The MonarcH

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Dressage Championships 2021. (Photo by Pics of You)

It’s easy to pick a Knabstrupper out of the crowd.  This Danish breed is an instant head-turner, featuring beautiful and unique coloring from solid to full leopard spotted coats, and everything in between.  We are celebrating this breed as our April Breed of the Month on YourDressage! Join us all month long as we celebrate Knabstruppers with photo galleries and exclusive stories!

Dressage riders who choose Knabstruppers as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All Breeds Awards program as the Knabstrupperforeningen for Danmark (KNN) is a participating organization.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a rider shares how a “surprise project” Knabstrupper turned into the horse of a lifetime. 

By Sophia Martina

When I saw that USDF’s Official Facebook Page was celebrating “Splash of Color” month during December 2021, I knew of the perfect horse to share with the dressage community – and now Knabstruppers get their own month! The MonarcH, a 6-year-old Danish Knabstrupper gelding, is not one of those horses that you merely glance over and forget about. Not only is his coat coloration downright breathtaking, but he also draws you with his expressive but “in your pocket” personality and gentle disposition.

I will never forget my first encounter with The MonarcH. At the time, I was working as the Assistant Barn Manager at Cedar Creek Stables in VA, owned by Dr. Melyni Worth. While most of my day consisted of barn chores, there was usually free time in the middle of the day to ride. And ride I would. Anything that I was allowed to ride, I swung my leg over. I had been riding for years (I started when I was six). I had always done a little bit of everything from eventing, to jumpers, and trail riding, but never really set personal riding goals for myself until coming to Cedar Creek. I quickly found I had a passion for dressage and the desire to learn all I could about it.

One day in early September, Dr. Worth approached me and asked if I could take a day trip with her to Ohio to pick up a Knabstrupper broodmare for her breeding program from a fellow Knabstrupper breeder. Of course, I agreed because it wasn’t a long trip, and it would be a fun change of pace. It wasn’t until we were about halfway to Ohio that Melyni said with a grin on her face, “Oh by the way, I have a project for you, and it will all make sense once we get to Ohio.” Unbeknownst to me when we arrived, I was met with our new “broodmare” who turned out instead to be a one-and-a-half-year-old stud colt, who would one day be lovingly known to me as MonarcH (aka Monty)! Long story short, Monty is the grandson of Halifax Middlesom, who was a Fewspot Knabstrupper breeding stallion Melyni owned and campaigned years prior. Monty’s sire, The Mick, tragically died young and Monty was his only offspring. Thus, wanting to keep the bloodline alive, Melyni decided to purchase him from his breeder as a potential stallion prospect. Monty’s breeder had a small breeding program in the foothills of Ohio and really didn’t have the time or facility to house and keep a young growing stallion. Monty had had minimal handling (mainly for farrier and vet visits). I also need to mention he had never been on a horse trailer, and for him to get to his new home in Virginia, he DEFINITELY was going to have to get on one. Thinking I had quite a task in front of me with getting this stud colt on the horse trailer, I picked up my rope halter and went into the stall to meet my new “project”.

Monty was (and still is) striking. I had never seen a horse colored like he was, and he had the most unique two-toned forelock which made him look like he was the lead singer in an 80’s punk rock band. He was a good-sized young horse and was very curious about who I was and why I had walked into his stall. We took a few minutes and got acquainted, then I took him out of his stall to walk him around and let him look at the horse trailer. The horse trailer in which he was going to have to get on, by himself and ride for hours in the dark to a new home. On top of all that, he was going to have to trust this random girl he just met a few minutes ago and walk up a ramp into a very dimly lit and intimidating looking trailer. However, the brave little guy took a couple of good looks at the trailer and got right on. It only took about 15 minutes from start to finish to get loaded up. He walked into that trailer like he had done it so many times before, and that would be the very beginning of so many firsts and accomplishments for us as a team.

Another of my favorite and fondest memories I have with Monty happened a few years later in October 2019 when he went through his Performance Test to get his full Knabstrupperforeningen for Danmark (KNN) licensing, which gave him a lifetime breeding license. Monty had received his temporary breeding license two years prior, which allowed him to breed only a certain number of mares within a two-year period. Once this two-year period was up, he had to pass his Performance Test for him to obtain his lifetime breeding license, which would allow him to continue as a KNN-approved breeding stallion. The KNN is what I can best describe as the governing body of the Knabstrupper breed. Their sole focus is to preserve the breed and uphold certain breed standards.

