Dutch Warmblood Horse Origin and Characteristics

The last century has been good for horse breeds that have come from The Netherlands. In terms of success, the Dutch Warmblood makes an argument that it is the best breed in the world when it comes to international competition.

This breed comes from Dutch stock horses that were mixed to create a horse that had light draft qualities, but a fire to it that would serve well for racing and riding. The horse needed to be comfortable in the fields, in the harness, and under the saddle. That is the origin of the Dutch Warmblood.

In the Netherlands, foreign bloodlines have been introduced over the centuries to create stock horses that were strong and durable. There are bloodlines from Arabians, Thoroughbreds, Hannovers, and Holsteiners found in the Dutch stock horses.

It is that foundation, along with the developed characteristics of regional stock horses, that have created a strong, competitive, and influential breed in the Dutch Warmblood. 

What Is the Origin of the Dutch Warmblood?

Up until the 1930s, there were two types of horses that were used in The Netherlands for utility work. In the south, the Gelderlanders were bred, while in the north, the Groningens were bred. Both were governed by their own stud books and breeding societies at the time. The former breed was thought of as a breed that was strong and elegant. The latter served more in a draft horse capacity.

Combining the two breeds seemed a logical choice. That is what created the Dutch Warmblood. The Dutch Warmblood has maintained the best characteristics of both foundation breeds.

The initial goal of having the Dutch Warmblood was to create a better riding horse that could double as a solid work horse if needed. In the mechanization era for agricultural work, the emphasis shifted away from needing a work horse, so more riding traits were emphasized in breeding programs.

In the 1950s, there was an emphasis to encourage changes to Dutch horses so that a faster move away from agricultural features could be obtained. Breeders brought in Holsteiner and Hanoverian stallions to encourage more of a sporting personality and physical capability within the Dutch Warmblood breed.

Strict selection procedures are now in place with the breeding programs for the Dutch Warmblood. With an emphasis placed on dressage and show jumping since the beginning of the 21st century, there has been a subtle shift in the characteristics of the Dutch Warmblood. This has created two sub-types of horse: jumper types and dressage types.

Although the breed types are specific, both types of horses are allowed for breeding to each other to maintain the genetic variations that are necessary to keep the breed healthy.

These efforts have had great success for international competitions. The Dutch Warmblood registry has been the most successful in show jumping and the breed is consistently ranked #1 in jumping and in the top 10 for dressage. Several Dutch Warmbloods have been Olympic medalists since 2004. Moorlands Totilas held the world record for dressage score and won 3 gold medals at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games.

What is unique about the KWPN, which oversees the breeding programs for the Dutch Warmblood, is that is separated into 4 sections. Dutch Harness Horses, the Tuigpaard, the Gelderlander, and riding horses bred for show jumping or dressage each have their own section.

What Are the Characteristics of the Dutch Warmblood?

The Dutch Warmblood is comparable to other sporting-type horses in height, coat, and other forms of physical conformation. Most of the horses in this breed stand around 16 hands high, with many reaching or exceeding 17 hands high. To qualify for breeding, a mare must be at least 15.2 hands high and stallions must be 15.3 hands high.

The predominant coat colors within this breed are chestnut and bay, but gray and black coats are also seen. White markings are permitted on the face and along the legs, but shouldn’t be overly excessive. Tobiano is allowed because a stallion named Samber was approved for breeding within the Royal Warmblood Stud book of the Netherlands, but is discouraged today. No other tobiano stallion has been approved for breeding. 

Older horses may still have the brand of the Dutch Warmblood, a lion-rampant, on their left hip. Branding is illegal in the Netherlands today, however, so all foals are microchipped instead of branded to confirm identity and registry. 

A Dutch Warmblood has a neck that is arched and long, withers that are prominent, and a profile that is visually straight. Shoulders should have a good slope to them, supported by a deep girth, and strength prominent in the hindquarters and forearms. The hock joints are noticeably low to the ground.

This gives the horse the power and speed that has made it such a popular sporting-type horse since it was first developed.

The temperament of the Dutch Warmblood is unpredictable. The breed is quite sensitive, so some horses may have a mild temperament that is consistently calm. Others can be highly spirited, stubborn, and difficult to instruct. With the strict breeding standards that are in place, horses which are overly sensitive or do not follow instruction well are excluded from breeding programs. 

Performance testing within this breed is common, making it possible to weed out ill-tempered horses from the breeding pool rather effectively. The goal is to find horses that have an excellent ability to ride, jump, or compete in an uncomplicated way.

Why Choose a Dutch Warmblood?

No major health issues are associated with the Dutch Warmblood. There can be mild physical changes and arthritis that develop over time, but no major genetic issues.

This is due to rigorous health standards that are employed by the KWPN. Horses that have an overbite or under-bite, congenital eye defects, or a lack of symmetry in their physical characteristics or movement are excluded from the registry – even if they are a purebred Dutch Warmblood.

Bone spavin and sesamoids, along with some mild navicular changes, are sometimes allowed when discovered on radiographs. Osteochondrosis in the stifle or the hock, however, is not allowed at all.

It has created a breed that is sound, ages well, and is able to maintain its elite status for a prolonged period when compared to other breeds.

The Dutch Warmblood is a competitive breed that can be unpredictable to some extent, but the best in the breed are calm, collected, and spirited in a good way. That is why this breed is a favorite choice for many around the world.