The Danish Warmblood is a modern breed which was intended to meet the demand for competition horses. As the success of Warmbloods is measured by what they can do rather than by how much they conform to the ideal of a breed, the success of the Danish Warmblood can be demonstrated by their representation at the top levels of competitions in different disciplines.
While the Warmblood as a concept has been around for many years, interest in them vastly increased in the mid-20th Century as the horse found a new niche for itself as an animal for recreation and competitive sport. This was the period in which the Danish Warmblood type was founded. Fortunately for the breeders in Denmark, they had plenty of opportunity to learn from and build on the successes of other countries. Indeed the increasingly international nature of horse-breeding was fundamental to the development of the type.
The Danish Warmblood was created by crossing the best of Denmark’s stallions with both local and imported mares. Most of the imported animals were either Thoroughbreds from the UK or Trakehners from Germany. The decision as to which standards were appropriate for breeding was (and is) determined according to performance criteria rather than pedigree. Having said that the horses used were of known lineage. These days registering a horse as a Danish Warmblood involves a combination of pedigree and performance. In other words, there is no absolute guarantee that breeding two Danish Warmbloods will produce a foal that can be registered as a Danish Warmblood, although the chances are obviously increased.
Today the Danish Warmblood is popular internationally and indications suggest that the breed will continue to shine well into the future. It has produced some of the equestrian world’s best-known stars. For example the international dressage champions Marzog, Matador and Andiamo are all Danish Warmbloods although only Marzog is ridden by a Danish rider, Matador represents Finland and Andiamo represents The Netherlands. The breed is under the active patronage of the Danish Royal family, with Princess Bendikte being Patroness of the breed society and owner of several fine Danish Warmbloods herself.
The single most obvious feature of a Danish Warmblood is the brand on the left thigh. This represents a crown and a wave, representing the Danish royal family and Denmark’s sea-faring heritage. Otherwise, Danish Warmbloods are somewhat unusual in terms of Warmbloods in that the Thoroughbred influence in their ancestry is clearly visible. This makes them noticeably lighter than other Warmblood types. In fact they are probably best described as Thoroughbreds with substance. Their legs in particular are noticeably thicker and stronger than the delicate limbs of the Thoroughbred and they have more all-round power, particularly in the quarters. Like the Thoroughbreds they can be any whole colour and tend to stand between 16.2HH and 17HH.
In spite of the prevalence of Thoroughbred blood in their background the Danish Warmblood is a sensible, hard-working and honest animal. It is worth remembering however that they are still intended as competition horses, which means that they are only really suitable for experienced riders. First of all they are sensitive to their rider’s instructions, which means that beginners who are still getting to grips with the basics of using their hands, legs and seat independently are setting themselves up for mutual frustration if they try riding a horse which will do exactly what its rider tells it. Secondly, there is very little point in buying a horse with the Danish Warmblood’s capabilities and paying the appropriate price unless you are in a position to make use of them. The Danish Warmblood was bred to be a top-flight competition horse rather than an all-round hack.
Danish Warmblood Health
Again the influence of hardier breeds has helped to keep the breed free of the health issues which plague Thoroughbreds. There are no consistent genetic issues associated with the breed. To help keep the breed healthy and sound as well as competitive, the breed societies operate a very stringent policy of only allowing the very best examples of the type to be used for breeding. In Denmark, for example, mares must be checked both for conformation and performance. This is usually undertaken when they are 4 years old. Stallions go through an initial grading aged 2.5. Around 300 are presented each year for the initial round of judging, with only 25 of the presented horses being ultimately approved for a one-year breeding licence. These 25 are then re-tested as 3 year olds. International Danish Warmblood societies follow parallel procedures.
Caring for a Danish Warmblood
Although sturdier than Thoroughbreds, Danish Warmbloods are still refined horses and need to be treated accordingly. In spite of being developed in Denmark, they are far from suitable for over-wintering outdoors in the UK. This means that stabling is essential for most of the year as is feeding. Danish Warmbloods are better doers than their high-energy Thoroughbred ancestors but they are still big horses with big appetites and all the more so if they are competing regularly. They will also need foot care and again horses which are working regularly will go through shoes more quickly. They will also need regular worming. In addition to stabling, Danish Warmbloods do need access to a field and this means making sure that they are well rugged-up in colder weather.
If planning to use the Danish Warmblood as a competition horse, then it’s worth remembering that they will need similar treatment to a human athlete. In other words their training and fitness will need to be effectively managed. In particular it is crucial to avoid sudden changes in the amount of exercise they receive, not even if their food is dropped by a corresponding amount. This means that their owners must be prepared to exercise them in all weathers if their training programme requires it. If their exercise has to be restricted, for example through injury, then a vet should be consulted for advice on how to manage the situation.
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