One of the things I respect the most about Melyni’s breeding program is that she stays true to the KNN and their values. She doesn’t just breed for color alone; she instead breeds for performance horses first that just happen to have the added bonus of color! Over the years, I’ve seen many breeders who breed solely for color, disregarding overall rideability or trainability. I have difficulty grasping this concept, as the Knabstrupper breed is valued for their exceptional temperament and trainability, and their amateur friendly nature, on top of their colorful coat patterns. So, to take away those qualities of the breed to only leave a beautiful spotted coat leaves a pretty horse that you can’t do much with. This is another aspect of Melyni’s breeding program that I highly respect. Knowing the Knabstrupper breed (as a whole) is smaller than many of the older breeds here in the USA, she is very selective with her breeding, and focuses on quality not quantity. So, it was pretty obvious that Monty had to not only go through his Performance Test, but had to pass it to receive his lifetime breeding license for Melyni to keep him in her breeding program.

Jumping a big oxer. (Photo by Eleszabeth McNeel)

Monty and I worked tirelessly to get ready for his Performance Test. The Performance Test is quite an extensive examination. Each horse must go through a veterinary inspection to show the horse is overall in good health. Next comes the assessment of their gaits (paces), both loose and undersaddle. The undersaddle portion is done according to the judge’s instruction and is done by both the horse’s regular rider and a guest rider to show the horse’s rideability and temperament. A jumping phase comes next, which involves both free jumping, as well as an undersaddle portion. The horse and rider must jump a course with a minimum height of 3’. The final part of the Performance Test is an endurance phase to assess the horse’s strength and stamina. I must admit, I was so incredibly proud of Monty that day. He was an absolute gentleman during the dressage undersaddle portion for both myself and the guest rider. I am not, and never have been, a confident jumper so the anxiety I had over the jumping undersaddle phase was pretty intense that day. Even if it was only a handful of jumps with one or two at the minimum height of 3’, I was a ball of nerves. It was that day I realized I’d officially transitioned into a “Dressage Queen”! However, Monty’s jump round was probably one of the best jump rounds I’ve ever completed. He went around so confidently that I couldn’t help but beam with pride, knowing that as a team we had conquered this phase.

The last phase, the endurance phase, was tough. Not necessarily in complexity but both Monty and I were exhausted from the other phases. Even with all the conditioning work we had done, we were still tired heading into the last phase. Nevertheless, we pushed through it and came in just over the time limit. By the end, I think both of us wanted to curl up and sleep for the next week. As I’ve mentioned before, I couldn’t have been prouder of Monty that day. He ended up getting a fantastic overall score, received his Lifetime Breeding License from the KNN and, to top it off, he was awarded Best Stallion of Show. I couldn’t help but smile for the rest of that day. We had worked so hard, and our hard work had paid off. Monty went above and beyond to give me one hell of a ride that day, and I will never forget it.

Endurance riding (Photo by Eleszabeth McNeel)

Moving forward to present day, Monty is now a 6-year-old gelding that I happily ended up purchasing in January of 2022. Dr. Worth is great about not overusing and over-breeding her stallions, which I think is extremely important in such a rare and small breed. So once her stallions have gotten their Lifetime Breeding License, she will collect and freeze their semen, followed by them being gelded so they can go on to live a happy life as a gelding, while still having them “in the tank” for future breedings. This was the case for Monty, so in November of 2021, he officially became what I like to call a “civilized citizen of society”, aka a gelding. However, Dr. Worth owns and manages a breeding farm, and a gelding is really of no use to her, other than to go out into the world as an ambassador for the breed. Thus, the decision was made to sell Monty.

Inevitably I knew this day would eventually come and I dreaded it. There were many nights where I lost sleep because I knew in my heart, I COULD NOT let Monty go. However, I didn’t know where I’d be financially when the time came, plus I already owned another Knabstrupper named Frej (who is completely blind – keep an eye out for a story about this special Knabstrupper later this month on YourDressage) and I just wasn’t sure I could manage owning two, especially one of Monty’s quality. In the end, I knew what I had to do. I knew I could not let this horse slip away. He is definitely the horse of a lifetime, and the relationship and partnership we have created together over the years was something I couldn’t let go of.

After a VERY long time of saving up, I am proud to say I became Monty’s “official” mom in January of 2022. My goal for the 2022 year is to hopefully have him a solid Third Level dressage horse by the end of the year, and my long-term goal is to one day hopefully achieve my Silver and Gold Medals. I’m happy to say we ended our 2021 season qualifying for  Second Level in the Adult Amateur division at the Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regionals Championships in our region. We had a great time at Region 1 Championships in Lexington, Virginia. We left proud of ourselves for making it there, but with lots of homework for improvements.

I can honestly say I am honored to have played a role in the horse Monty has become. He has come quite a long way from the practically feral stud colt I met so many years ago. He’s certainly a horse of a lifetime and has landed in his forever home!

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