The Charismatic Canadian Warmblood, Part 1

Credit: Marilyn Powell

By Jess Hallas-Kilcoyne

When thinking of a Warmblood, often what comes to mind is the elite Hanoverian, Holsteiner, and Dutch Warmblood athletes scattered across Europe. After all, European breeders have been developing the Warmblood for the past three centuries.

These days however, riders don’t have to travel to Europe to purchase a horse suitable for performance in the Olympic disciplines. Warmblood breeding programs in Canada have gained amazing ground over the last couple of decades. Now, Canadian breeders are producing horses of the same calibre as their European counterparts.

The road to the current state of Warmblood breeding in Canada has not been an easy one. The Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association (CWHBA) has worked tirelessly to improve breeding standards, promote the breed, and to educate people about its past, present, and future. A thorough understanding of the origins of the Warmblood is essential to appreciating their vision and the ultimate purpose of their efforts.

It once was thought that the Warmblood was a cross between cold-blooded horses, such as the Draft breeds, and hot-blooded horses, like the Arabian or Thoroughbred. In fact, the Warmblood boasts a unique heritage independent of these influences, and is itself one of the oldest surviving horse breeds.

The modern Warmblood horse is a descendant of Equus Caballus Mosbachensis, which is a subspecies of Equus Caballus. Equus Caballus is essentially the ancestor of the modern, domesticated horse.

Equus Caballus Mosbachensis dates back to the Pleistocene Epoch (1.8 million to ~10,000 years ago), and was indigenous to Western Europe, particularly present day Germany. Other subspecies of Equus Caballus include the Coldblood and the Konik, or Tarpan, both of which originated in Europe, and the Afro-Turkic which occupied North Africa and the Middle East. Modern day descendants of the Coldblood include the Draft and heavy horse breeds; the Tarpan horse became extinct in the late nineteenth century, and the Arabian is one example of a horse of Afro-Turkic type.

One Breed or Many?
So, is the Warmblood a distinct breed, or is it a category of horse that encompasses many breeds such as the Swedish Warmblood and the Oldenburg?

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
Although a registered Dutch Warmblood, Hickstead, the famous stallion who carried Eric Lamaze to Individual Gold and Canada to Team Silver in the 2008 Olympic Games, was approved by the CWHBA and many other Warmblood associations in Europe and North America.

Traditionally, the many “types” of Warmblood (Dutch Warmblood, Swedish Warmblood, and Holsteiner to name a few) were thought to have been distinct breeds. This theory has recently been disproved by means of scientific advances in genetic testing, accompanied by extensive research of European stud books and records.

We now know the Warmblood is a distinct breed, and that the so-called “types” of Warmblood are different registries of the same fundamental breed.

“We’re not creating a new breed (with the Canadian Warmblood); we’re a registry in Canada for Warmblood horses,” clarifies Chris Gould, Chairman of the CWHBA, and one of the major forces behind the creation of the CWHBA. “We’ve done extensive research on pedigree and examined several genetic studies,” says Gould, “and we’ve concluded unequivocally that the Warmblood is a breed regardless of where the horse may come from, Sweden, France, or Germany.”

“You think of the Icelandic Horse as a very distinct breed; it turns out that Warmbloods share the same degree of genetic relatedness,” Gould continues.

It can be difficult to define the term “breed” because there are so many factors, both genetic and organizational, to consider. The recognition of a breed, under Canada’s Animal Pedigree Act (APA), is determined according to three principles:
1. Common genetic make-up of the population which is to be considered a breed;
2. Physical resemblance of animals of the breed in a way that would be distinguishable from other breeds; and,
3. Genetic stability or the possibility of creating a genetically stable population, which would be amenable to systematic genetic improvement.

When one considers this list of criteria, we find that the Warmblood does, in fact, fit the APA’s definition of a breed. All Warmbloods, regardless of registration or nationality, share a common genetic make-up.

They are also easy to recognize and distinguish from other horse breeds based on their physical appearance.

“You can look at a Warmblood and know what it is, just as you could look at a Saddlebred and know what it is,” says Jennette Coote, Stud Book Committee member of the CWHBA and co-owner of MJ Farms, which specializes in breeding Canadian Warmblood Horses.

Finally, the Warmblood is a genetically stable population. Therefore, the Warmblood can be considered one distinct breed that is made up of different registries, not a generic type of horse that encompasses a variety of breeds.

