Spotted horses are thought to have originated in Asia and then spread out to other parts of the world. They arrived in Demark around 1000 CE or even earlier, but a church fresco in Demark from that time clearly shows a horse resembling the Knabstrup (or Knabstrupper). The breed gets its name from a manor where the horses were bred in the 1800s. Although the breed has undergone a lot of changes, the future for Knabstrup looks good.
The Snivel Mare
Most breeds begin with a foundation sire. The Knabstrup is one of the very few breeds that start with a foundation dam. She was named Flaebehoppen, which roughly translates to either “Flaeb’s mare” or “the snivel mare”. According to “International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds” (University of Oklahoma Press, 1995) one of Napoleon’s soldiers left her behind in Denmark about 1804 and she was bought by a butcher, who fortunately did not kill her, but sold her to a judge.
She is described as having been a red chestnut body, a white mane and tail and small white spots all over the red. She was fast and had a good temperament, so she was sent to one of Denmark’s leading Frederickburg stallions. Today, many Knabstrups can trace their ancestry back to her.
Although spotted horses were in Denmark since 1000 CE, it wasn’t until the 1970s that a Knabstrub breed association was formed. Flaebehoppen was the oldest horse on record to have the Knabstrup traits, which is why she is considered the foundation dam. It is known that the Danish King Charles V gave spotted horses to his sister as a gift. A spotted stallion also lived in Fredensborg, the royal stud, in 1671.
Due to wars, a fire in 1891 at the Lunn family stud and other disasters, there were precious little Knabstrups left by 1900. At that time, Knabstrups had the Baroque head (a polite term for Roman noses), short necks and often a blocky, yet sturdy build. In order to keep the breed going, some other horses were used to help invigorate the breed, including many warmbloods. Today’s Knabstrup has a straight profile and a more Trakehner-like build than the old style.
Horse breeding practices have also changed since 1900. Artificial insemination is now the norm. Frozen semen from the stallion Apollon was used to inseminate Appaloosa mares in America in order to put a slightly new twist on importing a horse breed. The mares were selected by the Rheinland-Pfalz-Saar registry of Germany. The first American Knabstrup foaled was a filly appropriately named American Beauty. Eventually demand for the entire Apollon and not just his semen resulted in the sexy stallion being imported to Texas in 2003. Sadly, he died of sudden heart failure in 2007.
Just like with other breeds that show spotted coats like the Altai and the Appaloosa, not all Knabstrups have spots. They can also come in solid colors or can have solid colors and just a few spots sprinkled along the entire body. Unfortunately, there has been more of an emphasis on color than on general appearance, so the horses can vary considerably from one to another. One good aspect is that pony-sized individuals are allowed, helping to keep up a rich gene pool.
Besides the spots, the other most distinguishing characteristic of the Knabstrup is its trainability. For centuries, they have been used as milk wagon horses, cavalry horses and circus horses. They are also intelligent enough to learn any sport or discipline required of them.
“International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds.” Bonnie Hendricks. University of Oklahoma Press, 1995.
“The Ultimate Horse Book.” Elwyn Hartley Edwards. Dorling Kindersley; 1991.
American Knabstrupper Assocaition. “About the Knabstrupper.”
The Scandanavian Horse. “Knabstrupper Breed Profile.” http://www.thescandinavianhorse.com/KnabstrupperHorseBreed.html