It’s easy to pick a Knabstrupper out of the crowd. The 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 Region 8 rider shares about finding his unexpected equine partner, a Knabstrupper/Friesian cross, and their journey to their USDF Bronze Medal together.
By Dan Brown
In the summer of 2017, I was feeling lost as a rider. At the end of 2016, we had found a career-ending injury in my new competition prospect, General. As our training program moved forward, he started to exhibit signs of non-specific pain while in work. What we had discovered was that he had an old track injury that had been missed in the pre-purchase exam, and his left front fetlock was nearly fused. He would never be able to compete and had to be retired to a light riding home after less than a year in training. I was heartbroken but it was time to start looking for a new partner. I only had two requirements: no Friesians, and no greys.
Moving on to the summer of 2017, I had been slowly looking for a new show partner with no real success. A close friend of mine happened to go to the first show of the season at Stockade Polo Club in upstate New York to watch a friend ride. She went to visit her friend’s stall after her test, and in the stall next door was Duo, a gorgeous, grey Friesian x Knabstrupper gelding. He had just turned 5 and was on his first local show tour to prepare him for sale. After speaking with his owner, my friend called me to tell me that she had found a horse I absolutely had to try out.
It took a little convincing, as I wasn’t sure he was what I was looking for. I really wanted something a little older and preferably a much darker color. Not to mention that I had only owned grey horses, and I was really looking forward to not having to bulk purchase whitening shampoo every year. However, in the middle of July, I went to try Duo out. I was immediately impressed with the way he moved and his temperament. Nothing that I did the first time I rode him seemed to phase him in the slightest, but I wasn’t convinced yet. I decided to go back once more, and he was just as steady and talented as the first time that I saw him.
After speaking with my trainer, Krystal Wilt, and my parents, I decided to take a chance on Duo to see where it would lead us. Once he cleared the pre-purchase checks, he was able to come home in the early part of August. Within two weeks, we were at our first fun Fix-A-Test show with our trainer, and we ended up doing far better than I could have imagined for only two weeks together, earning High Point for open riders. This was just the start of our show career together.
Leading into the show season of 2018, it was time to define short-term and long-term goals for Duo and I. I had wanted to earn my USDF Bronze Medal for a very long time. I had shown locally up to Third Level on my first horse in high school, but had not made it to a recognized show to earn our scores before she retired. Until I met Duo, I had largely left that goal behind. With Duo, it finally felt possible to make it to bronze, so our long-term goal was set. In the short-term, we worked on our partnership and slowly moved Training Level and First Level for the entire 2018 show season.
The 2018 show season was extremely busy, but went extremely well. I was floored by how easy Duo was to work with and how consistent he was, both at home and in the show ring. His ‘try’ is unmatched. Coupled with his level temperament, it meant he was a perfect partner for me. We earned our first two qualifying scores towards our bronze at First Level within our first full year together. As the 2018 show season wound down, my trainer and I started to focus on training for Second Level for the following year.
I was nervous heading into the 2019 show season, as I had never shown Second Level at a recognized show, but Duo continued to rise to the challenge. We rode both First Level Test 3 and Second Level Test 1 for the entire show season. I was hoping to get our Second Level bronze scores and qualify for the Region 8 Great American Insurance Group/USDF Regional Championships for 2019 at the same time. We unfortunately missed the deadline for having all of our Qualifying scores at First Level. However, on our last day of showing at HITS on the Hudson, in our very last test of the year, we managed to nail our final Second Level Test 1. We ended that season with a 65.451% at Second Level Test 1, and had earned both our Second Level scores towards our Bronze Medal. At the 2019 Year End Awards, Duo also won the Adequan® All-Breeds Champion for First Level from the Friesian Sporthorse Association.
At the end of 2019 and into the beginning of 2020, we had to take a break from training for Duo to heal from a left stifle injury. Treating his stifle and rebuilding his strength took most of the year in 2020. As we approached September 2020, my trainer and I started to make plans to reach Third Level by the end of the summer in 2021.
During the winter of 2020, we concentrated on tackling the individual movements in Third, and building up Duo’s strength after his recovery period. The only thing that we really struggled with was the canter to walk downward transition. I had a mental block about how to ride this movement, and Duo was extremely patient with me while I struggled through. By late spring 2021, we had finally figured out all the pieces that we needed for Duo to start learning his flying changes. Of course, this ended up coinciding perfectly with the date of my wedding in late May of 2021. I left Duo with my wonderful trainer for two weeks while my fiancée and I were away for our wedding.
In those two weeks, my trainer was able to put enough time into his changes that I could pick them up in lessons when I got home from the wedding. This highlights two of my favorite things about Duo: his drive to try his hardest and his easy trainability. He will always at least try if he is comfortable with you, and he usually picks new things up very quickly. With this final piece in place, we were ready for our final drive to Bronze.
We only entered two shows at Stockade in the summer of 2021, the first show was only a few weeks after our wedding, and it didn’t go quite as we wanted. I was initially hoping to qualify for Regionals at Second Level, so we rode both Second Level Test 3 and Third Level Test 1. The Second Level tests were largely fine, but the changes in the Third Level tests were a bit of a mess. In the second show at Stockade, we registered for four rides of Third Level Test 1, aiming to take as many stabs at getting our two scores as possible. On the first day, we finally got our first Third Level score over 60%, so we had two more tests on the second day to earn our Bronze.
The first test on that Saturday was a complete mess, we were both completely wiped out from the day before and the afternoon looked like rain. We intended to scratch our final test to get out before the rain came in, but our trainer convinced us to stay, as it wouldn’t cost us anything to try one more test. About an hour before our ride time, the rain started to come down in buckets, but there was no call for a rain delay, so we tacked up and got out there. The rain was still coming down hard during our warmup and what we could do in the footing was limited. So, when they called for the tests to restart, I had no expectations of riding a good test. We just splashed through the puddles, doing the best that we could. It felt like a clean test, but I had no idea where we would place.
When the scores finally came out later that afternoon, it turned out we had done it with an average score between the two judges of 61.081%. We had earned the final Bronze Medal score, and fulfilled a dream that I had held since I was in high school. It just would not have been possible without this wonderful horse and our amazing trainer, Krystal. Our next goal is moving forward to Silver.