The following is an article from my book, “The Complete Guide to Hunter Seat Training, Showing, and Judging.” It appeared among a series of articles called, “The Big Picture,” which were used between chapters to give a broad view of various issues in the horse business:
“Warmblood Influence in the Hunter Ring” by Randy Roy
It’s the way it is and the way it’s going to be—thoroughbreds are a rarity in the hunter ring today. With the increase in the number of American race tracks, more race dates are provided than ever before. Horses that don’t make it at the big tracks can win at smaller tracks, so the large number of thoroughbreds that used to go to sale directly from the big tracks are no longer available.
Consequently, warmbloods are now probably 95% of the hunter divisions and are what we are all shopping for. It started in 1965 when A.A. Steiert of Skyline Farm imported a Hanoverian weanling called “Abundance,” which became the sire of Ruxton, five-time USEF Regular Working Hunter Horse of the Year. This was our introduction to warmbloods.
After this, I call it the warmblood invasion, as they have replaced the thoroughbreds. As trainers and buyers, we now repeatedly go to Europe to find our prospects and “made” horses for clients. There are so many breeding farms in Europe and so much to choose from.
When we started importing, the warmbloods were a lot like our draft horses—heavy, big-boned, large-footed, and not so attractive. The Europeans have since introduced a lot of thoroughbred blood into their breeding, resulting in a more refined horse. Most of the warmbloods today are of much better quality—attractive and closer to the thoroughbreds we are accustomed to. The best of the warmbloods have good bone and substance, but still are attractive and appealing. They have the impulsion behind that is associated with top European horses, but are now being bred to have the flowing motion in front that has long been the signature of an excellent thoroughbred.
Durability is most important, and warmbloods are physically stronger. Judges have become less picky about bits as warmbloods have a tendency to pull more and are not as light as thoroughbreds; therefore, you see pelhams more frequently in the equitation division.
As judges, we have accepted a lot of things that arrived with the warmblood invasion:
- brands—often on both sides of the body
- size—bigger than what we are accustomed to
- heavier—more bone and bigger legs and feet
- more bridle—i.e., pelhams
- more contact & flexion—more than that for the light, sensitive mouths of the thoroughbreds
- higher, scopier jumpers, and perhaps slower
- not quite as elegant and beautiful as the thoroughbreds
Warmbloods dominate the hunter and equitation divisions, and they are here to stay. We have as judges, riders, and trainers introduced them to our hunter and equitation divisions. When I think about their influence, I look at it in a very positive way. I like their strength, stride, stamina, presence, scope, temperament, calmness, and way of going, all of which they successfully demonstrate in our hunter and equitation rings. I feel they have really enriched and enhanced the hunter and equitation performances with all of the qualities mentioned above.
Warmbloods basically monopolize the hunter and equitation rings today and will continue to do so in the future. As judges, we have in no way lessened our expectations, but look forward to a lot of new and exciting prospects continuously emerging in the pre-green and green divisions, which are filled with winning performances!
Randy Roy is licensed by Equine Canada as a senior judge (“S) and by the USEF as a registered judge (“R”) in hunters, jumpers, and hunter-seat equitation. He also has an “R” in the USEF hunter breeding division and senior status (“S”) in Equine Canada as both a hunter and jumper course designer. The author of seven equine books, he is the only Canadian to have judged at all four of the prestigious Indoor Shows—Harrisburg, Washington, Madison Square Garden, and the Royal Winter Fair.