Belgian Warmblood


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Introduction

Although biologically questionable, the term “Warmblood” is used to describe horses which were created by crossing “cold-blooded” draught horses with “hot-blooded” performance horses. The idea was to create a “Warmblood” animal, which balanced strength and performance and offered more in the way of adaptability for everyday usage. This basic idea has been interpreted in different ways according to place and time.

History

Warmbloods came later to Belgium than to many other countries. The reason was that the Belgian government wanted to protect the purity of the country’s draught horse, the Brabant and simply banned breeders from creating horses for use under saddle. By the 1950s however the combination of increased mechanization and increased interest in recreational riding led to these restrictions being relaxed. It should be noted however that even today the Brabant is used in areas where machinery is simply impractical so the government’s concern was hardly unwarranted. By the 1950s the Belgians were essentially playing catch-up with other Warmblood breeding centres. Lacking any home-developed saddle breeds, Belgian breeders made a virtue out of necessity and simply imported the best stallions and mares for their purposes. These were from a variety of breeds, although the Belgians leaned towards middle-weight horses such as Hanoverians and Holsteiners rather than the very light performance horses such as Arabs and Thoroughbreds. The underlying reason for this is that the Belgian Warmblood is intended to be an outstanding jumping horse rather than a horse bred for speed. This means that the animals need strong limbs with dense bones and powerful quarters rather than the fleet, delicate limbs of Thoroughbreds. While Arabs have these features, purebred Arabs tend to be on the small side for open jumping competitions. As the saying goes “the proof of the pudding is in the eating” and the success of the Belgian breeding programme can be judged by the number of times Belgian Warmbloods are ranked amongst the winners at the most prestigious jumping competitions including the Olympics.

Appearance

The simplest way to check whether or not a horse is a true Belgian Warmblood is to check for the breed stamp on its left thigh. The reason for this is essentially because a Belgian Warmblood is exactly what the Breed Society says it is. In other words Belgian Warmbloods are defined by what they can do rather than by what they look like. This means that there are no restrictions per se on height although stallions are expected to be at least 16HH (and ideally no more than 17HH), while mares must be at least 15.1HH to be considered suitable for breeding. All colours are accepted, which, in theory, includes broken and spotted colours, although in practice the breeding history of these horses means that they are almost invariably whole colours. To be branded as true Belgian Warmbloods, stallions and mares must pass a series of tests, which are partly subjective and partly objective. For example although there are no specific breed criteria for appearance, the Breed Society will examine the horse’s conformation and make an informed judgement as to whether or not it is acceptable both in terms of what is generally considered to be good equine confirmation (a leg at each corner) and in terms of what is expected of a Belgian Warmblood (i.e. the physical characteristics typical of good jumping horses). Stallions will also be tested for their ability as riding horses and their ability to jump. Generally speaking, horses which pass these tests tend to be muscular with deep chests, strong quarters and sturdy legs and hooves. They also tend to be on the taller side with even mares tending to be closer to 16HH and above.

Temperament

Belgian Warmbloods were bred mainly from breeds of horses which were (and are) sensible, hard-working and intelligent. This means that generally speaking the Belgian Warmblood inherits these traits. It should also be noted that since there is, effectively an exam to be registered as a Belgian Warmblood, this effectively offers a safety feature in terms of checking an animal’s temperament. Although, strictly speaking, horses are tested on their ability rather than their personality, it would be unlikely that a member of the Breed Society would pass a horse if they had any serious concerns about its temperament. Having said that, Belgian Warmbloods are still intended as performance horses, which means that they are best suited to riders with at least a moderate degree of experience. They are unlikely to act up the way the “hot-blooded” horses may do; but they will still expect their rider to be in charge. Quite simply, they expect to be ridden rather than being prepared to carry a passenger the way docile native breeds and cobs often will.

Belgian Warmblood Health

Per previous comments Belgian Warmbloods are created to satisfy performance criteria rather than to satisfy specific breed-type requirements. This actually has substantial benefits from the point of view of health since it eliminates the temptation to breed within a limited breed pool, which has plagued certain breeds, particularly Thoroughbreds. Because of this, the horses are generally free of genetic health issues. In similar vein to the comments about temperament, the Breed Society is highly unlikely to pass any horse which they identify as having serious health issues. Notwithstanding this, it is still strongly recommended to have any prospective purchase vetted before the sale is finalized.

Caring for a Belgian Warmblood

While being noticeably less demanding than the “hot-blooded” horses, Belgian Warmbloods are still very far from being hardy natives. They have much finer coats, manes and tails, which makes them much easier to groom in winter, but also means that they will need to come in at night in colder weather. Generally speaking they will still be able to go out in the field in the daytime, although they will need to be well rugged-up. They are also more likely to need hard feed even if not being worked, although again they are better doers than the delicate Thoroughbred. Like all horses they will need regular foot care and worming.

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