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The State of the Swedish Warmblood

Based on a Q&A with Cheval Magazine

As owners, riders and admirers of the Swedish Warmblood horse, we are all interested in the origins and accomplishments of the breed. To keep us all up to date, let’s review some of the facts about the horses we know and love.

Starting with historical origins, the Swedish Warmblood as a breed started its journey several hundred years ago, appearing all the way back in the 1600s. Horses in Sweden had been primarily used as farm animals and in the forests: working in the fields, pulling plows and carts, etc. The 17th-century Swedish military made a decision to improve upon the blood stock that was available to them in order to make their horses competitive on the battle field, and began crossing their Swedish workhorses with other breeds to achieve this end. Stallions from different parts of Europe, particularly Germany, were imported several times over the following centuries to improve the military horse and its rideability. The thoroughbred also played an important part in developing the SWB over the years.

When the need for military horses eventually declined, a new, sporthorse type was developed in Sweden with the aim of becoming competitive in jumping, dressage and eventing circles. In the last century, stallions that have had the most influence on the modern Swedish Warmblood type are no doubt Humanist, born in 1916 in Trakehnen and imported to Sweden in 1927, and Utrillo 432, born in 1962 in Hannover and later imported to Sweden. Combined, these two stallions are responsible for much of what has made SWBs famous. Internationally renowned stallion Gaspari 340, born in 1949 in Sweden (and sired by Parad, a son of Humanist) is probably the most famous Swedish sire. Gaspari was widely sought after in his day and produced many Olympic horses in several different countries.

As far as documentation and organization goes, the first official studbook for the Swedish Warmblood horse, in which inspected and approved stallions and mares were entered, was developed in the late 1800s. In 1928, breeders founded the Swedish Warmblood Association. In Swedish this organization is known as “Avelsföreningen för svenska varmblodiga hasten”, with the acronym ASVH.  Today ASVH, which is also a registry, has a mission to support and develop the breeding program of the SWB.

Moving on to the numbers, there are currently about 5000 mares bred in Sweden every year. These breedings result in approximately 3500 SWB foals born each year just within Sweden. In the USA approximately 150  horses are registered annually.

To examine the standards of the Swedish Warmblood, we can cite the breeding goal of ASVH, which uses conformation, gaits and jumping ability as its criteria. ASVH defines a horse of international quality as one that is noble, correct and sound and that excels in its competitive temperament, rideability and movement and/or jumping ability.  

Considering the principal qualities and defects of the SWB, it is a highly versatile horse that has been shown successfully and distinguished itself in all major equestrian disciplines: dressage, jumping, three-day eventing and also carriage driving. With only 5000 mares bred yearly, ASVH still manages to be in the top ten in global studbook rankings for dressage and jumping. The relatively new, revised selection program for breeding stallions focuses on selecting talents in either jumping or gaits, thereby keeping up with the modern demand for more specialized horses.

There are no specific defects present in the SWB breed. However, there are, and have been for many years, strict guidelines to ensure that no stallions with OCD (osteochondrosis) are allowed to breed. Stallions with other potential genetic defects such as testicular hernias are prevented from breeding as well.

We are all familiar with the excellent character of the Swedish Warmblood horse. The SWB is friendly and sensitive, yet also competitive. It shows a positive attitude, but does demand a certain amount of “horse sense” from its rider. Treat it right and a Swedish Warmblood will try its very best whether at a local, lower-level show or at the Olympics!

An area in which ASVH has consistently stayed on the global forefront is in selection and ranking of stallions and mares for breeding. A breeder of SWB horses has unique scientific tools at his/her disposal for selecting the appropriate animals for breeding. Data collected from the Three Year Old Test, the Quality Test and the Stallion Performance Test, as well as competition results, are computed into an estimated breeding value index, the “BLUP” index of each potential breeding animal. These indices are published on the internet through collaboration with ASVH (web page www.warmblood.org), the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences (web page www.slu.se ) and IHBC (web page www.ihbc.se).  

Here are the specific guidelines for the Stallion Performance Test:
Three-year-old stallions undergo a three day performance test that includes a veterinary inspection, judging of conformation, free jumping and gaits under own rider. Approved stallions receive a one-year breeding permit and are awarded merit class B.

Four-year-old stallions enter Phase I, beginning with the veterinary inspection and judging of conformation. All stallions are shown in either free jumping (dressage stallions only) or jumping under rider (jumping stallions and dressage stallions). Gaits are shown under the stallion’s own rider. In Phase II, the stallion owner decides whether the stallion will continue the test in dressage or jumping. Dressage stallions are shown in gaits under their own riders as well as under a test rider. Jumping stallions are shown jumping under their own riders as well as under a test rider. Approved stallions receive a six-year breeding permit and are awarded merit class AB.

