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- Knabstrupper Info.

Also read: The KNN letter | "Landbrugets Radgivningscenter" letter


This article was researched in the 1940's-1950's, written and finally published in 1966 by the now deceased, Axel Pedersen, internationally renowned Danish author and former Agricultural Engineer/Assistant to the Chief State Consultant in Denmark, Danish Department of Agriculture.  Sadly, Mr. Pedersen died a few years ago after many years of service with the Danish Department of Agriculture and teaching and writing in the latter years of his life. He reportedly was extremely passionate about horses, and became particularly interested in the "Tigers" aka Knabstruppers in his early years of life. Though there was not much published about them, he found as much information as was available in his world travels, and personally visited many horse farms, researched many European horses, taking an interest in the Knabstrupper and writing about them regularly in various international magazines and countries. According to his son, he personally owned a Fredericksborg and Tiger (Knabstrupper) horse in the 1940's. Due to Mr. Pedersen's position in the Danish Agricultural Office, and extensive travels, he became well acquainted with the Knabstruppers, their breeders and history thereof, not only in Denmark but in all of Europe and the U.S. His writings about the Knabstruppers and their colorful history are highly regarded by the Danish and European Knabstrupper breeders, the KNN (Knabstrupper Association) and they remain historical research documents for the Warmbloods known today in Denmark as Knabstruppers.

SHOC expresses deep gratitude to Axel Pedersen's son and the publishers who last published this article in Denmark, for their special and exclusive permission granted SHOC to re-print this article!  And many thanks also to Kim Sparre for spending his valuable time in translating this article, and many others, into English!  This article is copyright protected and may not be reproduced or used in any form without the exclusive written permission of SHOC.  SHOC provides this article, with pleasure, to educate people about the otherwise elusive "Tigers" also, and more modernly, known as"Knabstruppers."  Additional information will be posted as it becomes available in English!  Enjoy!  

Stray Thoughts on the So-Called "Tigered" by: Axel Pederson
["Strøtanker om de såkaldte „tigrede heste", Hippologisk Tidsskrift, 1966, vol. 64, no. 12, pp 21-23&35]

Every horse-lover knows the spotted, slightly wavering type of color, known as "tigered."  Hardly two animals have the same pattern; some very decorative and pretty, others speckled and wavering, to some extent unsightly. From horses the designation tigered has been transferred to dogs. In Blicher's "Diana," tigered dogs are defined as "white with small brown spots all over the body," and according to the Norwegian geneticist Wriedt, some tigered types of dogs are supposed to suffer from night-blindness like the tigered horses, which must be caused by a pigment defect in the retina of the eye. Another geneticist Prof. Winge writes about the color: "tigered is a word that is frequently abused in Danish and in other languages. Our daily association with tigers is obviously too limited for the fact to have registered, that the tiger is striped and not spotted or speckled." By us the color is inextricably bound to the Knabstruppers, that have become a rarity, but actually the color has got a not insignificant extension, e.g. in the USA, where the Appaloosas of the prairie states gain more and more terrain. The color also exists in other races, and once an interested student at this school posed the question: Where does this interesting color really originate? That is a long, but interesting story.

In Asia, more specifically in the regions surrounding the upper course of the river Ob, there was once many years ago a tribe of nomads, whose horses had a very peculiar color. On top of a light ground color were strewn small dark spots, but light spots on a dark ground were found too. This wavering, slightly motley pattern has been known far, far back in history. Thus in one of the French stone age caves near Cabrerets is found a wall painting, where the stone age painter perhaps 30000 years ago brilliantly depicted a pair of wild horses of such a spotted, "tigered" color. From the Ob regions some of the "spotteds" came further west. Different country races in northern Russia in rare cases had the color, and in the regions near the river Bug there were a good deal. From there the color reached Poland and from here on to Spain. In the Spanish heyday in the 16th century, the color became widespread; with the Spanish conquerors a good deal of horses came to the new world, where the Indians gradually got hold of some of them. The race became fairly widespread. With the Spanish branch of the Habsburgers the horses and thus the color came to Austria, where they in the baroque age-like in other places-fancied queer, peculiar colors. At this time they started calling the color "tigered" or "schecken." Spanish tigered horses gained some significance at the Archbishop's stud in Salzburg, from where horses were supplied to the northern Alpine valleys, where there gradually was attracted a solid medium-heavy draft horse, the Noriker, of type like an Ardennes, often "tigered." The color even reached the Royal Danish Stud Farm of Frederiksborg.  In 1671 there is information about the surrender of a tigered stallion from the stud to the riding school at Christiansborg palace; whether it should be by a brown-mottled Spanish stallion, that was active in the royal stud a few years previously, will never be known. But now the color had gained entry into the country, and since then we hear about tigered horses from time to time. In 1680 King Christian V gave for his sister Ulrika Eleonora's wedding no less than 7 teams of horses, most were teams of six, a single team consisted entirely of tigered horses.