Modern Warmbloods are easily distinguishable from other breeds by virtue of their unique combination of substance and elegance. They are generally tall and their build is one of refined solidity.

According to the CWHBA, “the overall impression is one of nobility, harmony, balance, and athleticism. The frame should impress with its substance rather than its lightness or fineness. In profile, the animal will appear ‘uphill’ in build, with muscular hindquarters supporting a rectangular frame that features a relatively erect, poll-high neck.”

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Contributed by Norah Ross
Kupido K, owned by Norah Ross of Foxstone Stables in BC, is a CWHBA approved Dutch Warmblood stallion by Grannus out of a G Ramiro Z mare. He is an example of a modern type Warmblood stallion.

The body should be large and substantial, but not massive, and the legs should be strong with large, flat joints. The hooves ought to be proportionately large, even, and sound.

The ideal Warmblood has three elastic, uphill gaits, superior athleticism, and strength. The incredible physical power generated by these characteristics is tempered by an exceptional temperament and good-natured rideability.

“I’ve had tremendous experience firsthand with the Canadian Warmblood Horse Breeders Association and with their horses,” says Joni Lynn Peters, of Armstrong, BC, who is currently long-listed for the Canadian dressage team with her Canadian Warmblood, Travolta (Ferro x Landwind II W). “They have been very sweet and very lovely,” Peters continues, referring to the two Canadian Warmblood geldings (Travolta is one) she has purchased at the Fall Classic Breeders’ Sale, an auction held in the European tradition by the Alberta chapter of the CWHBA.

The above traits are what make the Warmblood uniquely suited for, and dominant in, competition in the Olympic equestrian disciplines.

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

The Warmblood was once thought to be a cross between the Draft breeds and lighter type horses such as the Arabian or the modern-day racehorse, the Thoroughbred.

History of the European Warmblood 
Over 300 years of selective breeding in Europe have gone into creating the modern Warmblood. During the nineteenth century, better records of European Warmblood breeding programs culminated in the publication of the first stud books. Sadly, much of this information was lost in World War II.

The Warmblood was originally used primarily as a cavalry horse and for light agricultural work. However, by the 1912 Olympic Games, Warmbloods, along with Thoroughbreds, were the most prevalent equine competitors in the equestrian sports.

Subsequently there was a massive decrease in the Warmblood population, and indeed that of all horse breeds, in the 1940s. This was mostly a result of the advent of cars and farm equipment that followed the technological advances of World War II.

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Robin Duncan Photography
In fact, the Warmblood is a totally distinct breed of horse whose original ancestor existed 1.8 million to approximately 10,000 years ago.

The population decline was quite dramatic across Europe and in Canada. In 1900, Canada had a total equine population of approximately three million; now less than one million horses, including all breeds, exist in the country. The figures are similar for Germany. The number of horses in Canada has been on the rise since the late 1950s, and in the summer of 2010 the Canadian herd size was estimated at 963,500, down from a peak of 1,092,461 in 2005.

Post World War II is also the time around which the major shift in the usage of the Warmblood from work horse to sport horse took place, and when the Warmblood really began to grow in popularity in Canada.

History and Purpose of the CWHBA
The CWHBA was founded in 1988. In 1991, the CWHBA became one of the first associations to be incorporated under the APA. The main purpose of the association, as stated on their website, is “to unite the breeders, owners, and friends of Warmblood horses in Canada; to maintain the Stud Book of Canadian Warmblood horses, including approved stallions, mares, and foals; to maintain a uniform breeding program of Warmblood horses in Canada; to promote breed shows and representation in exhibitions; to provide information to breeders, owners, and friends, and to generally encourage public understanding of the Canadian Warmblood horse.”

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Cynthia Adams
San Sierra, bred by Cynthia Adams of Wild Rose Equine Services in Olds, AB, was the Grand Champion Young Horse and the 1st Place Futurity winner at the 2007 CWHBA Southern Alberta Show. She was inspected and awarded premium status in 2011 by the CWHBA and is a prime example of the ideal modern Warmblood type.

The ultimate goal of the CWHBA is to produce, in Canada, a quality Warmblood sport horse, whose conformation, movement, temperament, and trainability is suitable for performance, primarily in the English disciplines of dressage, jumping, and eventing.

