The classification of horses as hot, warm, and cold bloods can be confusing.
As mammals all horses are warm-blooded – they don’t need to lie around in the sun to summon energy for the day, although some do like to!
These classifications are based on their temperament, build, and historical usage rather than their actual body temperature regulation.
What is a cold blooded horse?
Also known as draft horses, cold blooded horses are known for their immense size, strength and docile nature.
They have a long history of use in heavy labour and agriculture.
Draft horses have a large build and sturdy bodies with powerful muscles that make them perfect for work that requires a lot of brute strength.
Ploughing fields, hauling and forestry work are common activities for draft horses, because their strength combined with their gentle temperaments make them perfect for this kind of work.
Often known as gentle giants, draft horses tend to be placid and kind, with easygoing temperaments that make them suitable for riders of all abilities.
Their reaction times tend to be slower the hot or warmbloods, and they can take longer to train, but they are not unintelligent.
A draft horse is rarely going to be an avid runner and they aren’t good candidates for jumping due to their mass, but if you enjoy a companion that appreciates taking it easy while still enjoying a good hard pull, a draft could be the horse for you.
Draft horses can be suitable for novice riders, but aren’t necessarily easy keepers.
Draft horses have distinct health considerations due to their size and work capacity.
Here are a few important factors to consider:
- Leg and hoof care: The immense weight of a draft horse places increased strain on the legs and hooves. Regular maintenance and check-ups, which include X-rays, will keep you up to date on the strain in your horse’s legs and hooves. Hoof health also impacts cardiovascular health, so this is a central issue for any draft horse owner to manage actively.
- Skin health: The typical leg feathers of many draft breeds can grow bacteria and fungi, leading to a skin infection. Frequent grooming and managing the moisture in the pasture your horse spends time in can reduce the risk of this condition.
- Weight-related concerns: Due to their slow metabolism, draft horses are susceptible to specific health concerns. Like any horse, a draft horse needs a balanced diet and sufficient exercise to stay healthy and avoid becoming obese. Depending on the build, bloodlines and health of your horse, light riding work may not be enough to keep them healthy. Obesity will quickly lead to joint problems, metabolic disorders and a higher likelihood of laminitis.
- Musculoskeletal health: Draft horses have a body to support the heavy workload they were bred to do. This can also make them more prone to strains and skeletal injuries. Adequate warm-up, controlled workloads and proper rest and recovery are essential to maintain the health of your draft horse.
- Heat and respiratory management: Draft horses tend to be more susceptible to heat stress and respirator issues due to their bulk and a thick coat. It’s crucial to provide proper ventilation, shade, and access to fresh water during hot weather to avoid heat exhaustion and respiratory issues. If you’ve got a draft horse with a particularly thick mane and tail, you may need to thin and trim these to prevent overheating.
A lot of the issues specific to draft horses are the same issues that apply to smaller breeds as well, but the problems quickly compound when you add more size and mass to the horse.
Large draft horses will typically have a shorter lifespan than their lighter counterparts because of the increased stress on their system.
Each draft horse is unique, and individual care requirements may vary. Regular veterinary check-ups and consultations are crucial to address specific health concerns and ensure their well-being.
Where do draft horses come from?
Each breed of draft horse will have its own unique history, but as a type they descend from the ancient European breeds developed for heavy work in farming, hauling and war.
Their colossal strength allowed them to pull ploughs and other agricultural loads, work in transportation hauling everything from brewery barrels to cannons, and carry armoured knights into battle.
They have large hooves, broad shoulders and thick muscles ideal for pulling heavy loads. Their legs are thick and often feathered.
Some breed will have a Roman profile, and they often have kind eyes.
They tend to have thicker coats and full manes, which enable them to withstand cold climates well.
Drafts encompass heavy breeds such as Shires, Percherons, Ardennes, and Suffolk Punches.
Sometimes the definition can be broadened to include heavy cobs and riding types such as Icelandic ponies and Friesian horses.
Some fans of the latter will say that Friesians belong to a separate category of baroque horses.
What are draft horses used for today?
Today draft horses have a range of uses.
Some are still used for farming and forestry, especially on steep slopes where using machinery is impossible or too destructive to the environment, or for pulling brewery dreys – though this is mostly for show as the actual transportation work is done by modern technology.
Some breeds have showing classes which draw enthusiasts to admire their traditional turnout.
Smaller draft breeds or draft-crosses are more common in riding, and some owners have drafts recreationally for riding and driving.
