Written by: Dr. Ludwig Christmann, Hannoveraner Verband

In their article ‘Case Closed’ (June 2011 Horse Sport), Chris Gould and his co-authors painted a picture of the development of sport horse breeding which cannot remain undisputed.

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The term “Warmblood” has been adapted from the German word “Warmblut.” In Germany, the different horse breeds are categorized with the terms Vollblut, which includes English Thoroughbreds and Arabs; Kaltblut, which means all draft horse breeds; and Warmblut, which includes the different breeds like Trakehner, Holsteiner, Hanoverian, etc. Warmblut is always used for a certain type of horse. It may be used in combination with the breed name, for instance, “Hannoveraner Warmblut,” but it is never used in the meaning of a breed by itself – there is no breed Warmblut.

It is correct that many Warmblood populations all over the world are highly related and the type of horse is very similar, as they are all bred as a riding horse for use in the three Olympic disciplines, as hunters, but also for pleasure riding. But it is wrong to say, “The history and pedigrees of the Warmblood horse in Europe reveals one breed…” It is also incorrect that, “Throughout their history these associations have practiced reciprocity and… have followed a common breeding methodology and philosophy”.

If one looks at the pedigree of Warmblood horses all over the world, there are certain patterns. One can see there are a few dominating breeds of origin, and many other populations are combinations of these foundation breeds. These foundation breeds are (in alphabetical order): Hanoverians, Holsteiners, Selle Français, and Trakehner. In addition, there is a strong influence of the so-called refining breeds – English Thoroughbreds and Arabs. To understand Warmblood breeding, it makes sense to give a short introduction to these foundation breeds:

Hanoverians

The Hanoverian horse originates from Lower-Saxony and today probably is the biggest Warmblood breed worldwide. The evolution of the breed is highly connected with the foundation of the State Stud Celle in 1735, which was started with 12 stallions imported from Holstein. Within 150 years, the Hanoverian was consolidated as a breed of its own with some genetic exchange with the neighbouring breeding areas of Mecklenburg and Pomerania, where a similar horse was bred. The breeding aim until 1960 was a versatile horse suitable for light work in agriculture, but also as a riding horse. Many horses were sold to the army for riding and pulling purposes.

Until the 1980s, the only foreign breeds which were used to a higher degree were Thoroughbred, Trakehner, and to a lesser extent, Arabs. It was not before the 1980s that it was decided to accept the Holsteiner in the Hanoverian breed. With the growing influence of artificial insemination we also see a higher genetic diversity in the Hanoverian breed with foreign influences. The Hanoverian did influence sport horse breeding in many other breeding areas to a high degree and developed into the prototype of the modern sport horse in the 1960s.

In the German state of North Rhine-Westphalia, it was decided in 1920 to start the breeding of Warmbloods totally on a Hanoverian base. In Bavaria there was almost no Warmblood breeding until the 1960s; then there was an official recommendation of the Bavarian breeding management to obtain breeding stock from Hanover.

Holsteiner

The Holsteiner originates from Schleswig-Holstein, the most northern part of Germany and the northern neighbour of Hanover. The Holsteiner has a very long breeding history and in the 19th century Holsteiners were famous as luxury carriage horses with high, impressive movement. (There was a strong British influence from the Cleveland Bay and the Yorkshire Coach Horse, which brought the higher movement.) In the 1960s, there was the change to the modern sport horse and a lot of Thoroughbred stallions were introduced to refine the breed. Cor de la Bryere, too, was used for refining purposes as an Anglo-Norman stallion with three-quarter Thoroughbred blood.

The breeding aim of the Holsteiner was very clearly dominated by jumping, but the higher movement is still characteristic for the Holsteiner. Today the Holsteiner is one of the leading breeds for show jumpers worldwide, and Holstein is very selective with their use of foreign blood.

Trakehner

The origin of the Trakehner is East Prussia. Until the beginning of World War II the Trakehner was probably the most important breed for riding horses in Germany. It was also a very popular army horse and was used successfully in horse shows, which were dominated by military officers in the earlier days. The way of movement was flatter, as this was more effective for use in the army. After World War II the Trakehners lost their base, as their home country went to Russia and Poland. The Trakehner breed very early used a lot of Thoroughbred and Arabian blood and until today only these two foreign breeds are accepted.

Selle Français

The home area of the Selle Français is Normandy in the north of France, where there were different types of the so-called Anglo-Norman horse – a heavier cob type and a lighter riding horse. In the 1950s, a separate studbook for the French riding horse, Selle Français, was established, and a breed of French trotters was developed as well with the same genetic background as the Selle Français. A lot of Thoroughbreds as well as some Arabs and Anglo-Arabs were used to form a sport horse, almost exclusively a jumping horse. Until recently, there has been almost no influence of other breeds in France.

These short portraits show very clearly that these foundation breeds have

• different origins;

• were originally used for different purposes;

• had and still have different breed philosophies and not necessarily breeding reciprocity.

Therefore it is wrong to say that the “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”.

Probably the most common link between these foundation studbooks is the use of the English Thoroughbred as a refinement breed. It becomes clear that the term “warmblood” may be used to describe a certain type of a horse, but it may not be used as one single breed.

During the last 50 years there has been a constant growth in equestrian sports combined with a growing demand for Warmbloods as the most suitable horse type for the three Olympic disciplines. New breeding programs were started and they all used the same recipe: a combination of the four foundation Warmblood breeds as described, combined with Thoroughbred influence, whereas the Arab has lost some ground. In some cases these foundation breeds were used over local, very often heavy warmblood types (Oldenburg, the Netherlands). Others started with a Thoroughbred mare base (Australia, New Zealand). Others combined these foundation breeds. So there is no doubt that many Warmblood populations are closely related to each other, but it also cannot be denied there are foundation breeds with different genetics, with differences in the use of the horses, different breeding philosophies and breeding methods.

At the university of Kiel there is a recent study where they used an analysis of the horse genome to examine similarities and differences among Trakehners, Holsteiners, Hanoverians and Oldenburgs. They found similarities, but also some clearly different genetic patterns as well.

Canada is one of the relatively new countries for the breeding of Warmbloods. It does make sense to have a Canadian Warmblood Society to form a Canadian version of Warmblood, combining many different breeds and populations. But there is also room for those breeders who would like to follow the breeding rules of the breeds of origin such as the Hanoverian or Trakehner or other Warmblood breeding societies, after the same patterns which made these breeds successful all over the world.