Like many countries, the UK has long made use of the horse as a working animal. The hardy native breeds were used for agricultural and industrial work with the heavy horses being developed for when real, heavy-duty muscle was required. At the same time, however, there has long been a demand for quality riding horses and this demand increased as the horse changed role from work animal to pleasure and competition animal.
In theory the British Warmblood came into existence in 1977 with the foundation of the British Warmblood society and its associated studbook. This has since been renamed The Warmblood Breeder's Studbook. In practice however, the British had been breeding Warmbloods for centuries and the creation of the breed society was simply the final step in formalizing the process.
Historically the term “Warmblood” referred to a type of horse created by crossing “cold-blooded” draught horses with “hot-blooded” performance horses. Today many Warmbloods are created either by breeding two warm-blooded parents or by breeding Warmbloods with warmblood-type horses. These are typically middle-weight breeds, which combine performance with good temperaments. Warmbloods are created to serve a purpose rather than to propagate specific characteristics of a breed. This means that the concept of the perfect Warmblood varies according to the needs and preferences of any given time. Some Warmbloods, for example, were originally bred to be outstanding carriage horses, with ability under saddle being of secondary importance. Many were bred to be cavalry or artillery horses. In the modern world, however, Warmbloods are sporting horses first and foremost and any ability as driving horses tends to be of very minor consideration (if any).
This means that today the term “Warmblood” is shorthand for an equine athlete who will excel in competitions. Rather than there being a breed standard per se there is a set of criteria which a Warmblood is expected to fulfil. This is defined by the relevant breed society in accordance with their aims. To ensure objectivity and neutrality, Warmblood societies often cooperate with each other. Hence British Warmbloods may well be assessed by judges from Continental Europe and vice versa.
Unlike other Warmblood registries, which focus mainly on jumping ability, British Warmbloods should be able to excel in any competitive riding discipline including dressage. The aim of the British breed society is to have all British riders in all disciplines mounted on British-bred Warmbloods and competing successfully on the international stage. To meet this aim British Warmbloods tend to be larger animals as these have an advantage over jumps and tend to be preferred for dressage. They have deep chests for endurance in eventing and powerful quarters for jumping ability. British Warmbloods may be slightly longer in the back than horses which specialize in jumping as this offers greater flexibility for dressage movements. Excessively long backs, however, are discouraged. Overall the animal should have good proportions and be well-muscled and powerful without being overly heavy. Although in theory they can be any colour, in practice whole colours are preferred for dressage and the breeds used to create the British Warmblood tend to create whole-coloured horses in any case.
Although they are by no means as hot and sensitive as some Thoroughbreds British Warmbloods are still performance sports horses and need to be thought of as such. They need experienced riders, who can confidently use their seat, legs and hands independently of each other and can, in short, manage the horse rather than expecting the horse to take responsibility for them. A resourceful native pony or gentle draught breed will often do everything it can to bring a rider home safely no matter how little skill the rider has. A British Warmblood will expect its rider to be in charge and to give it clear instructions in any challenging situation. That said, British Warmbloods tend to be sensible as well as intelligent and usually friendly. As long as their rider stays came they are unlikely to be fazed by day-to-day hazards such as traffic.
British Warmblood Health
The fact that British Warmbloods are bred to performance criteria rather than breed type has two distinct advantages in terms of health. Firstly it means that breeders can choose from a huge pool of breeding stock, which goes a long way to keeping animals free of genetic defects. Secondly it stops breeders from focusing on cosmetic issues at the expense of health and performance. As a result of this British Warmbloods tend to be healthy animals overall. Of course, any individual animal can get sick or become injured, hence prospective owners are still strongly recommended to have an animal checked by a vet before purchase. It's also worth noting that any horse which is used for strenuous competition work is going to be more liable to injury than a horse used for gentle hacking, hence owners need to be prepared for competition-related vets bills and the cost of keeping the horse through what may be an extended recovery period.
Caring for a British Warmblood
British Warmbloods are bred for performance rather than hardiness. They are fine-coated animals, which means that the daily grooming they require is an easy task, even in winter, but keeping them warm is somewhat less so. Stabling is a must for most of the year and in practical terms is likely to be a requirement even in hot weather partly to provide respite from the very hottest weather but mostly in terms of easy access to the horse. Since British Warmbloods are bought as competition horses it makes sense to think about preparing for competitions when you buy them and if making an early start for an event, the last thing most owners want to have to do is fetch a horse in from the field and potentially have to deal with wet mud and grass stains. British Warmbloods are better doers than the finer saddle horses, but they still need feeding, particularly in winter and the more work they do the more food they will need. They will also need daily turn out time throughout the year.
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