Hot, Warm & Cold Blooded: What Do They Mean? Understanding Horse Types

You may have heard of a horse being described as hot-blooded or cold-blooded, or seen a horse for sale that’s listed as a warmblood but are they really talking about a horse’s body temperature? After all, horses are mammals, and aren’t all mammals warmblooded?  

What’s the difference between a hot and cold-blooded horse? The term hot or cold-blooded is used to describe a horse’s temperament rather than its body temperature. The tasks that a horse performs can also be used to describe their ‘blood type’ with hot-bloods being used for racing while cold-bloods are used for anything requiring a lot of strength.

There is also an element of where a horse was originally bred (or at least where its ancestors are from in the case of breeds such as the American Cream Draft or the Thoroughbred). Most hot-blooded horses evolved in hotter climates such as the Middle East and North Africa and therefore have thinner skin. Whereas cold-blooded horses, on the other hand, tend to have been developed in colder countries and have thicker coats.

TypeCharacteristicsPopular ForExamples
Hot BloodThin coat Light body & long legs
Energy, speed & stamina
Highly strung & nervous
Akhal Teke
Cold BloodThick coat
Heavy body
Calm, gentle nature
Strong & powerful
Agricultural & forestry work
Pulling heavy loads
Icelandic Horse
Norwegian Fjord
WarmbloodLevel headedness
Athletic build
All equestrian sports
Top-level competition
Pleasure riding
Irish Draught
Quarter Horse
Baroque*Agile & elegant
Muscular (esp. hindquarters)
Thick mane & tail
Classical riding
Haute école
* most baroque horses can also be classed as warmblooded

While hot and cold-blooded doesn’t refer to a horse’s blood at all it’s worth pointing out that hot-blooded horses actually have more white and red blood cells and a higher total blood volume compared to cold-blooded breeds. They also tend to be a little hotter in terms of their metabolism which is why they are often harder to keep compared to cold-bloods.

What is a hot-blooded horse?

Most hot-blooded horses (with the exception of the Thoroughbred) evolved alongside nomadic tribesmen in desert regions such as the Middle East and Northern Africa. This close relationship has meant that hot-blooded horses have evolved to be quick-witted and intelligent horses, although I know a few Arabian owners that would disagree with the statement that they’re intelligent animals!

The hot climate has meant that these horses needed to have thin coats in order to help them keep cool while the lack of water (and sometimes food) has meant that they’ve evolved into tough horses that have an enormous amount of stamina, and are much hardier than you might think.

The term hot-blooded is sometimes used to describe the environment the horse evolved in but, while this is appropriate for most breeds it isn’t true for all of them which is why it’s used to refer to the breed’s temperament instead.

Like most hot blooded horses, the Akhal Teke evolved in a hot climate

They’re often misunderstood and many people regard them as high-strung, hot-tempered, and nervous horses but this isn’t always the case. In their native habitat, they face a lot of natural predators so need to be vigilant and able to react to something quickly. This can make them seem nervous but is in fact a survival mechanism. They’re also confident and independent but that doesn’t mean to say they’re difficult to handle.

Traditionally bred for speed, agility, and stamina they’re often used for racing and endurance competition (where they can happily cover 100 miles a day). They’ve always been highly prized as symbols of power and wealth with both the Thoroughbred and the Arabian being amongst the most expensive horse breeds in the world.

Which horse breeds are hot-blooded?

Unlike warm and cold-blooded horses there are very few hot-blooded horse breeds although they’ve played a vital role in the development of the vast majority of other horse breeds. There are only a handful of hot-blooded horse breeds, the Arabian and Thoroughbred being the most well known but breeds such as the Akhal Teke, Barb, and Anglo-Arabian are also hot-blooded. 

What is a cold-blooded horse?

While cold-blooded horses can be found in most countries around the world the vast majority of them (if not all of them) descend from European breeds that were developed purposefully for agricultural work and for pulling heavy loads. 

Unlike hot-blooded horses that are known for their ‘hot’ temperaments, cold-blooded horses are laid back, kind and easy-going horses that have well and truly earned the title of gentle giants. That said though, not all cold-blooded horses are giants, with ponies such as the Norwegian Fjord falling into this classification.

Regardless of their size, cold-blooded horses are extremely strong and are capable of pulling around six times their own weight over a short distance. In the past, this made them useful workhorses but also meant that they were popular with Medieval knights who would often ride them into battle.

Today, with the invention of heavy machinery, many cold-blooded horses have seen their popularity dwindle and have sadly found themselves on the endangered list but that doesn’t mean to say they’re not popular today. Their patient, easy-going nature means they’re great for riders of all levels and can be seen competing in disciplines as diverse as dressage, jumping, and even racing.

Having evolved in colder climates they can often be identified by their thick coats, long manes and tails, and heavy feathering around their hooves. They can also have slower reactions (at least when compared to hot-blooded horses) which means that they don’t spook easily but this can mean they sometimes take longer to train.

Cold blooded horses are easily identified by the chunky bodies and heavily feather feet

Which horse breeds are cold-blooded?

Most people think of cold-blooded horses as being heavy draft breeds such as the Shire Horse, Percheron, Harlequin Sugarbush, or the Clydesdale but there are far more cold-blooded breeds than just these giants. Light draft breeds such as the Icelandic Horse and Norwegian Fjord also fall into this classification.

I know I said that all cold-blooded horses are draft horses but that doesn’t mean that all draft horses are cold-blooded though. Breeds such as the Haflinger and the Fell are good examples of draft breeds that are in fact warmbloods.

What is a warmblood?

The term warmblood can often be confused with a lot of European sport horse breeds such as the Dutch Warmblood and the Trakehner, but while these horses are indeed warmbloods, the term warm-blooded is actually a broad term used to refer to any horses that were developed by crossing hot and cold-blooded breeds. This is why some people refer to a warmblood as any horse that isn’t used for draft work or for racing.