From 1684 there is an interesting story about one of the royal, tigered stallions. The English emissary to the Danish Court had contended to the master of the stables, Baron Haxthausen, that the horses of the stud couldn't by a long shot achieve the performance that English horses could. The master of stables protested, a wager worth 1000 ducates was arranged; the master of stables claimed that one of his horses could run the distance from Copenhagen to Hillerød (about 35 km[22 mi]) in 45 minutes. A tigered stallion, not very large, 15 hands, 2-3" ran the distance in 42 minutes, but it dropped dead shortly after the finish. This wager was the object of large attention, many of the townspeople, with the royal family foremost, attended the race, where most probably a record was set in long distance riding, about 50 km/h [30 mph], which sounds totally incredible, perhaps there was a little mix-up with the hour glasses too. In 1745 Christian VI had a tigered stud formed at the royal stud farm. The stud had the initials of the king for a brand, and attracted a lot of attention in an era that delighted in color and festivity. But it was very hard to maintain the color and the quality may already have peaked around 1750, when the tigered stallion Campagnard was one of the models for the famous equestrian statue in Amalienborg palace square. Already in 1759 the tigered stud was dissolved, there were no more mares of the right color, but the tigered horses didn't die out in Denmark with this; we have never had many, but even so Denmark has at different times been one of the main repositories of tigered halfbred horses in Europe. The reason for this is a peculiar coincidence of circumstances and interests. The Knabstrupper Era. In those years, the 1770s, when the color disappeared from the royal stud farm, the Lunns bought Knabstrup manor, southwest of Holbæk. From this family manor the tigered horses, under the name of Knabstruppers, were in the 100 years to come to gain fame beyond what had been known earlier.

Many interesting events are linked to the Knabstruppers, about which many articles have been written, but there is material for even more. Many facts of considerable interest to the history of horses and the inheritance of horse color lie hidden within the type. Uniformly colored they never were, the spectrum ranged from motley through speckled to metallic luster Zobelfuchs etc., but often a good and energetic temper went with the peculiar color, and time and again something legendary came over these horses. It wasn't the royal tigered horses that were transplanted to Knabstrup. A tigered mare, bought off butcher Flæbe of Holbæk in 1812, was the beginnings; but there was a number of noble horses of the royal stud breed at Knabstrup already. At all buys a very great emphasis was put on obtaining animals that through hard and trying use had shown great stamina and a good temper. About "Flæbe-hoppe" Lunn recounts in his memoirs an incident from 1816, when he was injured and the doctor had to be fetched as soon as possible: "Then a farm hand grabbed a vehicle, with two newly harnessed horses in the court-yard, drove to Holbæk, where the doctor wasn't in, then to Buttrup parsonage, where he found dr. Reinhardt, and then to Knabstrup, and this trip of at least 31/2 Danish miles [i.e. 16 mi] he finished in 13/4 hours. One horse was destroyed for good, but the other went away unharmed, and that was the so-called "Flæbe", that became the ancestral dam of the whole spotted Knabstrup breed." Friends of the horse have from time to time discussed the origins of the Flæbe mare. What is known about it is that the butcher had bought it in 1808 from a Spanish infantry battalion, that had come here during the Napoleonic wars. Keeping in mind the significance that the tigered Spanish horses have had for the Noriker and the American Appaloosa, there is ample reason to count Spanish origins as an absolute. Different conjectures that "Flæbe" should be of English origin are highly speculative.

