Knabstrupper Horse Facts And Information – Breed Profile

The Knabstrupper is a newly established breed of horse that is as beautiful as the Appaloosa and has as much charm and stamina as her. Read on to discover the ultimate guide to these amazing creatures.

Knabstrupper Horse

Knabstrupper History

Horses known for their eye-catching spots have been around for thousands of years. The spotted horse has been seen in primitive cave paintings dating back to the Gravettian culture, beginning in 25,000 BC. In the Midi-Pyrenees region in France, the walls of Pech Merle cave are decorated with beautiful paintings and engravings of the spotted horse. 

The Knabstrupper Horse, developed in Denmark in 1812, is one of the oldest recognized breeds in Europe. A chestnut-colored mare with beautiful leopard patterning was bred to a solid-colored male. 

The breeding resulted in an adorable Danish warmblood colt with remarkable spots. Both the mother horse and her son were bred to many other horses, which produced many more baby horses with the same magnificent spotting. And thus, the Knabstrupper breed was established.

The numbers of the breed, however, began to dwindle at the beginning of the 19th century. A devastating fire, in which 22 of the top breeding horses perished, almost caused the breed to disappear.

There have been several attempts to save the breed for more than 100 years. Many other attempts at horse breeding were made by crossbreeding with the Knabstrupper, including three Appaloosa stallions that were transported to Denmark to add to the lineage in 1971. The Appaloosa horse was explicitly chosen as its origins are similar.

Today, the Knabstrupper shares the same leopard genetic mutation as the Appaloosa, giving her a very unique coat. Both breeds were established apart from one another, but both trace their heritage to the Spanish spotted patterns horse. The Spanish spotted was brought to New World from Europe by Hernan Cortes in the early 16th century. 

Knabstruppers were brought to the United States in 2002, where programs for breeding were established in Texas. They continue to be bred in Denmark, Sweden, Norway, Italy, Switzerland, The Netherlands, Germany, The United Kingdom, The Czech Republic, New Zealand, Australia, and Canada. 


Today the breed stands at between 15 and 16 hands and weighs roughly 1,150 pounds.

Their patterns range from a solid coat, such as bay or chestnut, to looking like a purebred Appaloosa, called the leopard complex, as the trait is still prevalent. 

Other characteristics of the leopard complex (LP) gene are striped hooves and a visible white sclera on the eye. One interesting fact is that not every Appaloosa will exhibit mottled skin; however, horses that carry at least one dominant LP gene will. 

Hence, the Knabstrupper is almost always seen with the white sclera and striped hooves. They will also usually have spotted skin around the eyes, mouth, and genitalia.

The Knabstrupper is a sensible, large framed animal. She has a communitive face, with friendly eyes and relaxed, small ears. She is powerful and well-built with a strong neck and back. Her limbs are muscular and well defined, giving her an overall beautiful appearance.

She is generally divided into three different types; Baroque, Sport Horse, and Pony.

  • The Baroque is a little shorter and broader. You will often see her as a popular performer in a circus. 
  • The Sport excels in dressage, eventing, and show jumping. 
  • The Pony type is more suitable for a child as she is smaller. 


The breed is well known for being gentle and kind. They are very intelligent and curious, which makes them easily trainable. Knabstruppers have tremendous stamina and the willingness to work. 

These high-spirited beauties, though well mannered, can be a bit bold. They tend to be rather nosey and sneaky, which only makes them more of a pleasure to own. 

Knabstruppers share many of the personality traits of the Appaloosa, aside from strength and stamina. While being competitive, they can also be stubborn creatures! 

If feeling silly, they may rear, which proves difficult when you are trying to catch them. 

However, like the Appaloosas, the Knabstrupper loves to learn new things and will find themselves bored if not stimulated enough. If given the proper training and handling, these gentle horses do wonderfully with families. 

Diet And Nutrition

Like most horses, Knabstruppers require a standard diet of quality hay, fresh grass, grains, and fruits and vegetables. They may also need mineral or vitamin supplementation, depending on their activity. 

It’s vital that in addition to a constant supply of fresh water, your horse has the opportunity to graze as much as possible. Twenty-four-hour access is ideal because, without it, they can quickly develop gut disorders and stomach ulcers. 

Because not every pasture provides perfect nutrition, Knabstruppers still need additional feed to maintain their ideal body weight. This is especially true between autumn and spring. Be wary of any shrubs or plants that are toxic, such as ragwort or yew.

Fruits and vegetables can be fed in moderation.

Any change in your Knabstrupper’s lifestyle may require an adjustment to her diet. Increased or reduced workload, pregnancy, lactation as well as aging are all factors.  However, any rapid change to your horse’s diet can also result in illness. A diet should always be changed slowly, ideally over two weeks’ time. 


Ideally, it would be best to groom your Knabstrupper daily, as this is an essential part of her health. Daily grooming will allow you to check on her overall health and well-being as well. 

Besides being a wonderful bonding experience, grooming will keep your horse’s skin and coat healthy. It also reduces the chance of thrush, scratches, or other skin issues. Ensuring that your horse is not chafing under her tack is important too. 

Go over your Knabstrupper with a fine-tooth comb; look for cuts, lameness, swelling, or any other changes in her appearance. 

If your Knabstrupper has a lot of white, your job may be a little more challenging, as you will need to be sure to remove debris and dirt, as well as tangles in her mane and tail. 

Horses love baths, as long as it’s in warmer weather, so don’t be afraid to use the shampoo. Daily inspections of the hooves are essential as well. It’s an excellent opportunity to look for injury, and it prevents infection.