As a rule, warmbloods have the best qualities of both hot and cold-blooded horses, they’re calmer than hot-blooded horses but are sharper than cold-blooded ones. They have the speed, endurance, and agility of hot bloods while retaining the robustness and quieter natures of their cold-blooded ancestors.

Most of the world's horse breeds are warmbloods

In Europe, a lot of ‘competition’ warmblood breeds were developed with the help of the state which often involved strict rules on performance rather than pedigree. This meant that, in the past, they often allowed horses without a recorded pedigree to be entered into the breeding program. This is particularly evident with breeds such as the Selle Français.

Most warmblood breeds were developed to be used as cavalry horses, for light farm work, or as carriage horses, and while some are still used for these purposes today most warmblood breeds are used for sport or for pleasure. In fact, while any type of horse can compete in any discipline when it comes to the top echelons of any sport (including the Olympics and World Equestrian Games) you’ll always find warmbloods of one breed or another.

Which horse breeds are warmbloods?

Any horse that has a mixture of both hot and cold-blooded breeds in their history is classed as a warmblood which is why most of the breeds we have in the world today are warmbloods. It’s believed that the oldest warmblood, which was developed in the 13th century, is the Holsteiner but when it comes to official records at least is the Trakehner, whose studbook dates to 1732 is the oldest.

The most well known warmbloods are breeds such as the Irish Sports Horse, Dutch Warmblood, Quarter Horse, Appaloosa, Tennessee Walker, and Morgan as well as most gaited breeds.

What is a baroque horse?

While a separate classification, most baroque horses have a mixture of hot and cold-blooded breeds in their ancestry so are also classed as warmblooded horses. That said though the term baroque is used to refer to a very specific type of horse. This is one that is descended from the horses that were developed in Europe during the Baroque era (approximately 1600 to 1740).

These horses are often used for a particular type of advanced classical dressage riding known as haute école. Meaning high school, haute école is practiced at classical riding schools such as the Spanish Riding School in Vienna.

Which horse breeds are classed as baroque?

There are only a handful of baroque breeds in the world but the most well known ones are the Andalusian, Lusitano, Lipizzaner, Friesian, Kladruber, and the Frederiksborger.

The Lipizzaner is the most well known baroque horse

Are cold-blooded horses good for beginners?

Cold-blooded breeds are known for their calm temperaments, laid back and forgiving natures as well as for their patients, this makes them ideal for beginners as well as for experienced riders. They love to please and are willing to try anything which is why they can often be seen in all forms of riding.

What’s the difference between hot and cold-blooded horses?

The two most obvious differences between hot and cold-blooded horses are their appearance and their nature. Hot-blooded horses have thin coats, light bodies, and long elegant legs while cold-blooded horses have thick coats, big (often round) bodies, and chunky legs with heavy feathering around the hooves.

In terms of their nature, hot bloods are bolder, more confident, and can sometimes appear to be a little nervous. While cold bloods have gentle, laid back natures and are far less likely to spook.

Further reading

I hope you found this article helpful. If you did I’d be grateful if you could share it please as it would really help me.

Recommended products 

Over the years I have tried hundreds of different horsey products, from various blankets and halters to different treats. Some I’ve loved, others I’ve hated but I thought I’d share with you my top all-time favorite products, the ones I never leave the yard without. I’ve included links to the products (which are in no particular order) that I really think are great.

  • Horse Knots by Reference Ready – If you’re like me and enjoy pocket reference guides then you’ll love this knot tying guide. These handy cards can easily fit in your pocket or attach to the saddle for quick reference. They’re waterproof, durable and are color coded to make them easy to follow.
  • Mane ’n Tail Detangler – Even if you never show your horse you’ll need to detangle his tail from time to time (and possibly his mane too) which is always a challenging chore! I’ve found that if I run a little bit of detangler through my horse’s tails every few days it stops them from getting matted up and makes combing them easy, even if they’re coated in mud. I don’t know if I should admit to this or not but it also works wonders on my hair.
  • TAKEKIT Pro clippers – Over the years I’ve tried a lot of different clippers and while some were obviously better than others I found these to be by far the best. They are heavier than a lot of other clippers but for me, that’s a good thing, it makes them feel more sturdy and hardwearing. On top of that they have a range of speeds so are just as good for clipping your horse’s back as they are his face. I also like the fact that they come in a handy carry case but that’s not for everybody. The company that makes them is super good and incredibly helpful too, a real bonus these days. The only thing I wasn’t keen on was the fact that it doesn’t come with any oil, but that’s not a major problem as it’s not difficult to buy lubricant.
  • Shire’s ball feeder – There are so many boredom buster toys out there but I like to use these every day, regardless of whether or not my horses are bored. I find that it helps to encourage my horses to problem solve by rewarding them with treats (or pieces of fruit) but it also mimics their natural grazing behavior which helps to keep them calm and de-stressed.
  • Horse safe mirror – This is a strange one that many people are surprised about but I like to put horse safe mirrors in the trailers as well as in the quarantine stalls. It helps to prevent the feeling of isolation by giving the impression of other horses being around. Being herd animals horses can get extremely stressed when they feel that they’re on their own but with these stick-on mirrors, they believe that at least one other horse is with them.
  • Rectal thermometer – I know this isn’t glamourous at all but it’s vital for your horse’s well-being to be able to check their temperature and a rectal thermometer is the easiest way of doing this which is why I’ve added it to the list.

Shopping lists

I’ve also put together a few shopping lists of essential items that I’ve found helpful over the years. I’ve broken the lists down into different categories rather than put everything in one massive list 😉

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