduce the same, then …. they are the same! Sounds simple. Not quite: positions can become entrenched and things can take a long time when dealing with bureaucrats who have little knowledge of horses. Compounding this, few horse breeds fit neatly into a narrow definition.

Why did this take so long? First, Warmblood breed societies worldwide are in serious competition for market share. Although there is significant cooperation between societies within the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses, the marketing arms of the major societies have the task of convincing us that each one is somehow different and better. The consequence of this is, of course, the colonization of the United States, where there are close to 20 daughter registries operating. So not only is there confusion in the minds of the general public and the government, but breed societies deliberately promote this differentiation.

A second issue is that the term “breed” is used in many different ways. The academic use of “a population of animals within a geographic area bred according to a particular breeding objectiveÅh easily justifies use of the term by European breed societies. On the other hand, the legal requirements found in the APA call for distinctive proofs, as mentioned above. It has taken a long time to arrive at common language usage on this issue.

Convincing the APA

The following outlines the steps the CWHBA took to ensure that the Warmblood, established as a distinct breed in 1991, remained a distinct breed.

In 1999, APA administrators expressed concern that Warmbloods did not comply with the provisions of the Act regarding a distinct breed. Naturally, the CWHBA did not agree and in the following few years a debate, focused on the interpretation of the APA, ensued. While both parties have agreed to disagree on the interpretation issue, legal confrontation was avoided and a new round of negotiations begun thanks to the intervention of the Hon. Gerry Ritz, Minister of Agriculture and Agri-Food Canada. These negotiations focused on demonstrating that the Warmblood horse was a distinct breed under the governmentÅfs interpretation of the APA. A watershed meeting took place in October of 2008 at Spruce Meadows in Calgary, where representatives of the CWHBA made a comprehensive presentation to senior departmental staff and showed them Warmblood horses in competition. Here are excerpts from the presentation which convinced APA administrators that Warmbloods are indeed a distinct breed:

Brief Historical Overview

The modern Warmblood horse, the result of centuries of selected breeding in Western Europe, beginning effectively in the 16th century, is a direct descendant of the sub-species equus caballus mosbachensis identified in the locale of Mosbach, near Wiesbaden, Germany, dating to the Pleistocene era. (Reichenau, 1903:54.) In ÅgEquus caballus Linnaeus, 1758 HorseÅh, Dr. Deb Bennett and Robert Hoffman describe the origins of the modern horse:

The different domestic breeds of horse are each originally derived from different wild populations distributed from Europe to the Middle East … we recognize three forms in Europe (coldblood, warmblood, and tarpan) and one from North Africa to the Middle East (Afro.Turkic), all surviving only as domesticates, being now extinct in the wild. All four contributed to the gene pool of domestic horses and are inferred to have 64 diploid chromosomes, as do all breeds of domestic (including feral) horses that have been studied (Ryder et al., 1978).

This indigenous population of horses was ultimately domesticated by a variety of tribes. The Celtic and Germanic tribes were early horsemen; however, it is from the Middle East that the earliest use of horses flows and with it the influence of the Afro-Turkic blood. In spite of this, by the Middle Ages the European horses were consistently larger and distinguishable from the lighter eastern horses. Through periods of conflict such as the Crusades, the invasions by the Huns and later wars against the Turks, there was a regular infusion of Afro-Turkic blood in the Western European horses.

By the early 1700s many horse breeds were distinguishable based on their use. Selective breeding was well established as a means of improvement; however, breed societies had not been established and pedigree records were unreliable. While racing horses were being refined in England, the European states were concentrating on producing the ideal cavalry mount. The political instability of the times and importance of the horse in warfare finally resulted in the creation of State Studs. One of the earliest was in Flyinge, Sweden, in 1661; others following throughout what is now Germany, France and Denmark. These State Studs attempted to improve the quality of horses available for the military by selecting and providing superior stallions for use by local farmers. Germany established Celle (1735), Neustadt/Dosse (1788), Redefin (1812), Warendorf (1826), Traventhal (1867), and others. Over time, pedigree record keeping was expanded and Warmblood breeder associations were formed along the lines of the State Studs. Thus today we have some 40 or 50 Warmblood societies worldwide. Throughout their history these associations have practiced reciprocity and although politically and administratively autonomous, have followed a common breeding methodology and philosophy.

Thus, we demonstrated to the APA that Warmblood horses are indigenous to Western Europe. They developed as a ancient riding and driving breed prior to recorded pedigrees. Exchange of breeding animals throughout Western Europe has been continuous and extensive. Regional State Studs, and later regional Warmblood breed associations, have pursued the same breeding goals using the same methodology and the same genetics since the 17th century.

Scientific Genetic Studies

Recently, molecular genetics has weighed in on relatedness within and between horse breeds. The horse genome has been mapped, giving rise to a new tool in genetic selection. It can be argued that the genome map is simply a refinement of pedigree information, which has been used by breeders for centuries. Certainly each horse carries its genetic history in its genes, which may now be read in its entirety. Some work has been done in identifying common genetic sequences, which may be attributed to individual breeds. The accuracy of this technique, even using a limited number of alleles, has been very good. While interest among geneticists has been focused more on concerns around genetic diversity within domestic populations, the technique has been used to differentiate individual animals by separate breeds.