Five-year-old stallions go through the veterinary inspection and conformation judging in Phase I. They are also shown in gaits and jumped under rider. In Phase II they undergo the same tests as the four-year-old stallions, with adjustments made for age. Approved stallions receive a six-year breeding permit and are awarded merit class AB.

Older stallions, i.e., six years and older, can be presented for evaluation based on merits and performance. Veterinary inspection, conformation judging and, in most cases, presentation under rider, provide information for an evaluation of the stallion’s quality. In some cases, older stallions are also evaluated by a test rider. Approved stallions receive a six-year breeding permit and are awarded merit class AB. In the case of an older, imported stallion with well-documented performance as a successful sire, merit class A may be awarded.

For each stallion, an index is computed based on performance in dressage (dressage index) and in jumping (jumping index). Approved stallions are presented on the day of keuring and at ASVH’s stallion show. All entering stallions have their pedigree carefully evaluated by the Inspection Committee, and this information is incorporated in the overall impression of the horse.

Moving on to mare selection:
At three years of age, the young horse is shown at the Three Year Old Test. It will be judged on the following traits: conformation, free canter, free jumping and a simple riding test. The riding test is optional, but in order to receive a diploma, the horse must be shown under saddle. The test serves as a training goal for the young horse. It is also a valuable tool in selecting young mares for breeding. For anyone looking for young sporthorse talents, the Three Year Test will provide ample information. The best three-year-old horses in dressage and jumping qualify to go to the Sport and Breeding Championships held at Flyinge, the Swedish National Stud.

At four or five years of age, the horse will be examined through the Quality Test. The horse is judged on health, conformation, gaits under rider, and either jumping under rider or free jumping. Rideability and temperament are also evaluated. The rider/owner will receive valuable advice from veterinarians and judges on the horse’s future potential and suitability for either the dressage or jumping discipline, as well as information on how to proceed with its training. Five-year-old mares that have had a foal are especially welcome to be shown at the Quality Test, which is ultimately a performance test for mares. The best four- and five-year-old horses qualify for the Sport and Breeding Championships.

Looking at individual horses, there are a few special SWBs that deserve mention for their accomplishments:

In dressage, the most famous SWB is approved stallion Briar 899 (Magini 695/Charis 21695/Krocket 651), who was born in 1991. Briar was bred and is owned by Hans-Yngve Göransson, Trelleborg, Sweden, and together with rider Jan Brink has had many successful years in the show ring. In 2005, Brink and Briar could be found at the top in all of their international competitions. They won in Aachen, in the kür as well as overall. At the European Championships they won the bronze medal. Briar is the highest ranked dressage stallion on the 2005 World Breeding Federation for Sporthorses’ ranking list. The popular duo reached third place at the 2006 World Cup final in Amsterdam, Holland. Not only a successful competition horse, Briar has also proven himself as a successful sire. As such, he was awarded merit class ELIT by ASVH in January, 2006.

In the jumping world, Butterfly Flip (Robin Z 723/Baderna xx/Moderne xx) has had numerous wins and great success together with rider Malin Baryard. As just one example, the two were members of the 2004 Swedish National Equestrian team in jumping and took home a silver medal at the Athens Olympics Games. Mynta is yet another successful jumping horse by Robin Z, reaching fourth place individually and contributing to a team silver medal under rider Helena Lundbäck at the 2004 World Equestrian Games. Approved stallion Spender S 1054 (Silbersee 893/Carisma S 23607/Caretino), under rider Maria Gretzer, has recently seen several top placings internationally and is an up-and-coming show jumping contender. Spender S was born in 1995 and is owned and bred by Helene and Thomas Sandström, Växjö, Sweden.

In three-day eventing, Karuso (Krocket 651/Just Splendid xx 21018/John Splendid xx) had a great year in 2005 along with owner and rider Piia Pantsu, Flyinge, Sweden. For example, the duo was among the top finishers at international competitions in Blenheim and Fontainebleau. The pair also finished second in the Swedish Championships at Strömsholm, and in the World Cup Final at Ribersborg, Malmö, Sweden, they came in third. Karuso tops the 2005 World Breeding Federation for Sporthorses’ ranking list for three-day event horses. Karuso was bred by Arne Marttorp, Trelleborg, Sweden, and was born in 1993.

Swedish teams in single-horse carriage driving have dominated the sport globally in the last few years. We also have several teams in four-in-hand combined carriage driving that are ranked among the top teams in the world.

With these kinds of successes, we can be sure that the Swedish Warmblood has come a long way since its humble origins, and can be confident that it will maintain its remarkable presence in the sporthorse world for generations to come.


Last updated on: 6/19/2008