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What is a Cold-Blooded Horse?

By Katharine Swan
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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A cold-blooded horse is a type of horse that is tall and heavily muscled, making it an ideal workhorse. Cold-bloods are not a breed, but rather a category of horses that includes a variety of different breeds.

Most cold-blooded horses originated in the colder regions of Europe, as opposed to hot-blooded horses, which come from the hot, dry regions of Africa and the Middle East. Climate is not what makes a horse a cold-blood, however. Instead, it is the size and body type that is typical for that breed.

The cold-blooded horse was bred as a workhorse, which is why it is so large and strong. Most cold-bloods are about 16 or 17 hands tall, a “hand” being four inches. A horse’s height is measured at the withers, which is the body ridge above the animal’s shoulders.

A cold-blooded horse also has very large, strong muscles. This makes the horse very sturdy and strong, but also means that they have less endurance. In other words, cold-bloods were bred to pull farm equipment, not to run for long periods of time.

The type of cold-blooded horse that you are likely the most familiar with is the draft horse. If you have ever seen those carriages that give rides to paying customers, perhaps on a pedestrian mall or at a fancy restaurant, you have most likely seen a cold-blooded horse — the horses used to pull carriages are usually some type of draft horse.

There are actually several different breeds of draft horse. For instance, the Ardennais is a breed of draft horse that comes from France and Belgium. Another draft horse from the area is known as the Belgian Draft.

One of the most well known types of cold-blooded horse is the Clydesdale. You might have heard of the Budweiser Clydesdales — the beer company has adopted this Scottish breed as their mascot. They usually measure about 17 hands at the withers, and have a very muscular appearance.

Another type of cold-blooded horse worth mentioning is the Shire horse. This breed is related to the Clydesdale, but is even taller and heavier. Shire horses have been important in England since medieval times, when they were used to pull farm equipment and carry knights wearing heavy armor.

Although the cold-blooded horse is not as athletic as its Middle Eastern cousin, the hot-blood, it still has its appeal for many horse owners. Cold-bloods make perfect workhorses, of course, but they are also highly sought after as show animals.

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Discussion Comments
By Mor — On Jun 10, 2011

@pastanaga - There are a lot of different clubs and groups that exist to promote cold blood horse breeds and there are groups that still use them for every day work.

I was in Savannah with a friend on holiday and we rode in a horse drawn carriage. The horses were huge and very beautiful and the man who owned them told us all about them. He said that they were bred and trained by the Amish and that they were the best place to get carriage horses.

With the amount of cities in the States where you can be driven around in a carriage, or on a hay ride, and with the amount of Amish people still using these horses in the traditional way, I don't think you have to worry about them dying out altogether.

By pastanaga — On Jun 08, 2011

Cold blood horse breeds are really gorgeous, especially the Shire breed. They may be very very large but they have gentle natures.

It makes me sad that they aren't very common anymore, and you hardly ever see them except pulling carriages, or in parades. Unfortunately I think they simply eat far too much and are too big for children to ride for them to be a common breed.

I hope that groups have been established to take care of the genetic legacy of these horses, because it would be a shame to lose them forever.

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