The Knabstrupper horse is an old and rare breed, originally developed in Denmark the horses come from the same original stock as the Spanish horses that gave rise to the Appaloosa. The Knabstrupper and the Appaloosa share the same unusual color patterns, they are the spotted horses. The color variations range from the whole body spots of the classical Leopard pattern (sometimes called Tiger pattern), in bay, black and chestnut to the blanket spotting and to varnish roan and snowflake patterns.
While their unusual color patterns make them eyecatching and different to look at, what makes the Knabstrupper really special is their superb temperaments and willing kind natures. Bred as working horse and selected as much for attitude and ability as beauty the Knabstrupper is a true family horse.
Ranging in size the Knabstrupper typically stands between 15 and 16 hands, with solid strong legs and well shaped feet, a neat head and an elegant long neck, short backed and strong the Knabstrupper is a true warmblood horse. They are good movers but not extravagant, and are easy to ride. They jump well and are willing bold horses with good minds and a kind nature.
The Knabstrupper is a rare and unusual breed of horse, bred by mostly hobby breeders in Denmark and Germany the breed has a long history and several times has been in danger of disappearing altogether. One of the aims and purposes of our breeding program is to help maintain a population so that the breed can stay a viable breed of horse . Of course we cannot do that alone, but we can do our small part along with all the other breeders across the world.
To that end I have imported these horses from both Denmark and Germany, with the hopes of not only producing excellent riding horses but also to cross together disparate lines. In time other horses from England and elsewhere will be brought in to join our herd.
The breed Knabstrupper is new to the USA, some breeders here are more interested in breeding the Sporthorse type and to that end would be crossing Knabstrupper mares to elite warmblood stallions, to produce superior dressage athletes who also have color. While I also like the beautiful sportier types in my breeding program I am most interested in the classical, baroque type of horse, rather than the Sporthorse cross and here's why.
When Axel Steiner said at the USDF symposium, We have bred these horses as far as we can for movement, now we need to breed for temperament and rideability. I think it was certain lines of gorgeous but temperamental warmbloods that he had in mind.
The demographics of the dressage world, nowadays tell us that the most frequent rider/owner is the middle aged lady who came to riding late in life and will most probably never ride above 2nd level. The demographics in Europe are very different, with a lot more men riding and competing in dressage, wanting a bigger more powerful horse.
Relative to Europe there are far fewer people here who simply own horses that professionals ride, in the USA the most common owner is also the rider and she is no professional.
When I stand at the side of the warmup ring at the "A" shows the most common horse I see warming up for the lower levels is the Friesan, big, flashy, quiet, soft moving, not particularly athletic but kind and easy to ride. Why, oh why, with all these superior movers and gorgeous dressage horses around are the big, black hairy-legged ones so popular. Because they can be ridden by amateurs that's why. They are less than fantastic movers but that means that they can be ridden by people with less than perfect seats, they have good steady gaits and good steady minds. They have a flashy look but are above all kind and generous. You don't see them being led by the grooms down to the warm up arena while the rider perches nervously on top, nor being lunged for hours so that they will settle down enough to be rideable in a crowded warm up, they are above all amateur horses.
We have several of the more gorgeous athletic types of warmblood showing around here as well as few of those famous Donnerhall/Rubenstein crosses. They are without a doubt some of the loveliest best moving horses ever seen. But everyone of them needs an expert rider with excellent hands, a good soft following seat and great tact. Beautiful, brilliant prima donnas come to mind! They are definitely NOT horses you could ever sell to an amateur rider, at least not for the owner to ride and show, these are strictly horses for professionals.
Enter the Knabstrupper, an old European breed long overlooked by the producers of the fancy flashy warmbloods. a solid, generous, not overly large, easy to ride and handle and with reasonable gaits, built level or even occasionally uphill, and with a distinctive unusual look, mostly from the color. But a Knabbie is far more than just a spotted warm-blood, they are a true working horse, their strongest attribute is their easy going temperament. In Europe they were and are family horses, bred mostly by hobby breeders and ridden by everyone not just the elite riders. I rode one as a teenager and a more fun horse would hard to find. Solid, capable, generous, loud colored, willing, kind, a total gentleman. He was easily the nicest horse a teenager could have to ride. Sadly Klaus was not mine, I just rode him for his owner, but I had immense fun on him and that is the horse I want to reproduce.
Interestingly the Danes are also, breeding the Knabbie for the flashy high powered movement, producing the gorgeous superior riding horse. They have bred some Knabbies that could easily hold their own in any elite warm blood company, but I think, and this is my personal opinion only, that this is not the way for the entire breed to go. This is not what is going to get the Knabstrupper the solid fan base that the other baroque breeds have.
Don't get me wrong, I have all admiration for some of these superior horses and I would love to have one to ride for myself. I so badly wanted to buy one when I was in Denmark, they are so gorgeous and would make any professional drool. And we are going to need some of them, a few well bred superior movers, and outstanding performers, judiciously placed with the right professional to be the show pieces for the breed. A few in the top ranks of each sport would be excellent, a great advertisement for the breed, to get them on the map as it were.
