The Knabstrupper & The Majestic Stud

Origin Of The Knabstrupper Breed

The breed name_ Knabstrupper is synonym to royalty and was addressed by some as the “princess horse” or “tiger horse”. It stems from a fairy-tale history of Normans and monarchs. Denmark, the oldest kingdom in the world, was always known for their highly trained cavalry, which was based on educational horse training and selective breeding. This is where the Knabstrupper had its foundation and was bred as a higher educational riding horse. The spotted colour, associated with the Knabstrupper, Falabella, Appaloosa and Noriker, is nothing new since it has been noted as one of the primval colours. It was first observed in the cave paintings made by hunters of Lascaux and Pêche Merle about 20 000 years ago after the ice age. Between the 1500’s and 1600’s king Frederik II founded the royal stud in Denmark, where spotted horses were often seen as mounts, with a selective “riding horse” breeding criteria. The Frederiksborg auctions were a European highlight for acquiring horses and spotted horses became a quintessence of the time. The carriages of the Russian Czar were harnessed by these horses and in 1771 the stallion Pluto was sold to Austria and became the oldest ancestor of the famous Lippizaner. Between the 1600’s and 1800’s the nucleus of the Danish Knabstrupper foundation line was established with multiple spotted individual originating from the Flaebe mare. When the royal stud at Frederiksbork Castle came to an end the breeding program was continued by the public, but with shifted focus towards agricultural and carriage use. The latter was responsible for a heavier type that could endure the heavier work, but the request for this type ceased after World War II. Once again selection was shifted towards a lucrative racing market with the influence of thoroughbred and warmblood, but the results caused derision to some. A few preserved the original classical riding horse for which the market was limited and most were kept by circuses all over the world. These High School horses were not only recognised for their colour, but ability and willingness to learn. The change in entertainment industry together with the integration of the grey gene and the fire at the original stud almost resulted in complete disappearance of the original Knabstrupper.

The Majestic Knabstrupper Stud

The Majestic Knabstrupper Stud is situated in the heart of the Overberg surrounded by golden wheat fields in summer and lush green grazing in winter. The Majestic Knabstrupper Stud has been a long-term goal and dream. As my quest for information regarding the Knabstrupper breed began I read numerous valuable insights from many Knabstrupper enthusiasts all over the world. Only then I realised that this breed is much more than just fancy colour. Not only does this breed show great athleticism competing at top-level dressage and jumping, but character is one of the greatest assets this breed has to offer, together with a very high level of intelligence, nobility and stamina. Bent Branderup, the gifted classical dressage rider, said the following about the Knabstruppers, “I wanted a horse that was not like any other horse. I wanted a Knabstrupper. And every owner of a Knabstrupper knows that no two of these horses are alike. Every one of them is unique.” Bent and his horse can be viewed on the following video clips.

Clip 1

Another Knabstrupper that caught my eye was the famous Zanko, a Knabstrupper stallion also registered as a Danish warm blood that achieved multiple gold medallions at the World Para-dressage Championships in Athens under the guidance of his Norwegian rider Anne Lubbe. Then there is also the gold medallion Paralympian winner, Anne Dunham with her horse Lucas Normark. This is a rather remarkable achievement for a horse breed with only 2400 registered horses world-wide.

The stud was made possible during a visit to the WCGALP Leipzig 2010. We traveled via train to most of the renowned studs throughout Europe. This was a month-long journey to see the most horses possible by one human. It was only in Denmark that we decided the dream must now become a reality. We were fortunate to attend the grading shows which gave us a feel for the breed and the people whom are steering this breed into the future. To have viewed so many different individuals of the same breed during this visit gave us appreciation for the performance capability of these horses. The latter enabled us to set-up distinct selection criteria for our own stud and hand pick our future individuals to import.

Clear selection objectives are a main priority for us and are unique to each stud. At the Majestic stud we aim to breed a well-balanced individual in all aspects, physically and mentally that is sustainable.From a scientific point a view this is rather simple, right? In practical terms we soon realized there is so much more to “breeding” a performance horse. The environment is equally important with multiple factors to consider. Years of experience is key bringing all these factors, both technical and practical, in harmony.

This is why we have dedicated our life to gain knowledge and implementing what we have learnt over the years to for fill this stud objective.