The Spaniards left other horses in Denmark too, both from the Ribe and Nyborg regions there is intelligence about such abandoned Spanish horses. The most interesting case is probably the Kings Prize Stallion from the Landowners Assembly in Haderslev 1859, where the tigered stallion Skjold from Baron Juel-Brockdorff, Hindemae, Nyborg is designated as a Knabstrupper, without being of Knabstrupper extraction. Especially in the Nyborg region the Spaniards ravaged and there is bound to be Spanish tigered blood in Skjold. The Flæbe mare was very pretty and noble, with white mane and tail, in addition to this roan with tiny white spots scattered across the body, though predominantly across the loins, where there were some sorrel spots too. The Flæbe mare most probably was a homozygote with respect to the tigered color, in that so far as is known, all its offspring was tigered. One of its sons, Flæbehingsten, was said to have had more than 20 different colors, spots of white, red, brown and black were sprinkled across a light zobelfuchs ground. Apart from the color they were very pretty horses. One of the sons of Flæbehingsten, "Gamle Gule" ["Old Yellow"], "Old" because he was a founding stallion for more than 20 years at the stud, is described as being something of the prettiest and most harmonic you were likely to see, apart from possessing unusual force and energy. Very fleet the Knabstrup horses were too, one didn't just breed for color, but also for performance. The fleetest was Flæbehingsten's son Mikkel, foaled 1818, who was an outstanding racer. It gained fame once in Slagelse where it defeated the then most known trotter in Copenhagen, and then Mikkel had even run 6 Danish miles [26 mi] from home first. Mikkel, who had a rarely beautiful golden luster in his fur, got to be very old too, he was counted as the most famous Knabstrupper; after him tigered horses are often known as "Mikkels", a designation you can meet even in our day. The type among the horses described obviously varied from time to time and from place to place. It is a long jump from the rough oriental nag to the draft horse of Austria, and even longer to the noble stud horse of the royal stables. But in spite of the variable type the color had certain features in common. Of a proper pattern, however, you cannot talk. From breed to breed there can be variation, and I have never seen more than 3 combinations of color on the same individual. To the tigered color a couple of other characteristics are said to be linked. The more two-colored individuals are often very thin of tail, a so-called rats tail, just as they, as noted above, often suffer from night-blindness, which might have its cause in the lack of pigmentation of the sclera. In Germany one talks of "Schabraktiger" with roan foreparts, often sprinkled with light spots, lighter hindquarters with dark spots, that is more two-colored. The opposite of the "Schabraktiger" is the "Agattiger", that is: two-colored, often relatively few dark one-colored spots on a light ground.

The Americans who register 6-800 tigered Appaloosas each year, divide the color into 4 different patterns: blanket, snowflake, leopard spot and mottled. Often the foals are born solid-colored, as is the case with grays, and the spots appear later, but there are most examples of the foals having the tigered color at birth; in the Holbæk region one used to say of these foals that they had received the "chamberlain's key". From the 1870s it went quietly backwards with the Knabstrup horses. One had also to recall here the words of Christian VII from 1776: "Common experience teaches that time and inescapable random circumstances cause the decay of the best of studs." The cause of the decline is stated as being outcrossing without plan. It seems more likely, however, that the cause is the close line-breeding, that probably in the end approached inbreeding. Time and time again one tried to bring stability into the breeding, but changed the type somewhat without seeing significant results. Other misfortunes occurred, thus 22 horses perished in a fire in 1891. The tigered horses of Knabstrup were to make their mark on the horse breeding of Holbæk county, and animals sold to other regions came to play a part too, so that the color has persisted to the present day; apart from the Holbæk region earlier on the islands of Møn and Bornholm, as well as other places; today notably the Herning and Ballerup regions. Vendsyssel had a number of tigered horses since about 1930, though with some variation in the distribution of color, that in some cases deviated from the color on Zealand. The Vendsyssel tigereds had nothing to do with the Zealand ones. The St. Petersburg horses of Vendsyssel. There are several oral testimonies to the effect that the "tigered Vendelbos" should hail from a decrepit circus stallion of Czech origin. Despite diligent search it has been impossible to uncover such a stallion, on the contrary were found the so-called "St. Petersburg horses", whose origin is a tigered stallion, that was also named Mikkel, imported c. 1902 from St. Petersburg; it was active at A. F. Asmussen in Rønnebjerg, Vrejlev until it was about 25 years old. In periods Mikkel I sired 60-80 foals each year, of these half were more or less spotted. A Mikkel son with the right color was sold to a Zealand dairy owner. It might have been instrumental in reviving the original Knabstruppers around the 1930s. At the Asmussens, today Johan Asmussen in Bagterp, Hjørring, there have been without fail tigered Mikkel stallions of the St. Petersburg strain through 60 years. And a significant part of the so-called Knabstruppers, that for instance N. Skou in Lille Grundet, shipped to foreign circuses were St. Petersburg horses from the Hjørring-Hjallerup region. The Appaloosa horses of Nebraska-Oregon.

