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Reconstructing the Knabstrup

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Tags: Knabstrup Horse, Origin, Breeding

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To some, it may be surprising that a breed of horse that has such a long and traceable history as the Danish Knabstrup could ever have been in danger. But as any reputable breeder of any animal can tell you, popularity can bring about a breed's downfall.

The origins of spotted horses in Europe can be traced back thousands of years to when Cro-Magnon man was using horses to hunt. Discovered in 1994, cave paintings in Peche Merle and Lascaux recorded these hunts with the men riding spotted horses. Much more exact is the Danish Knabstrup's actual lineage, which can be traced directly back to two specific horses. These beautiful horses were the product of the Danish crown's history of admiration and knowledge of horse husbandry.

There was a point in European history that these spotted horses were a symbol of decadence and greed. It's probably not that surprising, then, that the Knabstrup was itself a victim of greed. With its popularity in the courts of Europe, the Knabstrup was overbred to keep up with demand. With overbreeding or irresponsible breeding come great pitfalls to individual horses and breeds overall, including the weakening and even disappearance of genetic traits specific to the breed. On top of this, in 1891, a fire killed 22 Knabstruppers at the Lunn family stables, seriously putting a dent in the bloodlines of the breed.

This beautiful horse was not given up on so easily. The Danish stud farm Egemosegaard began trying to revive the breed as early as 1947. They began to cross breed European warmbloods to the small stock of Knabstrups. Almost three decades later, in 1971, a Danish breeder, Frede Nielsen shipped three Appaloosas from the United States to Denmark to help strengthen the color of the breed, and expand the genetic lot even further.

Interestingly enough, the Appoloosa has had its own downfall as a breed. There are several theories of how spotted horses reached the Americas in the first place, all with a good amount of accurate historical support. Some believe they were brought over by the Spaniards in the 1500s. Others believe it was Russian fur traders who brought the breed with them. Still another theory has these horses being released into the American Northwest or traded with the Indian tribes or Spanish settlers of this area.

From this point, it was the Nez Perce tribe, whose main concerns were agriculture and breeding horses, that is credited with creating the Appoloosa breed. Meriweather Lewis, of Lewis and Clark fame, noted the fine quality of these horses in his journals. It was in the aftermath of the 1877 Nez Perce war when the stock of the tribe's horses was either sold or shot, although some escaped into the wild, while others were spared in the tribe's retreat. A series of articles in Western Horseman magazine in the early 1900s began a newfound interest in the breed, and the horse is now one of the most popular breeds in the Americas.

But it was this rediscovery of the Appoloosa that gave rebirth to the Knabstrup. It was also a logical step for a reputable breeder like Nielsen to use the Appoloosa, which has the same genetic makeup as the Knabstrup.

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