When Mrs Amateur Dressage/Hunt seat Rider sees one at a show, she will want to own and show one, and she needs to have a selection of the ones who look like the fancy horse but don't move quite as big, are not quite as sensitive to the rider as the elite horse, available to try and to ride and buy. And to produce those we need as close to the pure bred classical type as we can without losing quality. And that is why I would far rather pay a little extra to the Danes for the real thing than try to make just another spotted warm blood that is just as hard to ride and train as all the others!
So far all my hopes for these Danish horses have been realized. Both of the riding horses I imported are super guys, willing, kind and just plain fun.
So when you want to try a fun, flashy horse for your showing, think of us and come and see my Knabstruppers, we'd love to show off for you.
Yours truly, Melyni
In Denmark as early as in the Year 1671, there was a very popular line of Spanish horses, called "The Tiger Horses", which, in the year 1750, reached its summit of quality that they were to achieve. But the in the years that followed this Royal breed came to a sad end, as the colour disappeared, probably because of the grey gene.
In 1812 the another color breed returned to Denmark, but this was not from the Royal horses, a new breed-line was started. Villars Lunn, owner of the manor house "Knabstrupgaard" in the neighbourhood of Holbaek, Nordsealand, bought from a butcher named Flaebe, a mare named "Flaebe". Probably the mare was of Spanish origin, but it looked very much like an English hunter type. The butcher had bought the mare from a Spanish officer, stationed in Denmark during the Napoleon wars.
The unusual colour of the "Flaebe" mare was memorable. Beauty and quality was together in the same horse. She was dark red (Zobelfuchs) with white mane and tale, very much covered with small white snowflakes on the body, and with brown spots on her blanket.
There has been a lot of guessing about the origin of the "Flaebe" mare, but a possible theory is, that she descends from Meklenburg in Germany, where the Spanish were stationed before they came to Denmark.
When horses were bought to the stud farm, it was considered, that the animals, due to hard work, had shown great staying power and a good temper.
The "Flaebe" mare was in service at Knabstrup from the month of May 1812, as a light workhorse. Titular councillor of state V. Lunn, writes in his memories, how the "Flaebe" mare in 1816 showed her value. V. Lunn had been run over by a carriage, and the doctor was needed immediately because of a broken leg. A farmhand took a pair of horses from the yard, drove to Holbaek, where the doctor wasn't home, from there to Buttrup vicarage, where he found doctor, Reinhardt, and then, back again to Knabstrup. It was a distance of 30 km., and it was driven in 105 minutes. The one horse was damaged for life; the other was the "Flaebe" mare, and the very next day she was back in the fields to work. At that time she was 15 years old.
All of her progeny had fantastic coloring, and she never had one solid colored foal. The "Flaebe" mare became the foundation mare of the Knabstrup horse.
She was once covered by a yellow "Frederiksborg" stallion, and their foal was a colt, named "The Flaebestallion", and he was the foundation stallion for the new spotted breed. The "Flaebestallion" was a very unusual color. He was essentially lighter in color, was often mentioned as having more than 20 different colors, and he had a special metallic glow to his coat.
Another colt of the "Flaebe" mare was "Mikkel", born 1818. He was son of his halfbrother the "Flaebestallion", and was famous for his results in horseracing. Even though he always drew a carriage the 6 Danish miles (41 km.) to the racing ground in a forced speed, he was only defeated once, as he was 16 years old, in a race in Copenhagen. "Mikkel" had been ridden against a clod, and his chest was painful in the left side. It was the only time another horse managed to get in front of him.
These races were seen by many people, and gave the Knabstrup horse the reputation of being a powerful and a great working capacity. "Mikkel" is probably the most famous horse in the Knabstrup breed.
Knabstrup horses were known for their high spirit and energetic action yet they were not temperamental. They showed no signs of being malicious, and never had vices like cribbing and wind swallowing. The fact that they were never put into stalls, but mostly left outside, which accounts for their ruggedness. The Knabstrup horses used to have very long life spans, and are still known for their longevity.
Danish officers often used Knabstrup horses as mounts during the war 1848-1850. (Schleswig war), but unfortunately, because of their eye-catching color, they made good targets for the enemy. In the Battle of Isted, 1850, two officers rode loud colored Knabstrup horses, and they both got shot. Colonel Laessoee's horse, a colorful mare "Nathalie", escaped unharmed as the colonel was shot, and in the years to come, she went on to raise offspring. One foal was named "Laessoee" after the fallen Colonel:
"Colonel Laessoee in The Battle of Isted 1850" painted by V.H.N. Irminger, 1912. (The Museum of National History at Frederiksborg Castle)
The other officer, general Schleppegral, had once used "Mikkel" as his personal riding horse. During the Battle of Isted he rode one of the Mikkel sons, and was also shot during the fighting. The stallion ran off and disappeared. All efforts of the Danish Army to find the valuable horse were in vain.