These developments of molecular analysis techniques intersected with an interest in Warmblood breed-improvement programs using estimated breeding values (EBVs) within and between countries and other genetic analytic tools. The results of this work are helpful in understanding the place of the Warmblood horse.

A few points should be noted. First, science has not come forward with a genetic definition of a breed, but simply has shown that molecular genetics can be used to analyze and identify distinctions between previously identified breed populations.

Second, it is left to the breeding industry to decide the ways in which these tools will be applied for purposes of breed improvement through the elimination of disease or for performance enhancement. Third, molecular genetics has not been used, nor does science see it as its function to create a definition of breed.

Three scientific studies were presented at the meeting that contribute to our understanding of how Warmblood horses meet the scientific criteria of a distinct breed under the APA.*

These studies, and many others which can be referenced, confirm the common genetic makeup of the Warmblood horse and its equality to standards for other recognized breeds.

Warmblood Horse Phenotype

There is an old truism that “form follows function.” The transition from military and light farm use to dominance in equestrian sport has been a natural one, given the requirements for size, substance, power, soundness, length of gaits and jumping ability, which are common to the historic and current usage of Warmblood horses.

The photo (page 72) illustrates that the Warmblood phenotype is well-established and unique. Few breeds can boast the ability to display such uniformity and consistency as seen in the German Warmblood Stallion Quadrille which performed at the 2006 World Equestrian Games. Sixty-four Warmblood stallions from ten different State Studs representing a similar number of Warmblood registries dramatically showcased the Warmblood phenotype. There is no question that these horses look alike.

New CWHBA Articles of Incorporation

The final step in the process was establishing a Warmblood foundation population, having clearly established the Warmblood horse as a single breed with numerous regional registries. Although the indigenous Western European

Warmblood horse population constitutes the foundation of the breed, as with other modern breeds where genealogy has been recorded, certain prominent bloodlines have been identified.

The Warmblood horse was well-established by 1900, nevertheless it is a good reference date from which to examine some of the significant bloodlines. This epoch marks a high water point for horses worldwide. Mechanized transportation, with all its ramifications for agriculture and the military, was in its nascence, so horse breeding and knowledge of pedigrees was still of vital importance.

Canada, for example, was home to over three million horses in 1921 (currently we have some 900,000 horses). Similarly, Germany had three million horses in the late 19th century, whereas today its numbers are also less than one million.

There are several pre-eminent stallions from this time found in the pedigrees of Warmblood horses throughout the world.

These influential stallions are listed in the new CWHBA Articles, and all Warmblood horses registered, present and future, by the CWHBA trace to these stallions, the most important of which are:

Goldschlaeger Hanoverian 1909

Ruthard Oldenburg 1890

Wittelsbacher Oldenburg 1890

Alderman I Hanoverian 1909

Landgraf Holsteiner 1897

Cicero Holsteiner 1889

Fling Hanoverian 1911

Royal Chestnut French 1917

Vas Y Donc French 1921 Quadrille which performed at the 2006

World Equestrian Games. Sixty-four Warmblood stallions from ten different State Studs representing a similar number of Warmblood registries dramatically showcased the Warmblood phenotype. There is no question that these horses look alike.

New CWHBA Articles of Incorporation

The final step in the process was establishing a Warmblood foundation population, having clearly established the Warmblood horse as a single breed with numerous regional registries. Although the indigenous Western European

Warmblood horse population constitutes the foundation of the breed, as with other modern breeds where genealogy has been recorded, certain prominent bloodlines have been identified.

The Warmblood horse was well-established by 1900, nevertheless it is a good reference date from which to examine some of the significant bloodlines. This epoch marks a high water point for horses worldwide. Mechanized transportation, with all its ramifications for agriculture and the military, was in its nascence, so horse breeding and knowledge of pedigrees was still of vital importance.

Canada, for example, was home to over three million horses in 1921 (currently we have some 900,000 horses). Similarly, Germany had three million horses in the late 19th century, whereas today its numbers are also less than one million.

There are several pre-eminent stallions from this time found in the pedigrees of Warmblood horses throughout the world.

These influential stallions are listed in the new CWHBA Articles, and all Warmblood horses registered, present and future, by the CWHBA trace to these stallions, the most important of which are:

Goldschlaeger Hanoverian 1909

Ruthard Oldenburg 1890

Wittelsbacher Oldenburg 1890

Alderman I Hanoverian 1909

Landgraf Holsteiner 1897

Cicero Holsteiner 1889

Fling Hanoverian 1911

Royal Chestnut French 1917

Vas Y Donc French 1921

Next Step for the CWHBA

The CWHBA will now begin issuing registration certificates that are modified to show percentage trace-back and other pedigree information that relates to these influential stallions and confirmed foundation stock. This information will not change how Warmbloods born in Canada qualify for registration; congruity with international standards and methodology will still apply, but it will give Canadian breeders a unique and valuable insight into the genealogy of their horses and how they connect with the ancient origins of the breed.

The advantage to Canadian breeders of operating under the authority of the APA is that, unlike the United States, Canada has a single Warmblood breed society, protected under law, which provides all the tools and support that are enjoyed by our European counterparts. Control of the association is in Canadian hands and the money and resources stay in Canada to benefit Canadians.