Hot-branding was long used both in Europe and internationally for identifying horses as belonging to a specific breed registry. Traditionally, warmblood foals were branded at the time of inspection. The brand symbol represented the breed and logically also signified the region or nation with which the breed registry was associated. For example, the Dutch Warmblood brand features a rearing lion, resembling the Netherlands’ coat of arms. Likewise, the Holsteiner brand closely resembles the coat of arms for the German state Schleswig-Holstein, which features a vertically divided shield. And that of the Bavarian Warmblood features not only a letter “B” for Bavaria but also a small cross, apropos for this region of Germany with its long and devout Catholic history.
In North America and the U.K., registry brands for warmblood horses are often a variation of their European counterparts. For example, the insignia for an Oldenburg registered with the Oldenburg Registry of North America features the German Oldenburg brand, but framed by an “N” on the left and an “A” on the right.
While the brand symbols may be interesting and provide a glint of local culture and history, hot-branding has been illegal in Holland for about a decade and in Germany since 2012 due to animal-welfare concerns. Therefore, warmblood foals born today are much more likely to be microchipped than branded. (However, U.S.-bred warmbloods are still frequently branded.) In fact, European law mandates microchipping for foals and internationally many registries also uphold this requirement. DNA testing at the time of registration/inspection also helps to ensure accurate identity.
Some of the breed registries, such as the Hanoverian Studbook, utilize different variations of their main brand to distinguish the section of the registry into which a horse is registered. For example, a Hanoverian mare registered into the Main Studbook, which requires four generations of recognized pedigree, will be branded with the “H” symbol, while a mare registered in the Studbook, which requires only three generations of recognized pedigree, will be branded with the “S” symbol. Today, these brands may not be physically placed on the mare’s body due to current law. However, the mare’s brand will still be noted on her registration papers as the distinction between the studbooks still applies. In addition, while the brand symbols may no longer be as relevant as identifying marks on the horse’s body in many countries, registries still proudly display these symbols as an official emblem and trademark.