Unknown to the army, several farmers in the hills of Skovby, caught the red spotted stallion, and kept him hidden till the end of the war. Knowing his value, they kept their lips sealed, but used him as a sire. Renamed "Schnapegral-peerd", the horses became separated from the actual Knabstrup breed, and were greatly sought after by farmers in the area. Much to their advantage, the stallions get had fine carriage, peculiar colouring and lovely appearance.
As late as 1910, a local was using a direct descendent of the earlier hidden Stallion.
During the 1870es, began at the Knabstrup stables an unavoidable downfall. At the Lunn family the herd maintained at the time, between the Schleswig-wars, between 40 and 50 spotted horses, all descendent of the "Flaebe" mare. This inbreeding caused great difficulties in retaining colour and quality, and the breed began to regress. 22 Knabstrup horses was killed during a fire in 1891, and this fire, combined with the problems of inbreeding, caused the number and importance of the breed to become smaller and smaller.
Though the horses of the Knabstrup stables met their downfall, they left behind a great influence on horse breeding in the entire country. Breeders began outcrossing to horses of Knabstrup parentage, and a new strain of spotted horses was fostered. Still known by the same name, Knabstrup horses to this day are enjoying more popularity than ever before.
The tiger looking horses from Knabstrup was foundation for the breed in the Holbaek-area, not to mention Bornholm and northern parts of Jutland. As a circus horse it was popular as well.
Vendsyssel (Northern Jutland) had from approximately 1930, a greater number of tigered horses, with some variations in color dispersion. These horses had no connection to the breeds of Sealand.
1902 a tigered stallion from St. Petersburg was imported to Denmark. He got the name "Mikkel", and he was being bred by A.F. Rasmussen, until he was 25 years of age. Some years he was the father of 60 - 80 foals, half of them were more or less spotted. A Mikkel-son with the right colour, was sold to a dairyowner, and has probably been the foundation for the new generation of Knabstrup horses about 1930.
"Knabstrupgaard" was not complete out of the picture after the fire. In the Year 1922 a stallion from "Knabstrupgaard" was shown at the cattle show in Holbaek. His name was also "Mikkel", and several farmers in the area used him. He was rejected because of not acceptable colours, but he proved himself valuable in the breed.
In 1947 "Association for promotion of the Knabstrupper in county of Holbaek" was founded in connection to stud farm "Egemosegaard".
A former farmer N.H. Nielsen and his son, barrister C.N. Ledager, with the purpose to make a stud farm for Knabstrup horses, in attempt to, with rational breeding, to continue development of this once so famous horse, bought Egemosegaard in 1946. The stud farm bought two stallions 1946 - 1948, "Silverking II" & "Max Bodilsker":
In 1954 the stud farm was culminating with 15 horses in the stables. It had a great reputation, and people from all over the country came to visit, until the finish in 1959.
"Association for promotion of the Knabstrupper in county of Holbaek" was still fighting, but with the foundation of "Danish Sporthorse Breed association" in 1962, which many Knabstrup breeders joined, everything was close to total chaos.
In 1971 some Knabstrup breeders broke through, and founded the all country covering "Knabstrup association". (Knabstrupperforeningen for Danmark).
Close to anything being spotted or colored, was registered. The stallions that were selected had one quality only: the spots. A breeder, Frede Nielsen, brought 3 appaloosa stallions to Denmark, to get new blood in the breed.
2 of these stallion were successfully used to cross into the Knabstrup breed. However, many of the Sealand breeders preferred to crossbreed with "Danish Warmblood". The best results came after crossing with "Traken" horses and "Holsten" horses. It was obvious that crossbreeding was the way forward. The Knabstrup horse is a natural trotter, and as a type, the "Traken" horse is closest to the original type.
It is a common opinion, that the "Frederiksborg" horse is the breeding strain of the "Knabstrup" horse, and that is not entirely wrong, but the "Frederiksborg" horse has a very high pace, which is not attractive for a riding horse.
It is not of great importance if we use a solid colored horse once in a while, as long as we remember to breed back again. If the colour is available, is it the Knabstrup genes and character that will be dominating.
As the Knabstrup breed became nation-wide, it seemed a natural thing to breed ponies as well, because the colors appeal to children. And it was easy, because many Knabstrup horses was about 150 cm., and breeding down was quite as easy as breeding up. A few breeders has specialized in breeding spotted ponies in miniature, like Shetland, so the ponies are here to stay.
The spotted skin is difficult to control. It is no guarantee to crossbreed two spotted horses; it can result in solid colored as well as spotted foals, just like a spotted and a plain horse can make a spotted foal. The grey gene very often shows after breeding with a grey horse, and it can be difficult to remove again.
The Knabstrup horse is light colored around the eye opening, mealy colored or spotted around the natural openings, and the hoofs are with striped or light colored.