Modelled after European Warmblood associations, and with bloodlines stemming from European Stud Books, the CWHBA has achieved their goal with the creation and development of the Canadian Warmblood.

The primary responsibility of the CWHBA is to improve the breed through the practice of carefully selective breeding. This is accomplished by means of the CWHBA’s grading of Warmblood mares and stallions and judging the performance of these horses. The CWHBA also issues certificates of pedigree, keeps performance records, holds mare and foal shows, and supports education about, marketing for, and the promotion of the Canadian Warmblood breed.

Influential Stallions
To be eligible for registration with the CWHBA, a horse must be able to trace its pedigree back to a horse of European Warmblood descent. “We have identified a number of influential stallions that existed in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries,” says Gould. “Now, all of our horses are identified as tracing to those influential stallions. We’re convinced that these stallions were so widely used that you wouldn’t find any Warmbloods without at least one in their pedigree.”

These influential stallions, their date of birth, and their country of origin are as follows:

1. Malcolm 1840  Hanover, Germany
2. Norfolk   1843  Hanover, Germany
3. Kapirat 1844  FDS, France
4. Zernebog 1845  Hanover, Germany
5. Landessohn 1846  Oldenburg, Germany
6. Pledge 1846  FDS, France
7. Achill 1849  Holstein, Germany
8. Seducteur 1852  FDS, France
9. Conquerant 1858  FDS, France
10. Flick 1861  Hanover, Germany
11. Hannibal 1864  Holstein, Germany
12. Schlutter 1867  Hanover, Germany
13. Normand 1869  FDS, France
14. Rubico 1877  Oldenburg, Germany
15. Cherbourg 1880  FDS, France
16. Cicero 1889  Holstein, Germany
17. Ruthard 1890  Oldenburg, Germany
18. Wittelsbacher 1890  Oldenburg, Germany
19. Landgraf   1897  Holstein, Germany
20. Alderman I  1909  Hanover, Germany
21. Goldschlaeger I 1909  Hanover, Germany
22. Fling 1911  Hanover, Germany
23. Royal Chesnut 1917  FDS, France
24. Vas Y Donc 1921  FDS, France
25. Eros 1926  Swedish, Sweden

From these 25 influential stallions descended the foundation Warmbloods, which are categorized as either first level or second level foundation Warmbloods.

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Contributed by Sport Horse Data
The Mecklenburg stallion Norfolk was born in 1843 in former East Germany. He is considered a foundation sire of the modern Hanoverian breed and stood at the state stud in Celle. He is the sire of 31 approved stallions, including Nord (born in 1866) and Weissenburg (born in 1869). Both Nord and Weissenburg are out of Zernebog mares.

First level foundation Warmbloods have pedigrees containing a minimum of 25 percent content from at least one or a combination of the influential stallions. These stallions are all from indigenous horse populations that were recorded in Europe in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

The first level horses reflect the earlier breeding aim to produce a horse for military and agricultural purposes. These horses tended to be of medium build, muscular, and taller than the average horses of the time.

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Contributed by Sport Horse Data
Cherbourg, born in 1880 in France, was a descendant of Kapirat on both sides of his pedigree. Registered with the French Demi-Sang Stud Book, he was crossed with many of the other 25 influential stallions.

There are a different set of requirements for a horse to be deemed a second level foundation Warmblood, and these Warmbloods are split into two groups. Group A horses must have a minimum of 7/8 ancestry in common with first level foundation horses. Group B consists of animals born in 1960 or earlier, which are products of a recognized Warmblood studbook. They must have at least one of the 25 influential stallions in their pedigree. No horse with an ancestor of another breed can be accepted as a second level foundation horse, with the exception that one grandparent is permitted to be a Trakehner, Thoroughbred, Arabian, or Anglo-Arab.

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Contributed by Sport Horse Data
Fling, a Hanoverian stallion born in 1911, boasts a royal pedigree. His great-grandsire was Flick, who in turn was a son of Zernebog. Norfolk also appears in both lines of his pedigrees. Fling was the sire of Feiner Kerl, born in 1919, who in turn sired Watzman, who produced Walzerkoenig, the Gold Medal jumper at 1988 Seoul Olympics.

