A Warmblood breed, the Dutch Warmblood is an extraordinary sport horse that has risen to prominence in the international equestrian world in recent years. The Dutch Warmblood is often used as a competitive and recreational horse in the major international equestrian disciplines of dressage, jumping, three-day event, and driving.
The same characteristics and approach that have made The Netherlands so successful in the agriculture and commerce industries have been applied to breeding the world’s best sport horse. The Dutch’s rigorous breeding tactics and selection procedures have made the Dutch Warmblood a horse with exceptional conformation and gaits as well as an excellent character, performance capacity, and reliability.
History and Origins
The Dutch Warmblood horse’s ancestry dates back to the Netherlands prior to World War II—the Warmblood horses earned their name in order to distinguish them from cold blood draft horses and hot bloods like Thoroughbreds and Arabs.
At that time, there were Gelderlanders, a stylish, elegant horse of medium stature that was a bred as a carriage and draft horse in the south in the mid-1920s, and the Groningen, which was bred in the mid-1940s and evolved on the heavy clay soils of northern Holland into a larger, heavy-set horse. While the Groningen was often seen in solid black, dark bay, or brown, the Gelderlanders were typically chestnut with white markings. The modern Dutch Warmblood evolved from these two native Dutch breeds.
After the war was over, the Gelderlander and Groninger horses were replaced by tractors and cars and became more of a luxury than a daily necessity. As farm mechanization progressed, horse breeding goals were redirected toward producing pleasure sport horses; as early as the 1950s, stallions like the French-bred L'Invasion and Holsteiner Normann were being imported, soon followed by the Holsteiner Amor and Hanoverian Eclatant. These carriage-pulling horses contributed their powerful front ends and gentle dispositions to the Dutch Warmblood.
In the prime of coaching in the 19th century, horses like the Norfolk Trotter, Yorkshire Coach, Cleveland Bay, and Hackney were also being imported from England to be crossed with the European native mares. As a result, they became the ancestors of the modern sport horses prominently found in today’s horse-breeding countries and regions.
As time passed and the horse’s purpose expanded to encompass more farm work, breeding goals began to change—farm horses had to be both strong and obedient enough to assist with plowing, while at the same time stylish and elegant for carriage use and riding. During this process, there continued to be considerable foreign influence from the horses bred in countries like France, England, and Germany.
Today, the Dutch Warmblood is registered with the Koninklijk Warmbloed Paardenstamboek Nederland (KWPN)—the Royal Warmblood Studbook of the Netherlands, which governs the breeding of competitive dressage and show jumping horses, the show harness horse and Gelderlander, and a hunter studbook in North America. Dutch horses continue to be influenced by imported blood, but their distinctive qualities like adaptability and soundness have made the Dutch Warmblood horse unique and desirable.
The Dutch Warmblood is a long-legged, substantial horse breed with a smooth topline and expressive head. Among the Dutch Warmblood’s most desired traits include a well-proportioned figure and a rectangular, long-lined body.
These horses are also known for having a deep, full chest, muscular neck, and powerful legs and strong hindquarters. Its withers (the area between the shoulder blades) is prominent, while its croup is flat and short. The exact outline of the Dutch Warmblood varies depending on the pedigree.
Size and Lifespan
In order to become a breeding horse, Dutch Warmblood mares must stand at least 62 inches (157 centimeters), and stallions must stand 63 inches (160 centimeters). They generally weigh an average of 1,430 pounds.
While there is no limit on upper height, horses considered to be too tall aren’t as desirable because they’re impractical for sport uses. The Dutch Warmblood’s life expectancy is about 20 years.
Since the Dutch Warmblood has gone through centuries of selective breeding—with approximately 80 percent of them serving as riding horses and 20 percent as carriage horses—today’s modern versions of the Dutch Warmblood are suitable for all types of work or activities and are reliable until the very end of their lives.
Color and Markings
The majority of Dutch Warmbloods can be found in black, bay, brown, gray, and chestnut. White markings are common.
Dutch Warmbloods are solid horses that tend to live longer lives due to the strict requirements that have been placed on the breeding of stallions and elite mares.
For example, horses are disqualified from breeding for congenital eye defects, overbites or underbites, or a lack of symmetry in their stifles, hooves, hocks, or movement. Issues such as osteochondrosis in the hock or stifle are not allowed. All Dutch Warmbloods are selected to be uncomplicated to handle and ride.
Champions and Celebrities
The KWPN has historically produced the most successful international show jumping horses. In 2010, Dutch Warmbloods were ranked first in jumping and dressage by the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses. A few of the recent Olympic medalists bred in the Netherlands include Royal Kaliber, Montender, Authentic, Mac Kinley, De Sjiem, and Hickstead.
Other recent Dutch Warmblood Olympic medal-winners in dressage include Ferro and Udon. The Dutch Warmblood stallion Moorlands Totilas held the world record for the highest dressage score in Grand Prix Freestyle Dressage and won three gold medals at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games.
In North America, the Dutch Warmblood is a favorite choice for the hunter ring. The North American branch of the KWPN has selected Dutch Hunter horses; one of the first approved stallions was Popeye K. In the movies, a Dutch warmblood stallion by the name of Uraeus was cast in the role of Brego in The Lord of the Rings.
Is It the Right Horse for You?
The Dutch Warmblood has an ideal temperament; a solid, reliable horse, this breed is willing to work, while also being intelligent and in tune with its rider. It’s a strong, powerful breed that will adapt well to the needs of its owner, whether you’re looking for a horse for riding or competing.