I can still remember a time when the now ubiquitious Warmbloods were a rarity on the "A" hunter jumper circuit. They were like Faberge Eggs; rare beautiful unknown European treasures. Creatures who were so unlike the Thoroughbreds that most of us were used to in so many ways.
Even their names were exotic; Trakehner, Hanoverian, Oldenburg, Selle Francais. The Irish horses had a more plebian name: Irish Draught Sport Horse but boy were they as different from our American horses as Mars is to Venus.
The European Imports tended to be bigger, thicker and truthfully many breeds were more dull sided than we were used to. Of course I'm speaking in generalities here; there are of course huge variations in temperment and ridability between breeds.
One invariably RIDES a Warmblood TOTALLY differently on course than a Thoroughbred; Warmbloods need to be driven forward with a strong leg and Thoroughbreds need to be gathered with a soft hand. Every rider has a preference and given the wide variations, there's a horse out there for everyone, be they Warmblood or Thoroughbred fanatic.
Initially, they were for the most part, the domain of the movie star's child, the trophy wife and the trust fund casualty. The first one I saw in 1980 was a gorgeous dapple gray Hanoverian that the owners had paid $20,000 for in Germany. At the time that seemed like a gazillion to 10 year old me; in today's money it's close to $90,000. By anyone's estimate that's still a small fortune.
As the 80's progressed, more imported Warmbloods made their way onto the West Coast Circuit and we began to see the development of the American studbooks. In 1983 The Oldenburg Registry North America& The International Sporthorse Registry were founded in Kentucky. As they became more established, their prices dropped and more American riders were able to afford both imported and American bred Warmbloods.
These joint registries supply an independant breed registry in the New World that adheres to 200 years of European Breed Practices:
1. Open books for all APPROVED sport horse bloodlines in North America & Europe
2. Manditory inspection for all Stallions, Mares & Foals
3. Manditory Stallion Performance testing according to European and specifically German studbook standards
I'm lucky enough to currently own two Oldenburg horses right now and they demonstrate the differences between a registered Warmblood and what is commonly called a "grade" warmblood.
"Hermosa" who we call "Rabbit" is a fully approved and registered Oldenburg. Her previous owner took her to the testing and she was approved for both the German and American studbooks. She even has her own German Passport! It is not cheap and not easy to do so and her registration & approval for breeding is reflected in her current appraised and insured price.
Her owner was unhappy with her size; with both parents over 17hh, she was expected to be larger than her 15.3hh. She had planned on using her as a 3 day event horse where a longer stride is hugely beneficial.
I was able to get her at a deep discount at age three and now at six, she has octupled in value due to training, showing and the fact she is registered&approved for breeding. Her size is a bonus in her new job as a Children's Hunter.
"Reggie" (show name FleetStreet) on the other hand is a whole different ball of wax. He was registered at one point, however because he is a gelding, the papers were not seen as important and were lost as he passed from owner to owner. He's been around the block and back and is a finished Hunter. He's now 14 and for a Warmblood, that is the prime of life. Due to the cold,draft horse blood, Warmbloods mature later than Thoroughbreds or Quarterhorses, with many not having their knee joints closed until 6.
By the time my farrier rescued Reggie from a backyard, he was lame with arthritis, was overweight and unfit and hadn't been ridden in two years. We got him for a song. He's very sound now after 2 years of hard work and his current appraisal reflects that with him worth many times what I paid.
However if I had his papers, his value would have gone up exponentially. Although Reggie is a finished show horse and Rabbit is a pre-green Hunter, her value is much greater due to her registration as an Oldenburg. There are terrific buys out there right now at ANY price point and whether registered or Grade warmblood, they can be Equine Partners that live love and ride with families for years to come.
We also have owned three "Grade draft crosses" or "Premarin Get" over the years. These horses are the progeny of mares who's urine was used to create hormone medication for post-menopausal women. When it was discovered a few years ago that hormone replacement therapy could cause cancer, Big Pharma stopped making the drugs and thousands of "premarin mares & foals" were dumped on the already overcrowded low end horse market.
Most of these mares were crosses between larger cold draft horses and unregistered Quarter horses and Thoroughbreds. The bigger the horse, the more urine they produce. They were bred not for performance, conformation or temperment but for the size of their bladders.
The get of some of these horses do show some potential as Sport Horses, however they are limited as to what registries will take them due to the lack of papered bloodlines. That's not to say they can't be wonderful companions and many due to the colder draft blood make terrific trail horses and quiet partners especially for the Baby Boomer equestrian who is looking for safety first and not performance.
Also they should be priced VERY reasonably due to their lack of provenance, making horse ownership available to families that might otherwise not be able to buy a horse at all! Many of these Premarin horses are striking to look at and are quiet and easy to work with.
The Equine community in America really stepped up and many horses that were thrown away by huge corporations found loving permanent homes. They are in general, fantastic horses to work with and although they tend to be large,( 16-17.3 hh) their gentle nature makes them wonderful horses for children or beginner riders.
We loved all of our "Premarin" horses and my children and students used to fight over who got to ride them because of their smooth gaits and easy ridability. One even became a decent rope horse and did some beginning dressage. Another showed some aptitude for jumping and was very comfortable jumping a 2 foot course.
However they are not bred for performance and few have the inherent athleticism needs to jump over 3 feet or do higher level dressage. These grade horses crosses are NOT Registered Studbook Approved Warmbloods and never will be. Their prices should be set accordingly. Unless they win at "B, A or AA" rated shows, they are not considered Sport Horses. They are the equivalent of the lovable dependable mutt; a fantastic animal but don't expect it to win at Westminster and sell for $10,000. I hate to see new horse owners spend thousands on what is realistically a $700 to $1500 horse.
As someone who has owned registered Warmbloods, unregistered warmbloods and Grade Draft Crosses, I know the difference. However not everyone can tell or don't know the questions to ask and unfortunately unscrupulous horse breeders and traders are not always known for their honesty. Too many first time buyers get ripped off and then become totally turned off to the whole horse thing, and that to me is the greatest shame.
Before purchasing ANY horse, but particularly one you pay more than a few hundred bucks for, have a vet check done. A licensed Equine Veterinarian will charge between $100 & $600 to do a pre-purchase exam. The price varies depending upon bloodwork or Xrays- not all horses need the extra checking, but some do. Be safe, be smart and above all ask questions and the right horse is out there to be found.
KELLY MOLLOY-MCDANIEL is a Tehachapi-based trainer. Please email any questions to firstname.lastname@example.org; follow her on Twitter @SpitCreekRanch #SpitCreekelly.