Due to their kind temperaments draft horses make excellent leisure horses, suitable for all members of the family. They can even be great, docile teachers for children to learn on.
They are great horses for hacking, and individual horses compete in dressage, hunting and jumping.
With the right training, care and attitude draft horses can far exceed our often limited expectations of their abilities.
What is a hot blooded horse?
Hot blooded horses are known for their spirited nature and high energy levels.
These horses typically exhibit qualities of athleticism, agility, and speed. They’re often defined by their lithe bodies, fine coats and refined features.
They are descendants of Arabian and Thoroughbred breeds, known for their endurance and swiftness.
Due to their high energy drive, hot blooded horses excel in activities that require speed, such as racing, eventing, and endurance riding.
If left to their own devices, they can become bored and destructive if not given enough activity.
They possess a strong drive to compete and can be quite challenging to handle.
Their heightened sensitivity and quick reactions make them delightfully responsive and ideal for disciplines like show jumping and dressage, where precision and quick reactions are valued.
They’re typically sharp-witted who learn quickly and need a rider that can read their subtle cues and changes in mood well.
Where do hot blooded horses come from?
This type of horse originated in the Middle East and North Africa, where they were prized by nomadic tribes.
The close relationship these horses have had with their humans is claimed to be one of the reasons why these breeds are considered to be very attuned to people.
All hot blooded breeds are influenced by their Arab ancestors – as are most horse breeds – which can be seen in the slender head and hot temperaments.
Crossing Arabian, Barb and Turk horses with British native breeds is how the thoroughbred came to be the highly-developed racing breed it is today. With the right training, thoroughbreds can excel in most disciplines.
The most popular horse of this type is the Arabian horse and its crosses, Anglo-Arabs.
Many riders who enjoy racing of any kind, from shorter races to endurance races, appreciate the speed and stamina of hot blooded horses.
Their light conformation and graceful heads also make hot blooded horses popular for producing show horses, crosses, and show ponies – Arabian horses alone have hugely popular showing classes and active societies.
What is a warm blooded horse?
Warm blooded horses usually refers to continental sport horses (which can often carry the word in their name) but the classification encompasses the majority of middleweight horses that sit between hot and cold blooded horses.
Warmbloods have historically been used for farming, in harness, and as cavalry horses.
With a middling build, they’re suitable for a wide range of jobs, making them excellent all-rounders.
As with both draft horses and hot blooded horses, warmbloods exist on a spectrum from smaller and lighter to bigger and heavier.
Some warmblood breeds, such as the Finnhorse, are considered truly universal horses that can excel in a range of activities.
Considered heavy for a riding horse and light for a draft, the breed is also known as the Finnish Universal, since it can be ridden, driven, used for heavy work as well as a sport horse the breed is prized for their sheer adaptability due to their unique combination of warm and cold blood genetics.
The Fjord is a similar breed with characteristics of both lighter and heavier horses, though they tend to be smaller than the Finnish Universal.
Warm blooded horses have their origins in Europe, where breeders aimed to create a horse that combined the agility and athleticism of hot blooded breeds with the calm temperament and strength of cold blooded horses.
On the continent, warmblood breeds have often experienced state involvement, through the ownership of studs and the administration of breed societies with strict performance requirements. This focus on performance over pedigree means that a lot of societies will accept horses with ancestors from a different studbook or even without a recorded pedigree.
Warmbloods are known for their steady temperament and willingness to work.
They tend to have an athletic conformation and be calmer than hot blooded breeds, but sharper than draft horses.
They retain some of the speed, endurance, and agility of the hot bloods, but the introduction of the draft horse blood gives them added robustness and a quieter temperament than hotter breeds.
They exhibit a good balance between sensitivity and calmness, making them suitable for a wide range of disciplines.
These horses excel in dressage, show jumping, eventing, and driving.
Their adaptability and trainability make them popular choices for amateur riders and equestrians of various skill levels.
Popular warm blood breeds include the Irish Sport Horse and Irish Hunter, the Dutch Warmblood (KWPN), Trakehner, Oldenburg, and Hanoverian.
Of the American breeds, the Tennessee Walking Horse and Quarter Horse are both popular due to their hot and cold blooded mix of genetics.
Understanding the different types of horses provides valuable insight as the origin of a breed will shine a light on your horse’s individual traits, strengths, and purposes.
By appreciating the distinctions between hot-blooded, warm-blooded, and cold-blooded horses, you can make informed choices when it comes to selecting the perfect equine companion or participating in various equestrian disciplines.