As is known there were no horses in America before Columbus. With the Spanish conquerors came also the tigered horses, that in North America more logically were called "leopard" horses. Though absolutely without horse culture the Indians quickly acquired horses and evolved into a riding people of real class. The Nez-Perce tribe of the Palouse river valley in present day Oregon-Idaho, took up the breeding of "leopard horses" following the 1750s, and it is said that the only proper livestock breeders among the native North American population were these Nez-Perce Indians that through about 100 years systematically selected the best and most beautifully patterned stallions for further breeding and gelded the solid-colored ones. One of the reasons behind this "breeding program" was the camouflage that these horses provided in the terrain. That the Nez-Perce were hardened men with hardy, persevering horses can be read in Steinbeck's "Travels with Charley". The Nez-Perce disappeared, but their horses with the lovely color became a significant part of the "Western horses". The Appaloosa today has many fans, its own breeding association, its own registry, a fancy members magazine. The big annual event, the National Appaloosa Show with its associated auction, is held alternately in Nebraska, Idaho and Oregon. Several of the cattle farms in the western states have very good stocks of horses, especially Quarter Horses, but next comes the Appaloosa. The tigereds elsewhere. In Sweden they have had and have perhaps still a number of tigered horses; about the Khediven horses and the Roxendorffian breed can be read in "Hästen." Austria still has its Noriker. England got a number of animals from this country, but they seem to have disappeared again, apart from what Circus Mills has got. How is it in Spain, that has been the root of both Knabstruppers and Appaloosas? It would lead too far to go into details, but the color supposedly doesn't exist any more. And yet a least one team of four tigered horses was seen among the 1500 Spanish horses that were in the movie "The fall of the Roman Empire." Inheritance.

Are we faced with a gray horse, it can be determined with 100% certainty, that at least one of the parent animals have had the same color. The same goes for the "tigereds", one of the parents has had the same color type, though with considerable variation with respect to the size and density of spots. The colors gray and tigered are both inherited dominantly. Gamle Todbjerg is almost always encountered in the pedigrees of gray horses of the Jutland breed [a draft horse, very similar to the Belgian], often infinitely far removed; likewise we will encounter the Flæbe mare in the pedigrees of the Knabstruppers; we can't in every case trace the inheritance, but there doesn't emerge tigered offspring from solid-colored parents. Conversely tigered parents don't necessarily have tigered offspring. Here we have to refer to the science of genetics, but in outline this much: A homozygotic tigered will give tigered offspring independent of its mate. If two tigered heterozygotes are mated there is a 75% probability that the offspring will be tigered, still with considerable variation when it comes to the size and density of spots. The third possibility: tigered heterozygote mated with solid-colored. How is that going to og? Here though there is a 50% probability of tigered offspring. But many have had the experience, that tigered x bay or black gives a more beautifully patterned offspring than tigered x tigered. The large South-German Löwen Brewery has several tigered Norikers; they have even tried at their farm Grashof to cultivate the color for their decorative dray horse teams. Here one had the experience, that it was almost impossible to breed toward the right color, when a tigered stallion was used for tigered mares, all kinds of, often too light segregations were the result. The few cases, where the Löwen Breweries did succeed in breeding decorative teams of the right color, were when one used tigered stallions on solid-colored black or brown mares. Today the population of Knabstruppers is at a minimum, when it comes to animals of the right type, with the right color and the right performance. Breeding for color in so numerically inferior a population, shall hardly give results that are satisfactory when the breeding purpose must take into account also type and quality. But we still have the color, and about half of the offspring of these animals will be "tigered," so that we can likely have joy from our Knabstruppers for a long time to come, even if it should turn out to be a "St. Petersburg horse."  Axel Pedersen

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