Seeing Spots: A Conversation with Knabstrupper Breeder Meagan Maloney

Meagan Maloney of Stouffville, ON, is championing the show-stopping Knabstrupper breed in Canada, both in the ring and through her breeding program at Tiara Equine.
Photo Credit: Christina Doherty

Keep reading to learn more about Meagan’s breeding program, and why it’s more than just their distinctive leopard coats that make Knabstruppers stand out from the crowd.

Equestrian Canada: What inspired you to breed horses?

Meagan Maloney: I’ve always been inspired by the trainers I’ve ridden with who also breed – Canadian Olympian Gary Roque is a big influence. Personally, I was struggling to find what I wanted on the ground so I took the gamble of breeding. I love it, but to be absolutely clear: if you want something very specific, buying it when it’s already in existence is much faster, easier and less expensive!

EC: Why did you decide to begin breeding Knabstruppers specifically?

MM: My eventing career was cut short by a catastrophic spinal injury, so I’ve become very particular about what I ride and what sort of horses my clients buy. I have since made a name for myself producing and selling amateur-friendly horses that are safe, sound and sane. The Knabstrupper is not only a breed that is known for their amazing brain, but they are flashy and fun. It seemed logical to be one of the first people in Canada to align myself with this breed.

I just love the versatility these horses offer. I know several FEI level Knabstruppers who can switch from working one-tempis, passage and piaffe one day, to doing a therapeutic riding lesson, to jumping cross-country. I would be lying if I said I didn’t love the loud, spotted coats and riding a unique horse amongst a sea of bays. But the main thing I love about this breed is how quickly they learn, how reasonable they are when stressed, and how smart and funny they are. They have a ton of personality and are a joy to ride and to teach on.

EC: What are the goals of your breeding program?

MM: I started breeding Knabstruppers because I was struggling to find one for myself that was both tall enough and with enough movement to be successful in the FEI ring in dressage. I’m selecting mares with a bit more action to offer, and definitely more height. I’m hoping to produce fun-coloured athletes that can compete in any ring, even up the levels, but who continue to have the amazing sensible personality that the Knabstrupper is known for. I certainly hope to ride one of my homebreds in the FEI ring down the road.

EC: What does it take to create a successful breeding program?

MM: I think any breeder would say that breeding is a passion, as it is not a huge money maker. What I am learning is that many programs struggle if the breeders aren’t also riders or connected to capable riders. It is costly to raise a foal up to riding age, but having to pay to have it trained and shown makes it prohibitive for many breeders. I encourage aspiring young professionals to connect with breeders, and vice versa. There are a lot of opportunities out there that can be mutually beneficial if young professionals and breeders work together with a common goal in mind.

EC: Can you tell us about your foundation mare and stallion?

MM: I went to Denmark in 2014 to look at one particular Knabstrupper stallion to purchase, and flushed out the trip with a number of other horses and viewings. The stallion possessed a lot of what I wanted: he was 17hh, homozygous for spots and already working at about Third level. During my trip, I found Lindegaards Elliot as a yearling colt, who, while more of a gamble at his young age, was a real athlete and a brand new line to North America. After much debate, I decided Elliot was a bit sportier in his shape than the older horse, who was a bit more of a traditional, baroque shape. Purchasing a young colt made the import much easier and allowed me to also afford to purchase a weanling leopard filly by Blue Hors First Choice who would be a very colourful advocate for the breed and hopefully an FEI horse for myself.  

Seeing Spots: A Conversation with Knabstrupper Breeder Meagan Maloney

Lindegaars Elliot, Meagan’s foundation stallion, shows off for the camera.
Photo Credit: Julie Barrett

EC: How many horses are currently in your breeding program?

MM: This is our third year of foals, and we’ve been breeding two or three a year. I’ve made quite a name for myself within the breed, so we have acted as sales agent for many American bred Knabstruppers, as well. We’ve had 20 go through our barn now, which is significant as there are currently less than 30 Knabstruppers in Canada.

EC: Can you explain the genetics behind coat colour, particularly how the distinctive leopard coat is produced?

MM: I constantly see people breeding to a loudly coloured spotted stallion, hoping to create a replica. This is the single biggest mistake someone can make, as crossing a leopard on a solid horse gives you only a 25% chance of another leopard. To produce spots from a solid mare, a few-spot stallion is the only guarantee for colour. Depending on the genetics of the stallion, you can either have a 100% chance of a leopard offspring, 50% chance of leopard, or 50% of other patterns such as blankets and varnish. Lindegaards Elliot was the first few-spot stallion in Canada of the three approved Knabstruppers in the country.

Editor’s note: As a few-spot horse, Elliot has the genetic code LP/LP PATN1/PATN1, which refers to homozygous mutations for both leopard complex spotting and the Appaloosa pattern. Don’t sleep on horse colour genetics – not only is it fascinating, but understanding the science can have a great impact on your breeding program!

EC: What are some of the career highlights from horses out of your breeding program?

MM: As my foundation stallion, Lindegaards Elliot, is just six this year, the oldest offspring are rising three so we are in the very early days for this program. I have twice attended Dressage at Devon for the Breed Show and both times won the Knabstrupper breed class against very established US breeders. This year, my five-year-old mare also qualified for the US Materiale Championships, and finished seventh overall against some of the best young horses in the US. She also competed in the FEI five-year-old test this season in Ontario, and has won several year-end awards.

I have also been lucky enough to ride an American-owned Knabstrupper gelding [CCS Theoden] into my first CDI in Florida, and I hope to repeat this on one of my own horses down the road

Seeing Spots: A Conversation with Knabstrupper Breeder Meagan Maloney

Knabstruppers are hard to miss in the ring, like Meagan’s FEI mount, CCS Theoden.
Photo Credit: Christina Doherty

EC: What do you see as the future of the Knabstrupper in Canada?

MM: I’m hoping the awareness of the breed grows, and that more amateurs find their dream horse in whatever colour they desire. In 2017, we hosted an inspection [for the KNN, the main stud book for Knabstruppers, based in Denmark] in Stouffville during the first-ever tour to Canada, and we again have the panel coming this October. This allows the opportunity to present Warmbloods, Thoroughbreds and some baroque breeds to be inspected as suitable outcrosses to produce main book Knabstrupper offspring. They can also be presented to Westfalen, who maintains a Knabstrupper book. There are less than 1,500 Knabstruppers worldwide, so I’m hoping that we can begin to grow this excellent breed in Canada.