Hot, Warm, & Cold-Blooded Horses: What’s The Difference?

Differences Between Hot, Warm, and Cold-Blooded Horses

Have you ever heard of a horse described as hot-blooded or cold-blooded? This may be confusing at first – horses are not reptiles, and in fact, are all warm-blooded, aren’t they? However, these terms are not related to their body temperature but are related to their ancestry and temperament.

What is the difference between a hot-blooded, cold-blooded, and warmblood horse? A hot-blooded breed of horse is one that has been developed for speed and agility. These horses tend to have more sensitive buttons and a lot of energy. Cold-blooded horse breeds are known for their strength and endurance, generally having a much calmer disposition. Warmblood breeds are what you get when you cross a cold blood with a hot blood.

The differences between these breeds are generally related to their temperaments and their physical attributes and is the reason some breeds tend to excel more in a specific arena than others. Keep reading to learn more about these classifications, including which breeds tend to fall under which category.

Hot-Blooded Horses

Have you ever heard the term “hot horse”? This is usually referencing a horse that is high-strung and difficult to control. These horses often need to be regularly lunged before being ridden or shown. They have a lot of energy and can often be described as “spirited.”

Hot-blooded horses tend to be more nervous than other breeds and may always seem to be on guard. They also tend to be more sensitive. While there are plenty of gentle individuals in each hot-blooded breed, hot horses, in general, are not typically recommended for beginner riders. 

While a hot-blooded horse may not be your first choice as a trail partner, the level of energy and drive allows these breeds to excel in sports that require speed and agility. These horses dominate the racetracks and the polo fields.

They are considered intelligent and quick learners, happy to perform in sports that allow them to expend all the excess energy for which they were bred. The two most-recognized hot-blooded breeds are the Thoroughbred and the Arabian. Both of these breeds are light and lean, with long legs. 

Cold-Blooded Horses

In many ways, a cold-blooded horse is the antithesis of his or her hot-blooded friend. Cold-blooded horses are most often the “gentle giants,” calm in disposition and largely unbothered.

Because they were bred to work – mainly in the logging and agricultural industries and in pulling carriages and buggies – they must be calm, patient, and forgiving in order to succeed. They are generally friendly and submissive, eager to please, and easy-going. 

Most cold-blooded horses were bred primarily for their strength and endurance. These are the large draft breeds like the Shire, Clydesdale, Belgian, and Percheron. They are heavily muscled and weigh up to two times as much as lighter horses.

They are still used to pull carriages and wagons for agricultural work and in parades and festivities. Because they are so large and heavy and calm and quiet, they are not typically used in many agility sports. They are, however, a pleasure to ride and can be found on trails or in the arena. 

Warmblood Horses

It is easy to recognize the positive attributes of a cold-blooded horse – they are calm, easy-going, and strong. On the other hand, a hot-blooded horse has the speed, agility, and drive that is necessary to succeed in a number of equestrian sports and activities.

Over the years, these differences have been recognized, and that has led to the development of breeds that specifically combine the strength and disposition of the cold-blooded breeds with the agility and speed of the hot-blooded breeds. These breeds are called warmbloods.

Some of the most recognizable warmblood breeds are the Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Dutch Warmblood, Oldenburger, and Trakhener

Warmbloods are generally easy-going and willing partners. They are intelligent and quick to learn but also patient and eager to please. Warmbloods tend to be somewhat calm, without the sensitive triggers of a hot-blooded horse. They are not as reactive and tend to be less spooky. That said, they also have more energy and “go” than their cold-blooded relatives, happy to put some energy and bounce in their steps.

Though you won’t see many warmbloods on the racetrack, they do tend to dominate in both show jumping and dressage. Warmbloods tend to have the agility of their hotter ancestors coupled with the stamina and endurance of their colder genetics. They are usually tall horses with well-muscled hindquarters, giving them the longer and more powerful strides needed to excel over jumps. Many warmbloods are also bred with a conformation that lends to a natural collection, allowing them to succeed in the dressage ring as well. 

Do All Horse Breeds Fit Into One Of These Categories?

After learning about the attributes of these different classifications, it should have come as no surprise to learn that Thoroughbreds are hot-blooded horses, and Clydesdales are cold-blooded horses. But what about the horses that don’t seem to fit into these categories as clearly? While some distinctions are not so easy to make, it is necessary to look at the origins of a breed to see whether it was mainly cold-blooded horses or hot-blooded horses that led to its development. Here are some of the most common horses that are more challenging to define.

Is a Quarter Horse hot, cold, or warm?

The earliest Quarter Horses were developed in the mid-late 1700s by crossing English Thoroughbreds with native horses. This resulted in a stockier (but still very fast) horse that worked on the ranches during the week and raced on the weekends. In the 1800s, during the Westward expansion, these horses were further crossed with Mustangs and Native American horses to add the cow sense for which the modern Quarter Horse is so well-known.

Though some people call the Quarter Horse “America’s first warmblood,” there really is not enough cold-blooded ancestry in the Quarter Horse’s lineage to accurately define them as warmblooded.

For this reason, they should technically be described as hot-blooded, especially those with more Thoroughbred in their bloodlines. That said, Quarter Horses are known for being beginner-friendly, with their sound minds and willingness to work, and share many similarities with warmblood horses.

Is a Friesian hot, cold, or warm?

Our knowledge of the Friesian horse history is limited, as they have been around since at least the 13th century. What we do know is that they were once used as heavy war horses and, at some point, were cross-bred with Andalusians and (possibly) Arabians in order to lighten them up. 

Andalusians and Arabians are hot-blooded, and it was mostly cold-blooded heavy horses that were originally used in war, so the Friesian is truly a warmblood, though admittedly distinct from other breeds in that grouping. This breed is very different in both appearance and lineage when compared to other modern warmbloods, though the temperament, strength, and stamina are true to the label.  

Is an American Paint Horse hot, cold, or warm?

Because Paints can be docile and easy-going, it may surprise you to learn that they are in fact, considered to be hot-blooded horses. American Paint Horses have both Quarter Horses and Thoroughbreds in their lineage, as well as a number of Spanish breeds, including the Andalusian and Barb (both hot-blooded horses). 

Is a Morgan hot, cold, or warm?

The Morgan breed was developed in the 1700s by a man named Justin Morgan. Every Morgan today can be traced back to Justin Morgan’s stallion of unknown origin named Figure, who was known for passing on his distinct characteristics to his offspring.

Though there is a theory that Figure had Thoroughbred and/or Arabian blood because no one knows for sure the parentage of Figure, it cannot be said with certainty whether Morgans are hot or warm. 

Is a Mustang hot, cold, or warm?

This is a trickier question than it may seem at first glance. That’s because Mustangs are not a specific breed but rather a collection of feral herds living in North America. Mustangs are believed to be the result of the Spanish (Iberian) breeds crossing with native horses.

Since their origin, they have been allowed to live in the wild (except when rounded up), with no human intervention in their breeding. For this reason, Mustangs can technically be hot, cold, or warm, depending on their specific ancestry. I would tend to consider most Mustangs hot-blooded, however, due to their original Spanish genetics.

What “Temperature” Is Your Horse?

Unless you have specific information on the lineage of your horse, it can be difficult to know whether she would be considered hot-blooded, cold-blooded, or a warmblood, and that is because these labels were designed to describe a breed of specific origins.

You may be tempted to label your horse one or the other based on her temperament or confirmation, but this would not be accurate for obvious reasons. You might have a docile and lazy hot-blooded horse or a fiery cold-blood. Each horse has its own unique personality and build, and not all of them fit into their molds perfectly.

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