The Knabstrub has the dramatic colouring of the Appaloosa and may be mistaken for it, but it has a much stronger physique and a wider range of sizes. In addition to its striking coat colour, the breed is valued for its performance and temperament.
There are known to have been spotted horses in Denmark in the late 17th century and were popular as riding and driving horses for nobility and royalty. Unfortunately the breed died out sometime in the late 18th century. It's unclear why they died out. Once theory is that cross-breeding with whole-coloured horses simply wiped out the coloured genes. In the early 19th century a chestnut mare with white and brown spots. By all accounts she was not only a beautiful horse but also a hard worker with an excellent temperament. Her breeding is unclear but she is believed to have been taken to Denmark by a Spanish officer, who was due to return home after the Napoleonic wars. There is, however, some debate over whether or not she was a Spanish horse. Some believe that the horse was actually from Germany and was simply bought by the officer as he travelled through Europe. The mare became known as Flaebe and was bred to a chestnut stallion producing a foal who became known as Flaebestallion, who was also beautifully spotted. Mother and son were then bred to a variety of different stallions and mares respectively, thus effectively becoming the founding mother and father of the modern Knabstrub breed.
Unfortunately this iteration of the breed also faced challenges. The Knabstubs were very interbred which is never healthy for any population and by the late 19th century the quality of the breed was becoming noticeably lower. In addition to this, in 1891 there was a fire in their main breeding centre which led to several horses being killed. While sad, in some ways this was arguably a blessing in disguise since it led to horses being brought in from outside the limited gene pool to refresh and renew the breed. In 1971 the breeding programme was brought to a new level with the foundation of a formal breed society in Denmark.
To begin with the only quality required for registration was the colour. All spotted stallions were accepted and 3 Appaloosa stallions were imported for both their colouring and their hardiness. Some breeders, however, recognized that, even at the best of times, breeding spotted horses can be hit and miss. Two spotted horses can occasionally produce a solid foal, which may then produce a spotted foal of its own. With this in mind, they set their sights on producing a quality horse first with the spotting coming second. They used Trakehners as being similar in type to the original Knabstrubs and Holsteiners for their jumping ability and hardiness. This means that horses can be classed as Knabstrubs even if they have solid coats, although the most prized examples of the breed are, obviously, the coloured horses (and ponies).
Modern Knabstrub breeders are tending to breed for the warmblood type. This is an athletic horse which is intended to perform well in a variety of equestrian disciplines. Warmbloods are known for being adapted to meet market demands which means that instead of breeding horses with great strength in their chests and shoulders for pulling, modern breeders are developing lighter animals for dressage with powerful quarters for jumping, hence the introduction of Holsteiner blood. Likewise the high trotting action expected of eye-catching carriage horses has also been abandoned in favour of smoother paces, which are more comfortable for a rider in saddle. Some breeders are leaning more to the heavier “baroque” style of horse but the emphasis is still on the qualities needed for a modern competition horses. While the Knabstrup are best known for their spotted coats, this is a strong preference rather than an essential feature of the breed.
One feature of the Knabstrub breed which has remained constant throughout the years is the emphasis on good temperament. The historical Knabstrubers are recorded as being honest, hard-working horses, with a lively intelligence but without silliness and certainly without vice and malice. This essentially holds true of the modern breed. Whether or not the breed is suitable for novice riders depends very much on the individual. Knabstrubers which are bred with the intention of them being used as high-level competition horses may be more demanding of their rider than a novice could manage, but many Knabstrubers have gentle temperaments and are even bred to be suitable for children. They tend to be very “people” horses and love being the centre of human attention, often forming very strong bonds with their owners (and vice versa).
This is one area where the modern Knabstrub is at a distinct advantage compared to its historical counterpart. Quite simply modern breeders are much more aware of the dangers of inbreeding and are working to develop the breed slowly, accepting that for the foreseeable future, many Knabstrubs are going to be solid-coloured rather than having the desired spotting. This is helping to keep the Knabstrub healthy and free from disorders caused by the extensive inbreeding of years gone by. At current time the Knabstrub is a generally healthy animal. One point to note, when buying a Knabstrub, is to verify that it actually is a Knabstrub. It is not unheard of for spotted horses to be advertised as Knabstrub when they are nothing of the kind (or only have a small amount of Knabstrub blood in them). Horses without papers can be perfectly good animals, but by definition are more of an unknown quantity and may be subject to genetic disorders which might not be picked up on a vet's inspection.
Caring for a Knabstrup
Knabstrubs are a hardy breed as horses go and require minimal cosseting. While they do tend to grow respectable winter coats these are not in the same league as those of hardy native ponies so owners should look at having stabling available and they may require extra feeding in cold weather.
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