Warmblood, Coldblood & Hotblood Horses

There are hundreds of different breeds of horses, but each breed falls into one of three broad categories: cold blood, warm blood or hot blood.

  • Cold Blood. In northern and middle Europe, horses were originally bred mainly as farm and working horses. Their main function was to pull a plow or cart. As such they were bred for strength, the ability to work long hours, thick coats to protect them from European winters and a quiet disposition which made them easy to manage. The term 'cold' can apply equally to their calm disposition or the climate they were bred for.
  • Hot Blood. Originally bred in warmer climates, where they were used for long distance riding and for racing. A spirited, competitive and strong-willed personality has come through the breeding programs as traits which help them win races. The description 'hot' applies equally to their fiery personality and their original climate (southern Europe, middle-east, India).
  • Warm Blood. Warmbloods are breeds that fall between cold and hot bloods. Some of these breeds were created through crossing a hot blood and a cold blood, to gain the positive traits of both. In particular, they have the athletic build and performance of a hot blood, with the even temperaments of a cold blood. These makes them suitable for equiatrian sports, such as jumping or dressage, which require both athletic performance and the ability to be easily trained to a high level.

The terms warm, cold or hot blood of course are based on the origin and termperament of the categories, rather than anything to do with their blood. All horses have approximately the same body and blood temperatures (about 38°C or 100.5°F) and as mammals they are all 'warm blooded' from a biological classification perspective.

The following table summarises and compares these three types of horses.

  Main Function Build Character Examples
Cold Working horse, pulling plow or cart

Heavy build with large muscles on a strong skelton, built for pulling power rather than speed.

Thick coat, main and tail; providing protection from winter climate.

 Calm, gentle  Shire, Clydesdale
 Hot Racing and long distance riding.

Lighter build, designed (depending on breed) either for racing or for long distance riding.

Relatively fine coat, mane and tail. The short hair reflects their origin in warmer climates, a trait which has been preserved for both cosmetic reasons and practical (easier to groom, more practical for saddling).

Spirited and strong willed  Arabian, Thoroughbred
 Warm Equestrian Sports (e.g. jumping, dressage) Sporty build, closer to that of the hot blood than the cold blood. Settled, easy trained, intelligent Friesian, Hanoverian, Andalusian, Lipizzaner

Which Type to Buy?

All three types have their advantages and disadvantages. If you are looking to buy a horse, the type which is most suitable for you will depend on your requirements. For example:

  • Novices. For novices, the spirited and unpredictability of hot bloods will generally make these breeds less suitable. A warmblood is a good all-rounder. A cold blood has the advantage that it is the calmest and most predictable of the three groups, extremely unlikely to buck or run off. However, less confident novices might be frightened by its size (even though these are gentle giants). Also, one cannot expect to race or jump with cold bloods, so if one intends to do these activities as one progresses, buying a cold blood may not be the best long term purchase.
  • Children. Similar observations as for novices. The calm nature of cold bloods makes them particularly good with children, with minimum chance of bad experiences (e.g. falling off a misbehaving horse). However, some children find cold bloods uncomfortable to straddle due to their width. Also, one needs to check that the child is not frightened by large horses.
  • Sports. There are sports designed for cold bloods (e.g. heavy cart pulling), sports for warm bloods (they excel at show jumping and many other activities) and sports for hot bloods (in particular, straight out racing). Which category (and indeed, which breed) is most suitable depends on which sport you want to be active in. There are a number of team sports, involving multiple horses and/or multiple people, so if you are team minded these may be of special interest but here one needs to consider not only the horse you get but whether there are similiar horses with owners of similar interests nearby.

Breeding Notes

In general, the official breed registries (or stud books) for most hot breeds are 'closed'. This means that in order for a horse to be registered as a particular breed (e.g. Arabian), both parents must be of that breed. This means that the breed registration is based on parentage (genetic conformance).

By contrast, for many warm bloods, the breed registries are often open (or partly open). As such, a horse can be registered as a given breed even if a parent is not registered as the same breed. In this case, registration is based in part on the horse's characteristics (e.g. build and colouring).

All breeds are bred for certain characteristics, but the desired objectives tend to change over time, with the result that the breeding direction changes as well. As an example, the Oldenburg warmblood was bred in the late 1800s to be an elegant carriage horse, in the early 1900s the direction changed to be a farm and artillery horse, and in modern years to be a sport horse. Consequently, the breeds have changed over time not only due to the success of breeding programs but also due to the changing direction of breeding programs. More generally, as the historical functions of horses have been taken over by machines (e.g. farm work by tractors, transport by cars), the breeding objectives have been more towards sports and pleasure riding.