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The South African Warmblood Horse

he South African Warmblood horse is a specialized sport horse for the disciplines of Show jumping, Dressage and Eventing. The South African Warmblood Horse Society (SAWHS) is the governing body for Warmblood horses in the Republic of South Africa. It falls under the Department of Agriculture and not the South African National Equestrian Federation (SANEF). It is directly responsible to the Registrar of Livestock Improvement. The SAWHS is a full member of the World Breed Federation for Sport Horses.

Short history

The Warmblood horse is essentially a general term for a collection of European horse types resulting today from many of their regional breeds. Until the 20 century horses were used for transport, power and war. As mechanization replaced both the cavalry horse and farm horse, especially after the first World War, these horses increasingly moved into the area of sport and leisure. Regional Societies then reviewed their selection and breeding criteria to accommodate these changes and the rider’s needs. Former cavalry training courses became a sport that evolved into the disciplines of Eventing, Dressage and Show Jumping. The Warmblood horse was redirected in his type, temperament and build to meet these requirements as the sport itself evolved. Today it is a huge industry and research and excellence in breeding is still remains in Europe though these horses are now bred all over the world.

Brief history of the South African Warmblood

The SAWHS was formed in 1989, following a steady flow of importations of European Warmbloods that began in 1965. In South Africa, the first Warmbloods were sourced mainly from Namibia which had a strong base of Hanoverian horses. Some Swedish stock was also brought in. These and other, imported European Warmbloods were crossed with local horses, mainly of Thoroughbred stock. This crossbred population formed the base generation for most of the horses registered with the SA Warmblood Horse Society today. The Thoroughbreds used in this initial cross had been thoroughly performance tested in the competition arena’s, where they proved their athleticism by winning with riders such as Gonda Beatrix, Mickey Louw and Anneli Wucherpfennig.

The South African Warmblood is a Developing Breed. The breeding goal of the SAWHS is to breed horses of internationally competitive standards that will enable the South African riders and breeders to take their rightful place in the equestrian arenas here and around the world. The Society’s selection efforts are directed at improving sports performance and conformational correctness. From 3 years old mares and stallions are put forward for inspection. There are currently just over 7000 SA Warmblood horses recorded with the Society, a number that is constantly increasing.

Conformation of the Warmblood

The ideal is to breed a big framed, correct and powerful horse with refinement, quality and presence, tough enough to withstand South African conditions. The horse should have a calm temperament and an elastic, balanced stride. Because of our punishingly hard ground, strict attention is given to correctness of limbs.

Warmblood horses vary considerably in type and size according to their elected discipline’s requirements – Dressage, Eventing and Show Jumping.

Also, for example, small ladies may require a horse of a finer, lighter type. A heavier, stronger type of animal is required for a heavy, tall man. The common denominators are ride ability, good limbs, natural balance, light and energetic paces, and a steady temperament.

Shortened description of requirements below.


Mares: Must reach a minimum of 15,1 hands ( 1,55m).
Stallions: Must reach a minimum of 15.3 hands (1,60m).


Swing and Elasticity:

Swinging back, freedom of walk, showing distinct four beats and tracking over with even and regular strides.

: Horse “carrying both ends” pushing well from behind, using hocks with an energetic, long, and elastic stride. Good freedom of the shoulder. An extreme “daisy cutting” action at the trot with a poor movement from behind (as seen in some thoroughbreds) is not encouraged in the Warmblood.

Pushing well from behind, using hocks with an energetic, long, and elastic stride. Good freedom of the shoulder and good rhythm in the pace.

Head and Neck:

  • In the head, a straight profile is most normal. Some are still Roman nosed but this is not preferred.

  • Eyes large and widely set apart and expressive. The deep-set small eye is not favoured.

  • Jaw well defined and wide (a fist to fit between the two jaw bones)

  • Correctly set on the head and neck – The head and neck should join without too much muscling or thickness. There should be an open area just behind the jowl and a clear area for the throat latch to sit; good freedom of the jowl The horse should be able to flex nicely through the poll.