Because the Knabstrupper has several of the same traits as the Appaloosa, you will need to be aware of the sensitivity of her skin. Because they have a lot of pink skin and areas of light hair, they are more prone to sun damage. 

Consider keeping her in shaded areas as much as possible. You can also consider equine-safe sunscreen to protect her. 

Health Problems

Because the Knabstrupper carries the same leopard complex gene, they are also prone to some of the same health problems as the Appaloosa.

1. Equine Recurrent Uveitis

They have a much greater risk of developing Equine Recurrent Uveitis (ERU). Also known as moon blindness, ERU is the most common cause of horse blindness in the world.  

It can affect up to 25% of horses, and over 50% of horses with ERU eventually go blind. A large percentage of horses with ERU can not return to everyday life. 

ERU is most often seen with inflammation of the uveal tract, or middle layer, of the eye. It can appear in one or both eyes. Damage caused by ERU can lead to glaucoma as well. 

Studies have determined that the LP gene is the risk factor for ERU. The infectious organism Leptospira spp has also been linked to ERU. Higher numbers of ERU seem to be reported in humid temperatures than in dry climates. 

Indicators of ERU are episodes of redness, squinting, and tearing of the eye. The disease presents itself in three different ways.

  • The Classic form, the most common, is described as several periods of active, painful eye inflammation, followed by periods of no activity. These repeated cases are often what will lead to blindness.
  • Insidious cases usually have low-grade, persistent eye inflammation. This does not appear to be painful, but it will gradually lead to the destruction of the ocular tissue and degeneration of the eye structures. It will also result in vision loss. 
  • Posterior ERU is seen with inflammation in the back of the eye. Retinal degeneration is often prevalent.

While there is no cure for Equine Recurrent Uveitis, there is treatment. Topical steroids, anti-inflammatory medications, and mydriatics help reduce inflammation, especially during an active period. 

Surgical approaches, such as cyclosporine implants, do appear to be effective. It can successfully control inflammation and improve vision. 

Enucleation, or removal of the eye, is often recommended if the eyes are painful or have lost all vision.

2. Congenital Stationary Night Blindness

Because Knabstruppers carry the LP gene, they are also at risk for another eye condition; Congenital Stationary Night Blindness (CSNB).

CSNB is the inability to see in conditions with little to no light. The disease results from abnormal cell signaling from the low-light cells of the retina. The cells do not properly transmit their signals, often resulting in night blindness. 

CSNB is usually present at birth and does not worsen with age. Horses with the condition typically see fine in daylight, but the disease causes anxiety, confusion, and apprehension in low-light atmospheres. 

If afflicted with CSNB, your Knabstrupper may be scared to move in the dark in fear of bumping into things. They may also be hesitant to enter a dark stall or barn.

There is no cure for CSNB, but it can be managed successfully. Your horse should be placed in a familiar location at night, with stall lights left on. You want your horse to feel secure and safe. 

If you have an electric fence, be sure it has a clicking sound so your horse can get used to it. That way, she won’t bump into it on accident if she is in the pasture at night. 

Aside from the two genetic eye conditions, Knabstruppers generally have good health. They aren’t prone to lameness or obesity, though it’s important to watch for this. 

Horses should never be overweight, as they can develop laminitis, which is a painful condition of the feet. Be sure to watch your Knabstruppers’ diet, so she doesn’t gain extra weight.

The Knabstrapper has average longevity, and with a healthy diet and proper exercise, they should live to be about 27 years of age. 

Notable Knabstrapper Horses

The first Knabstrupper was bred in Denmark in 1671 and was thought to be called “Tiger Horse”. Tiger Horses’ bloodline eventually died out, and a new lineage was established in 1812. 

Major Villars Lunn, the owner of Knabstrupgaard Manor, bought a chestnut mare named Flaebe. Flaebe was purchased from a Spanish Calvary officer stationed in Denmark during the Napoleonic Wars.

She was a beautiful dark red with a white mane and tail, and her body was covered in exquisite small white designs. She was a top-quality mare with stunning looks.

One of the requirements for breeding at Knabstrupgaard Manor was performance. Horses had to have incredible stamina and be able to work hard while keeping a good temperament. 

In 1813, Flaebe was bred with a chestnut Frederiksborg stallion. Her colt was named Flaebestallion and became the foundation sire for the new spotted horses with spotted coats. He had an unusually metallic color to his coat and was so beautiful. He seemed to glow!

Flaebe then became the breed mother of the Knabstrupper breed. Because she never gave birth to a solid female or male, it is believed that she carries the spotted gene, making her responsible for the beautiful coat patterns seen in Knabstruppers today. 

Another of Flaebe’s colts was born in 1818. His name was Mikkel, and he became famous for his racing performances. He was a hard worker who pulled carriages in a Danish racecourse. He was almost undefeated except for one race in Copenhagen when he was injured. 

Many people saw Mikkel’s races, and it was he who gave the Knabstrupper the reputation of being a performance horse. Mikkel is the most famous Knabstrupper breed known today. 

Uses Today

Today, the Knabstrupper is used for many different things. They can be used in a variety of equestrian competitions, such as dressage, riding, driving, and jumping. They can also be seen pleasure riding, being used as carriage horses, or performing in animal shows. 

They are still known for their liveliness and energy and excellent temperament. They are also good with children and have a reputation as being ‘good doers’.

There’s a whole world of horse breeds out there to explore! Discover and find out more information by checking out our horse breed guides.