The horse community has a precise definition for hot-blood and cold-blood. Hot blood refers to Thoroughbreds and Arabians. Cold-blood refers to the northern European horse breeds: Fjord, Belgian etc. Warm-blood refers to mixes between hot-blood and cold-blood such as Thoroughbred and a Belgian cross.

In this post I am using the terms to describe a particular personality type of a particular horse regardless of breeding. So to me a hot-blooded horse is more emotionally motivated; cold-blooded more cerebral. For instance, over the years, I have some Arabians that are more hot-blooded or more emotionally charged than other Arabians and some Arabians are more cold-blooded or more thoughtful and less emotional in their character.

Some years ago I was considering a particular filly and working out a deal at an Arabian farm.  I got into a conversation about breeds with another buyer visiting the farm. He went into an anecdote about how he settled on Arabs. The following is his story:

“Everyone was telling me that a Quarter Horse is the very best family horse because they’re so safe and steady. So taking their advice I went to a quarter horse farm where as part of their sales pitch they offered a safe little trail ride for my family including our four-year-old daughter. These were professionally trained pleasure Quarter Horses. They all walked along slowly and casually with their head down like they’re trained too. We were quietly riding down a gravel road all in a line when to our horror our four-year-old daughter’s horse apparently got an itch and decided it was a good time to lay down and take a good roll, meantime our four-year-old daughter was not quick enough to get out of the way and her leg was mashed into the gravel road as the horse oblivious to her screaming continued scratching it’s back. Meantime her mother and I had time to get off our horses, yell at the rolling horse and pull on it’s reins. I switched to Arabians, because an Arabian would never behave like that, they are too sensitive/ too aware that someone is on their back.”

Meantime, at the same farm one of the trainer’s at the farm took me aside and advised me not to buy the horse I was looking at, because she was so hot blooded. I’ve heard lots of people that work only with cold-bloods complaining about how difficult Arabians are. “They’re too flighty and too unpredictable to work with!” My conclusion is that there is no such thing as a totally safe breed of horse. They all can have their issues. I wound up  buying the filly. I still have her. I called her Dancer. She’s a favorite horse. I learned a lot about training hot bloods from her. I thoroughly enjoyed her sensitivity.

Samarra is hot-blooded, emotionally charged and sensitive. Lokey is cold-blooded, more the thinker, more steady, less sensitive. Who will be the best horse? I think it’s a “horse apiece”. With proper training there are advantages and disadvantages either way.

Horse training divides into two overview tasks: one is desensitization… that is getting them used everything; being touched, saddle and bridles, having weight on their backs, remaining calm with all the sites on the road etc. The other task is sensitization… that is teaching the horse to respond to cues via legs, seat, voice, hands etc. For the hot-blood it is a challenge to desensitize. They are more likely to fall apart emotionally over scary things in the ditch, or wind or a piece of paper blowing across the pasture. Meantime the cold bloods tend to be slower to learn sensitization; it takes them longer to pay attention to our cues. Without care and skill they tend to be heavy on these cues.

I wonder if I’m hot-blooded or cold-blooded. I hope I’m both, that is, sensitive yet unafraid. I have the same goal for my horses.




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  1. Joy Hayenga says:

    Always so interesting!

  2. Mary Ofjord says:

    Joel, if you consider Cypriot a warm blood, I must be riding icebergs! 🙂

  3. J.R. says:

    Thanks Mary, I laughed out loud when I read your reply! By the definitions of a cold blood that I’ve read your Fjords definitely fit into the cold blood family, but I suppose I was depending on the presumption that most people who read this blog don’t really know Cypriot. You are right personality wise he is the hottest of the hot. But I didn’t really have any photographs of any warm bloods and I thought maybe he might fit into the European technical definition of a warm-blooded being only 7/8 Arabian the other part Saddle-bred, which I suppose started with a strong mixture of Thoroughbred,which makes me wrong again.

  4. Kathryn says:

    The first Q that comes to my mind as a non-horse-person is: why wouldn’t most people prefer or desire warm-bloods? Best of both worlds, worst of neither?

  5. J.R. says:

    Thank you Kathryn! Sorry it took so long to reply to this very good question. The delay is partly due to my lack of knowledge about the history of horse breeding. I’ll attempt a short answer.

    In the 17th and 18th-century English racehorse breeders imported African and Middle Eastern horses in hopes to come up with “the best of both worlds”. The outcome was the quintessential racehorse the Thoroughbred. During and after that there was lots of experimenting with the mixing of North African hot–bloods in the European cold–bloods. Most of our modern breeds descended from these kinds of combinations. Nowadays only Arabians and Thoroughbreds are officially called hot bloods. There are other breeds that are officially called warm bloods and cold bloods.

    I use the terms and hot blood/cold blood more as a description of personality types often times within the same breed. With Samarra and Lockey, mother and son, it was very apparent to me when I started to train them that Samarra was more hot-blooded personality wise, her son more cold-blooded. In the end after two months of training they came together in the middle she calmed down a lot and he became a lot more sensitive. I suspect that when there are discipline problems in the future they will each fall back to the vices of their own particular personalities, but only temporarily until the memory of their training kicks in again.

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