From these horses are descended the first stallions that were influential in the Canadian Warmblood breeding program. These include such horses as Arkansas, Fantast, and Wodan. The impact they have had on the Canadian Warmblood is in part due to the sheer number of their offspring entered in the Canadian Warmblood Stud Book, but also because of the quality of those offspring.

Arkansas was 11 years old in 1989 when Chris Gould imported him into Canada from the Hanoverian State Stud at Celle in Germany. Arkansas was the first stallion entered in the CWHBA stud book in 1993, and over 200 of his offspring are also entered in the stud book.

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Contributed by Sport Horse Data
Alderman I was an influential Hanoverian stallion who sired both important son and daughter lines. His descendant, Alexine, is the dam of the prolific sire Flugeladjutant, born in 1938. Flugeladjutant had 46 crosses to Zernebog, 25 crosses to Flick, 37 crosses to Norfolk, and 1 to Schlutter in 12 generations of his pedigree. This is a perfect example of the extensive use of these stallion lines in Warmblood breeding programs of the early twentieth century.

A stunningly regal grey stallion, Arkansas was originally selected by the Hanoverian State Stud for their black and white Quadrille team. While at stud in Germany, he sired such offspring as the Hanoverian mare, Athene, who produced the stallions Escudo I and Escudo II, extremely successful sires of jumping offspring.

Arkansas is a descendant of the stallions Goldschlaeger I, Alderman I, Flick, Norfolk, and Zernebog, all of whom are on the list of the 25 stallions from which all Warmbloods today are descended.

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Contributed by Marilyn Powell
Fantast, another stallion who had an impact on Canadian Warmblood breeding, was imported to Canada from Belgium in 1985. As of 2010, Fantast had 195 offspring entered in the CWHBA stud book.

Fantast, another stallion who was early entered into the CWHBA stud book, is also of European origin. A handsome chestnut Selle Francais stallion born in Belgium in 1982, Fantast was imported from Belgium to Canada as a three-year-old. Eve Mainwaring, one of the significant forces in the creation of the CWHBA, and a member of the syndicate that purchased the stallion, first saw him at a Keuring in Belgium. “He was very attractive...he had that sparkle,” Mainwaring says.

Incidentally, Mainwaring also shared part-ownership of the famous Canadian show jumping horse ridden by Ian Millar, Big Ben, who was a paternal half-brother to Fantast.

Fantast has another connection to Canadian Olympian Ian Millar; one of Millar’s successful Grand Prix jumpers was Roulette, a Fantast offspring, who competed quite a bit in Europe and was seldom out of the ribbons. As of 2010, Fantast had 195 offspring entered in the stud book.

Canadian Warmblood Horse Breed CWHBA

Photo: Contributed by Marilyn Powell
Imported to Canada in the mid-1980s, Wodan was a major influence in the early Canadian Warmblood breeding program. His pedigree boasts many of the founding Warmblood stallions, such as Fling and Norfolk.

Another stallion, the Hanoverian Wodan, also had a huge impact on the development of Warmblood breeding in Canada. He was approved by the Hanoverian, Oldenburg, Hessen, Rheinlander, and Badenwuerthenberg registries and competed at the Grand Prix level with German show jumping team rider, Franke Sloothak, prior to his importation to Canada in the mid-1980s.

Wodan boasts a pedigree that includes founding stallions such as Goldschlaeger I, Fling, Flick, Norfolk, and Schluetter, to name a few.

These stallions are largely responsible for establishing quality Warmbloods in Canada, but, as Gould points out, the base of a breeding program really lies in the quality of the mares.

It is through the use of superior mares that are coupled with complementary stallions that Canada will produce the finest Warmblood horses. And that is the ultimate goal. Gould likens the Warmblood to McDonald’s, and the Canadian Warmblood to a McDonald’s franchise. “We want to have the best franchise in the world.”

In "The Charismatic Canadian Warmblood, Part 2", we will take a close look at inspections, licensing, the Stud Book, breeding programs, as well as some outstanding individuals and their accomplishments.


Main article photo: Contributed by Marilyn Powell - Arkansas was one of the first stallions to contribute to the Canadian Warmblood breeding program, with over 200 offspring entered in the CWHBA stud book.

Breed Profiles
Log in or register to post comments


BioRider Fitness - Train To Win!

Related Articles


Tribute Equine Nutrition


Manitoba Horse Council


Intercity Insurance and CapriCMW Insurance