Uncovering Your Horse's True Identity

Uncovering Your Horse’s True Identity

Mysteries for the ages

 by Ann Daum Kustar 

Imagine Sherlock Holmes studying a Warmblood horse. Show him a gray stallion being sold as a Belgian Warmblood, and he may purse his lips around his pipe and narrow his eyes, studying the shape of the hooves and length of back, or the particular proportion of ear to eye. He certainly would notice the brand on the left haunch bearing the distinctive crown-over-two-bridges — the mark of the Rheinland Pfalz-Saar registry — rather than the sunburst-pinwheel brand of a Belgian Warmblood horse, right?

With the constant mingling of blood among Warmblood breeds, it’s not so easy to distinguish a Hanoverian from a Holsteiner, not to mention a horse from one of the smaller registries, based on conformation, type, and movement. Many of today’s sports horses have been imported, so Americans can feel helpless to research a horse’s history. But before you call an equine detective, a little sleuthing can uncover a wealth of information about who your Warmblood really is and where he came from.

If your Warmblood is microchipped, you may be able to bypass the sleuthing. But don’t count on the chip being there, and readable — many registries in Europe now require chipping, and registry officials are trained to administer the microchips themselves, but here in the U.S., it’s still optional. Even those registries that provide microchips with their registration don’t oversee that the chip is actually injected into the horse and thereby permanently tied to his identity. Keep in mind too that there is not yet any standardized worldwide database of microchips, and chips from different makers or other countries may be unreadable by your local vet.


Patricia Donohue, the registrar of the American Holsteiner Horse Association, recalls a rather dramatic case of equine identity theft. Both horses were big bay Warmbloods — one a Holsteiner Grand Prix jumper, and the other an amateur hunter horse. Patricia recalls that a shipper had to stop and lay over the two geldings at a hunter/jumper barn. He then “accidentally” switched the two horses when putting them back on the trailer for the next leg of their trip.

The Grand Prix jumper on his way to Florida ended up in Texas with a lower level A/O (amateur owner) hunter rider. The hunter horse ended up in Florida — and had his trainer scratching his head, as the horse just wasn’t up for the bigger jumps. When a vet was called in to read the horse’s microchip, even more, heads were scratched, as the chip came up blank. Finally, a vet with an international chip reader took a look, and discovered the supposed Grand Prix jumper wasn’t a Holsteiner at all — he was Dutch! The switch was reversed (much to the A/O hunter rider’s disappointment), and everyone lived happily ever after. So the moral of that story is to check for microchips first (with every kind of reader you can get your hands on) when trying to identify a paperless horse.

Now if you have your Warmblood’s registration papers, you can simply call or email the registry or his breeder to find more information. But even if you don’t, and he’s not microchipped, but you know his name and registration number, you may be able to find out more about his heritage and history. Your Warmblood’s brand and life number can reveal where and when he was born, and which registry originally issued his papers. The color of your horse’s papers and even his name itself can give you clues about him, such as his pedigree, or year of birth.

The first clue in your search for more information about your Warmblood is actually his or her name. German registries generally name foals after the first letter of their sire’s name, creating recognizable pedigree lines such as the D- or W-named horses from the Donnerhall and Weltmeyer lines. Certain registries, such as the Trakehner, follow the tradition of naming foals after their dams, and other registries, such as the German Oldenburg Verband, honor mare lines by naming fillies designated for breeding after the first letter of their dams. Oldenburg colts must carry the initial letter of their sire’s name, and fillies not aimed at a breeding career can choose one letter or the other.

Belgian and Dutch Warmblood names begin with a letter corresponding to their year of birth. So, for example, a Dutch Warmblood born in 2010 will have a name beginning with the letter “F”, in 2011 a “G,” etc. Holsteiner colts are named after the first letter of the sire, but fillies get a name based on the year, and 2011 is “D.” A Belgian Warmblood registered with the SBS (or Royal Belgian Sports Horse Society) born in 2011 will be granted a name beginning with an “F.”

However, a Belgian Warmblood registered with the BWP/NAD (Belgian Warmblood Breeding Association) born in 2011 will get an “L” name. Be careful to know which registry your horse is actually papered from. Some registries, such as Swedish Warmblood, have no hard and fast rules about initial letters, and only require the name be 24 characters or less, spaces included.

Oldenburg brand
Oldenburg brand

Your next, and perhaps most obvious clue, is your Warmblood’s brand. While some European countries have stopped branding horses (Dutch and Swedish horses no longer receive brands, for example, and branding is on the hot-seat in Germany too, though still allowed), most American-born Warmbloods are still branded. An excellent way to identify some Warmbloods, in fact, is the two-digit number under their registry brand. Most German-bred Warmbloods are branded with their registry’s mark on the left hip plus the last two digits of their individual registration number beneath it. In the U.S., the Rheinland Pfalz-Saar International (RPSI) registry brands horses with an individual number beneath their brand, and the American Hanoverian Society brands with the last two digits of the year of birth under their trademark horse-headed H.

Jennifer Arnoldt, owner of Dreamscape Farm in Langley, British Columbia, stands 13 Warmblood stallions and registers foals with a variety of registries, including the German Oldenburg Verband, the RPSI, and Westfalen. “As soon as I see a number under a brand, I immediately ID the horse as an import,” Arnoldt says, “unless it’s an RPSI horse bred in America.”

A branding iron used by the RPSI.
A branding iron used by the RPSI.

The brand number can actually help identify a lost or stolen horse. RPSI Stud Book director Otto Schalter remembers helping to identify a mare abandoned on BLM land in Nevada through her approximate age, color, and brand-mark. Otto stresses that a brand is a permanent method of identification and is possible to see from some distance, unlike a microchip which requires a reader.

Because many European registries have stopped branding, however, you can’t be certain about your horse’s heritage merely by looking for a brand.

Tina DiCenso-Westlove of Warrenton, Virginia found herself the proud owner of a beautiful 16.3 h. Dutch Warmblood mare. The previous owner had bought her through an internet ad, and the leggy, elegant, and slightly flat-crouped bay mare was picture perfect as “Princess Wynston,” with a KWPN registration number and pedigree, and official papers on the way. She had no brand, but that was no surprise, considering branding had been banned in Holland. Imagine her new owner’s surprise when the vet came to float her new mare’s teeth, only to find a Thoroughbred Jockey Club tattoo on her upper lip!

Turns out the California horse dealer who sold Wynston under the business name Horses and Ponies had picked up a Thoroughbred mare who looked the part, then faked a Dutch registration number and pedigree. Trina Lee Kenney of Wrightwood, California was sentenced to 41 months in federal prison for mail fraud, with victims in 23 states and Canada. While that may seem comforting, she is back on the streets.

Wynston was later identified from her lip tattoo as Ladyslewmood, a 1999 Jockey Club mare with 27 starts and a winning record. While stories like Wynston’s are thankfully rare, this does highlight the importance of checking your Warmblood’s registration papers carefully, making sure her markings, whorls, and brand match her papers.

This article first appeared in Warmbloods Today and is reprinted here with full permission.