  • The neck’s top line should be well arched and join the wither with out the wither being too accentuated.

  • Neck should be well set onto the shoulder

Shoulder and Saddle Position:

Sloping shoulder with long wither into the back.

  • A long wither running into the back provides the saddle with a clear place to sit.

  • A horse with a long, sloping shoulder will have more ability to contract, lengthen and to elevate the shoulders and help it be a better jumper. A short upright shoulder gives a choppy ride and causes increased concussion to the forelimbs; developing wear on the joints and other ailments.

  • Deep girth.

  • Free elbow and well defined girth groove.

Top line and Frame:

The withers should be a little higher than the croup.
Good withers provide a lever for the muscles of the neck and back to work together in an efficient way. This makes it easy for the horse to engage in collection, to lengthen and round the back to clear jumping obstacles, and to extend the shoulder and back for improved stride length. The withers being a little higher than the croup allows for easy take-off in jumping and for keeping weight off the front end and so helps agility. A long, sloping croup is an asset for collection and power for jumping.

  • A harmonious outline should be formed from a well set on head, an ‘up hill’ carriage of the neck, sloping into the wither, a strong back (neither too close coupled nor too long), strong in the loins, and a gently sloping hind quarter that has maximum length from hip to buttock.

  • The horse’s body should be one-third shoulder, one-third back, one-third hindquarter.

  • The shoulder and hind quarter to be as evenly matched as possible.

  • The horse should stand over ground and be rectangular in shape.

  • Good chest space required for maximum lung expansion in sport.

  • Ribs well sprung


The horse will require great ability to flex the joints and come under the centre of gravity for collection and extension. Therefore:

A long fore arm and short cannon bone creates ease in doing lateral movements and increases length of stride. The fore arm should be at least half the length of the shoulder. Short cannons contribute to general strength and weight carrying ability.

The length of the rear cannon and gaskin will determine of length of stride from the rear. A pastern that is too long will increase the susceptibility to Suspensory ligament injuries.

Ideally the hock should be as close as possible, in alignment with the knee, not higher than about level with the chestnuts. Large joints are more powerful and less likely to break down under stress. A horse that is camped out behind may not be able to collect. Sickle hocks limit propulsion. The stifle should be slightly lower than the elbow and lie below the point of the hip.

  • Cannon bone to be of a diameter suited to the size and weight of the horse.

  • Tendons and joints to be clearly defined (dry).

  • Both hips must be even. All joints should be set in a straight line.

  • Good length from point of hip to point of buttocklength from stifle to point of hock.

  • Large dry hocks. The angulation of the hock should be neither too straight nor too closed set hocks.

  • Low set hocks.

  • Well-set on tail to be carried high


  • Two identical feet, following a straight line through the pastern as seen from the side, front and back.

  • Coronet to be parallel to the ground surface when viewed from the front.

  • Bulbs to be of equal height.

  • When holding the limb up by the cannon and allowing the foot and pastern to hang loosely, a line drawn straight down from the fetlock and through the frog and hoof should bisect the pastern, frog and hoof equally.

How to classify where a Warmblood comes from?

There is always some confusion as to how to classify where a Warmblood comes from e.g. is it Hanoverian or Namibian or Selle Francais. At its most simple, it works in the following way:

The horse is classified into the stud book of the country in which it is born.

  • Example 1: an Oldenburg registered Warmblood mare is bought in Germany. She is inseminated by chilled semen from a Dutch KWPN registered stallion. The owner then decides to relocate his stud to Belgium and the resulting foal is born there. This foal will then be entered into the Belgian Register of either the BWP or SBS, their two societies.

  • Example 2: A South African buys a mare in France. The mare is inseminated by a Holstein registered stallion while over there. While the mare is in foal she is exported to South Africa. The foal is born here. That foal will be classified a South African Warmblood Horse.

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