- HEIGHT: 15.2–17 hands, average is about 16.1
- PLACE OF ORIGIN: Holland
- SPECIAL QUALITIES: World-famous for their athletic ability
- BEST SUITED FOR: Jumping, dressage, and driving
Although most North Americans think of Holland as primarily a country of tulips and windmills, the Dutch tradition of breeding excellent horses goes back for centuries. In the case of the Friesian, the breed has been kept pure for more than two hundred years. Dutch Warmblood breeders, however, have a different purpose and a different technique. One of their primary goals since World War II has been to produce the best sport horse in the world. Like all sport horse breeds, Dutch Warmbloods are evolving. Breeders maintain three “breeding directions.” The most popular by far, and the most famous, are the riding horses, which include jumpers and dressage horses. The breed also includes the higher-headed, higher-moving harness horse or Tuigpaard, which is quite rare in North America, as is the light draft type, the Gelders.
Prior to World War II, breeders sought to produce a superior horse for riding, another for driving, and a heavier horse for farm use. They selected for soundness, character, and willingness to work. There was never an effort to produce horses for the military, as was the tradition in most European countries. To achieve their goals, the Dutch Warmblood breeders have maintained an open studbook, allowing the best stallions of various breeds to be crossed in.
Well made and powerful, Dutch Warmbloods are often found on the rosters of the most elite jumping and dressage horses in the world.
The foundation breeds of the Dutch Warmblood were the heavy Gelderlander, from the regions of dense clay soil in southern Holland, and the lighter Groningen, from sandy soil in northern Holland. The Groningen is actually the same breed as the Danish Oldenborg and the early German Oldenburg. Both the Gelderlander and the Groningen descend from Friesians or other heavy horses. After 1850, Holland imported many stallions from Oldenburg, Holstein, Hanover, and France. During this era, the needs of horsemen changed from exclusively farm use to carriage use to general riding, triggering the transition from heavier workhorses to the modern Dutch Warmblood. This animal also shows the influence of Thoroughbred, Cleveland Bay, Hackney, Holsteiner, and Anglo Norman blood. The first warmblood studbook was published in 1887.
Not all Dutch Warmbloods are branded. Individuals are inspected at age three and only the finest receive brands.
New Directions after the War
World War II caused massive destruction to Holland’s agriculture. After the war, as mechanized farming became routine, some breeders recognized that the only substantial market for horses in the future would be for recreation. They realized their horses would have to change with the times. A system of riding clubs was set up throughout the country as horse breeders adapted their horses for recreational riding.
The aim was to maintain the traditional farm horse qualities of soundness, character, and willingness to work, while producing a riding horse with good gaits and a competitive spirit. Breeders rigorously culled horses that did not meet the criteria and selected only the very best animals for breeding. To improve jumping ability, they added more German and French lines. In 1970, they reorganized the studbook (Warmbloed Paardenstamboek in Nederland, or WPN), combining the regional studbooks, and adopted the brand of a rampant lion.
This horse nicely demonstrates some points of the breed standard. The chest is deep and full, the back straight and fairly long, and the croup short, broad, and flat with a fairly high-set tail.
The careful breeding and culling efforts paid off. In the 1980s, Dutch Warmbloods began to dominate the international jumping circuit. The Freak won a gold medal for Germany’s equestrian team in 1988, among his many other credits. The breed also began to produce top dressage horses. Limandus won the individual bronze for Switzerland at the 1984 Olympics, and Germany’s gold medal team at the 1990 World Championships included the Dutch Warmblood Ideaal.
Dutch Warmbloods also excel in combined driving. All-Dutch teams won the World Championships in 1982 and 1986. Today the equestrian teams of many nations use Dutch Warmbloods. In 1988, Queen Beatrix of Holland granted the breed the honored title of Koninklijk, or “Royal,” and the studbook became the KWPN. This well-deserved honor recognized the breeders of Dutch horses for a century of contributions to the nation’s prestige and agricultural economy.
Breeders of Dutch Warmbloods are unrelenting in their efforts to develop the perfect sport horse, and this world-class, competitive breed continues to evolve. Dutch Warmbloods are always bred to be sound performance horses but are not necessarily always beautiful horses. Some are very attractive, while others have a plain head with a Roman nose and big ears. Today, beautiful horses have become much more common in the breed than they once were. These horses move naturally from behind, with animated action and equal strength from hindquarter to forehand. Dutch Warmbloods are known for their tractable disposition and are said to be highly trainable, willing, and less stubborn than many other warmblood breeds.
Dutch Warmbloods range from 15.2 to 17 hands with an average of 16.1 hands, a suitable size for excellence in jumping or dressage. They weigh between 1,200 and 1,500 pounds. The head is well shaped, with a straight profile, and the neck is muscled and arched, merging neatly into fairly prominent withers. The chest is deep and full and the shoulder well sloped. The back is straight and fairly long; the croup is short, broad, and flat. The tail set is high. The legs are strong, with a long forearm. Hindquarters are powerful and highly muscled.
Dutch Warmbloods are usually chestnut, bay, black, or gray and frequently have white markings on the face and lower legs.
The power and correctness of movement can be seen even from the front.