Knabstrupper Registration Rules & Guidlines:

In November 1947 ‘Foreningen til Knabstrupper Avlens Fremme med Hjemsted i Holbæk’ was founded, restricted to the region of Holbæk on Zealand. In March 1971 this organizastion became a international govern body with the name ‘Knabstrupperforeningen for Danmark’. This governing body regulates the breeding and exploitation of the Knabstrupper breed world-wide. The breed is conserved by a set of distinct breed criteria which is maintained by means of breed evaluation and performance testing on a non-biased manner through the same judges traveling the globe. Certain outcross breeds, of suitable riding type, are allowed upon approval, but it is still the responsibility of the breeder to select horses that forfil the stud’s unique criteria. The reason behind allowing outcrossing to certain breed approved individuals is to avoid future inbreeding that could lead to inbreed depression characteristics by maintaining a manageable effective population size of the Knabstrupper with ample genetic diversity. Diversity offers breeders’ across the globe selection options to incorporate certain unique characteristics within their own breeding program.

For instance in South Africa our environmental conditions can be harsh to European bred horses, where one would select for more pigment for sun exposure or courser hair for high insect loads. The Knabstrupper foreningenafDanmark offers the unique opportunity for Knabstruppers located outside the Danish borders to be graded and entered into the studbook of the origin of the Knabstrupper breed. This enables South African Knabstrupper breeders to obtain KNN registration for their SA bred young stock. So far gradings, including performance tests (mandatory for stallions in order to obtain lifelong breeding approval), have been held in England, Scotland, Italy, Estonia, Germany, USA and Norway.Today we also find other large societies incorporating Knabstrupper registries such as the ZfdP, RPSI and AKA that helps promoting the breed.

We had our first South African gradings in 2016 and 2019 with excellent results and we would always help to prepare your Knabstrupper for future grading.

What does performance testing for the Knabstrupper entail?

Horses, of different age groups, will endure evaluation tests suitable for their age. Young stock (6 months to 3 years) will be evaluated for conformation and movement on hard and soft service. While older horses under saddle can complete full performance testing which includes conformation and soundness evaluation, loose movement and free-jumping, ridden dressage and jumping tests with rider and appointed test after the initial full vet examination and identification. The last part of the performance evaluation is the endurance phase, a unique test to the breed. The endurance phase being the non-obvious evaluation, but invaluable since the indirect results of fatigue are the main reason why most athletes discontinue an active career in competition. Each of these tests is compromised out of list of set criteria marked on a scale from 1 to 10_10 being the highest. Temperament being a very important requirement for a good mark during performance testing, a critic point that are often left as less important in some breed evaluation schemes. A accredited equine vet as well as a test rider would be requested on the day of evaluation together with two international Danish judges, the same judges whom does these evaluations in other parts of the world.

Breed Standard

The Knabstrupper can be divided into two main horse categories, namely the elegant, well-balanced Baroque type and a more athletic Sport Horse type. During their performance tests these horses are evaluated according to the unique characteristics of these two distinctive types.

The ideal classical Baroque Knabstrupper will have three equally proportioned body parts, preferably with equal length and height, and a good muscular build with good depth, breadth, and adequate height. The shoulder should be long, sloping and muscular with long bone in the upper arm and should be flexible with good freedom of movement. The withers should be well defined, but may appear short due to a high set neck and muscular crest. The head must be expressive with large, calm eyes widely set. A noble head with a slightly pronounced nose and the lower jaw broad and defined is common to a stallion of this type.

The Knabstrupper Sport Horse is a more refined, big framed horse with good depth and breadth. The head is attractive and smaller than the Baroque Knabstrupper. The Knabstrupper Sport Horse resembles the modern European warmblood with colour that may include a percentage of approved warmblood breeding. The inclusion of a percentage of warmblood breeding offers the possibility of genetic variation to avoid high levels of inbreeding while maintaining the valuable characteristics of the Knabstrupper warmblood breed. When followed in a structured manner this breeding principle offers endless possibilities.

A good example of modern Knabstrupper Sport Horse breeding can be seen in Sartors Showtime, a young stallion taking the world by storm.

The ideal height of a classical Knabstrupper horse should preferably be above 148 cm up to about 165 cm (16.1 hands). Knabstrupper Sport Horses can have heights taller than that of the classical Baroque type and can be as tall as 17+ hands.

An old saying goes, “A good horse has no colour,” but this is only partially true of the Knabstrupper. Knabstruppers are not always spotted, but neither is every spotted horse a Knabstrupper. The Knabstrupper’s most significant characteristic is the particular colouration. There are numerous permutations of the colouring. Therefore, the extent of the colouring has no bearing on the assessment and classification. However, a horse with the graying gene, distinct piebald or skewbal d markings as well as the appearance of a “wall eye” or “rat tail” is ineligible for grading.