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Horse Types and Temperaments


"Cold Blooded" Draft Horse Horse being discharged from Vet Hospital in WWI. Used via CC license from Library of Scotland


Horses are mammals, and as such are “warm-blooded” creatures, as opposed to cold-blooded reptiles. However, these words have developed a separate meaning in the context of equine terminology, used to describe temperament, not body temperature. For example, the “hot-bloods”, such as many race horses, exhibit more sensitivity and energy, while the “cold-bloods”, such as most draft breeds, are quieter and calmer.  Sometimes “hot-bloods” are classified as “light horses” or “riding horses”,with the “cold-bloods” classified as “draft horses” or “work horses”.


“Hot blooded” breeds include “oriental horses” such as the Akhal-Teke, Arabian horse, Barb and now-extinct Turkoman horse, as well as the Thoroughbred, a breed developed in England from the older oriental breeds. Hot bloods tend to be spirited, bold, and learn quickly. They are bred for agility and speed. They tend to be physically refined—thin-skinned, slim, and long-legged.  The original oriental breeds were brought to Europe from the Middle East and North Africa when European breeders wished to infuse these traits into racing and light cavalryhorses.

Hot Blooded Thoroughbred Race Horse

Muscular, heavy draft horses are known as “cold bloods”, as they are bred not only for strength, but also to have the calm, patient temperament needed to pull a plow or a heavy carriage full of people. They are sometimes nicknamed “gentle giants”.  Well-known draft breeds include the Belgian and the Clydesdale.  Some, like the Percheron and Friesian are lighter and livelier, developed to pull carriages or to plow large fields in drier climates.  Others, such as the Shire, are slower and more powerful, bred to plow fields with heavy, clay-based soils. The cold-blooded group also includes some pony breeds.

Warmblood” breeds, such as the Trakehner or Hanoverian, developed when European carriage and war horses were crossed with Arabians or Thoroughbreds, producing a riding horse with more refinement than a draft horse, but greater size and milder temperament than a lighter breed.  Certain pony breeds with warmblood characteristics have been developed for smaller riders.  Warmbloods are considered a “light horse” or “riding horse”.

Warmblood Horse Jumping

Today, the term “Warmblood” refers to a specific subset of sport horse breeds that are used for competition in dressage and show jumping.  Many warmbloods are selectively bred through careful cross breeding.  Strictly speaking, the term “warm blood” refers to any cross between cold-blooded and hot-blooded breeds.  However, if registered, reputable organizations will judge them based on the quality of the offspring, inspections, and/or performance results.  Examples include breeds such as the Irish Draught, Cleveland Bay, Canadian Warmblood, Dutch Warmblood or American Warmblood.

This work was adapted for use through the following: