Warming up to Warmbloods

Warming up to Warmbloods

Burgeoning breed will be important part of equine practice
Jul 01, 2006

Warmbloods have been increasing in popularity over the last decade, and these breeds make up a large percentage of the horses used for dressage and jumping.
Warmblood horses have proliferated dramatically in the last several years in North America. Increases in importation and breeding numbers have led to this surge in popularity. These Hanoverians, Holsteiners, Trakehners, Oldenbergs, Selle Francais, Dutch Warmbloods, Swedish Warmbloods, Irish crossbreeds and others are being used with increasing regularity in the dressage and jumper rings where their size, power and agility is sought and admired.

These horses have significantly more substance, heavier bones, more muscle and deeper barrels than other breeds and are known as much for their generally willing, tractable disposition as for their strength and power. Their size and presence has made these horses stand out in the competition ring, and with ever-increasing numbers, a Warmblood invasion is underway.

The Georgia Hunter Jumper equitation finals in 1998 had about an equal mix of Thoroughbred, Warmblood and other assorted breeds, but by 2005, every single finalist was a Warmblood. The American Warmblood registry has been in existence for 23 years and reports that within the last five years, the number of registered horses has more than doubled. There is only speculation as to the cause for this increased popularity, but these breeds are undoubtedly here to stay.

Equine veterinarians increasingly will be called to treat these burgeoning breeds, and it will be important to capitalize on these opportunities in practice.

This thermography scan shows increased heat associated with OCD lesions in the neck of this 4-year-old Dutch Warmblood. OCD lesions can occur in many different joints and will present as areas of pain and swelling and will limit the performance of the equine athlete.
It is important to note that there are some problems and conditions that are unique to these breeds that might warrant attention. The size, growth patterns and specific metabolic needs of these horses make them more likely to require nutritional management; their reproductive characteristics are somewhat unique, and there are a few diseases and conditions that seem to be more highly represented in Warmbloods.

To say that Warmbloods are "big horses that grow slowly" may seem obvious, but this simple statement speaks volumes about the nutritional idiosyncrasies of these breeds. The No. 1 goal of veterinarians advising Warmblood owners is to create a feeding program that ensures slow, steady growth.

These horses, as a group, are especially sensitive to developmental orthopedic disease (DOD) in its many forms. DOD is a group of several related metabolic disorders that affect the young horse from mid gestation through all early critical growth stages. A predisposing genetic component, environmental factors and deficiencies or imbalances of calcium (Ca), phosphorous (Ph), copper (Cu) and zinc (Zn) all contribute to these conditions, most of which center around a failure of cartilage maturation leading to soft, weak bones and joint surfaces. Epiphysitis (physitis), osteochondrosis dissecans (OCD), cervical vertebral malformation (Wobbler's Syndrome) and various flexural deformities are all manifestations of DOD.

The most common of these problems is OCD, which can be seen in a higher percentage of Warmbloods. In OCD cases, a failure of calcification leaves a plug of cartilage within developing subchondral bone. This area eventually results in a subchondral bone cyst, a cartilaginous flap or possible chips and fragments. As the affected horse develops and attempts to use this joint, the classic signs of effusion and pain result in lameness.

"It is unknown if the problem is increasing in frequency or being more frequently diagnosed due to superior radiographic equipment and technique," says Dr. Peter Huntington, an Australian equine researcher.