A riding adventure with Knabstrup-horses in Andalucia

It was a cool morning in early February 2001 when two nortrekkers, my daugther Marianne and myself, began their journey from Belgium to Andalucia to spend a week in that part of Spain riding Knabstrup-horses. 
This very special breed of horse originated in Denmark in the early 19th century when Spanish soldiers left some horses behind after having spent a winter at Kolding in Jutland as a protective force against a possible invasion by British or Swedish forces;  as history minded readers will know: the for Denmark unfortunate attacks on Copenhagen first by Lord Nelson in 1801 and then again in 1807 forced Denmark/Norway to side with Napoleon instead of staying neutral during these for Europe so turbulent years that characterised the beginning of the 19th century.  One of these left behind horses was a mare of very special endurance and character; it became known as the flæbe-hoppe or mare and when bred with the stallions of the Royal Frederiksborg Castle, produced a number of very special white horses with black spots.   [The Knabstrup estate located some 80 kms west of Copenhagen, later became the main breeding centre and thus the origin of the name of these horses.]

This remains the characteristic of the Knabstrup-horse which, combined with its fine classical movements in passage and piaffe, made it a very attractive horse for both military and classical dressage purposes during the 19th century.  I remember well, when I grew up in Denmark during the 1940s and 50s, these horses which were then mainly used by a few of the local townspeople to pull their buggies; when they approached our farm on a Sunday morning with two such horses in front of their buggy, we children quickly ran up to the main road to watch them pass; now the Knabstrup-horse is considered a rare domestic animal in Denmark, elegible for support from the fund for the protection of these species.

We arrived at the airport of Alicante in the early afternoon where we met Iris, a third participant from Germany;  at the airport Dirk, our host and guide during the week, was waiting for us to drive us the about 200 kms to the estancia located near Velez Rubio in the eastern-most part of Andalucia some 5 kms from the motorway between Alicante and Granada.  Uta, Dirk's wife was waiting for us home at the estancia with coffee and delicious cakes;  we spent the afternoon saying hello to the horses, including the stallion, some six mares and another six young horses.  We were installed in very comfortable rooms with separate shower;  the estancia is only about one year old and sits in the hilly landscape overlooking several hundreds of hectares of almond trees which were all in full blossom at this time of the year.


"I am the Stallion of Cerro Caballero"




Next morning after a solid "petit dejeuner" we went to fetch and saddle the horses;  we were given three mares to ride which were easy to prepare and saddle;  the tack, saddles and bridles, were of mostly Spanish type and very comfortable for longer trail rides.  We started out around 10.30 aiming for an easy ride of 4-5 hours the first day with a planned lunch break after some three hours.  But the day soon become somewhat complicated;  we were probably less than 200 meters from the stable when a big dog-like creature scared the horses who wanted to return to the stable right away;  the creature was probably one of the local foxes out on a late morning patrol of his territory;  it disappeared very fast into the bush along the road and we were able to continue through the Rambla Nogalte river bed which was completely dry, without more trouble until our hosts proposed a canter;  having signed up for the trail ride all guests were clearly supposed to be confirmed riders; but it turned out that Iris, our participant from Germany, was less so; she simply fell off the horse as soon as it started the easy gallop with the other horses, and unfortunately she was knocked unconscious for some minutes with a concussion which was later confirmed at the local hospital some 50 kms away; luckily she wore a protective riding hat, but that day was both the first and last riding day for Iris during the week.  Dirk, Marianne and I were able to continue the ride while Uta brought Iris to the hospital for observation for the rest of the day;  we visited a small village where the very friendly locals offered us their special wine before we enjoyed our sandwiches for lunch.  In the afternoon a storm blew up, but although strong winds almost tore us from the backs of the horses, we remained in the saddle and finally arrived safely back at the estancia in the late afternoon.

The second day we proceeded to a road-side restaurant which served an excellent paella for lunch.  We enjoyed increasingly warm and sunny weather, although we also noted snow on the 2045 m Sierra de Maria towards the north-west of our trail - no doubt the result of the previous day's storm which had only brought some drops of rain on our trail.

Next day was Saturday and we all went sightseeing or shopping in the local village of Velez Rubio some 15 kms from the estancia.  Marianne wanted to buy picture postcards to send to all her friends in Norway and other countries.  After some walking we found a shop at the local open-air market place which sold mainly paper and other office like equipment;  we thought we asked for postal stamps for the cards, but when the shop-keeper came back with a kit for aquarel painting, we admitted that our Spanish was not good enough;  the shop-keeper then advised us to go to the post office to buy stamps.  Luckily we met Uta and Dirk on the way who helped us buy the stamps in a nearby photo-shop.  Afterwards we visited the local museum; we were the only guests, but we found it most interesting; it included both an etnographic exhibition with small scale copies of former and maybe also present small holder farms and handicraft shops. 
The archaelogical exhibition included artifacts and small scale models of local sites like the Cueva de los Letreros. 


Velez Blanco and its castle


After trying the local specialities for lunch - like rabbit brain and cured blackfish - we went back to the estancia and then on to do some more sightseeing at the nearby beach resorts in the afternoon.  We ended up spending most time in Mojacar, a village consisting of entirely small white houses at the edge of the Sierra Cabrera.

The longest trail rides were on the Sunday and Monday;  we left the horses and Dirk to stay overnight near the village of Velez Blanco which boasts an impressive renaissance castle as its major tourist attraction.  We learned that the original marble main patio was missing from the centre of the castle; a posting in the chateau referred to it being donated to the New York Metropolitan Museum or Art by a certain Mr Blumenthal, apparently after it was sold to him by the impoverished castle owners around 1900.  Marianne in fact  found the local cave paintings dating some 7000 years back in time much more interesting.  They are found in the Cuevas de los Letreros about a kilometre outside the village in an open air cave which was declared a national monument in 1924.

The ride back from Velez Blanco with the Sierra Gigante behind.


Cueva de los Letreros

Lone - "my horse" during the week

Tuesday, our last full day at the estancia, was spent on a relative short trail ride around the 90 ha estancia;  in the afternoon Dirk showed us his ability as horse trainer or wishperer using the Pat Parelli techniques.  We concluded our week with a final excellent dinner in Spanish style as always prepared by Uta with locally produced wine.  On the Wednesday Dirk drove us back to the airport at Alicante - in drizzling rain - what a contrast to the more than 20 degree sunny weather we had enjoyed the previous six days.

February 2001
Copyright by
Svend Kræmer

The trail ride was organised via

Dirk and Uta Pommeranz-Pietsch 
Finca Cerro Caballero
E-04820 Velez Rubio
tel/fax: +34-950-527-168
were our charming and always friendly hosts.

Knabstrup and other horse related sites:


On the trail back home

Dirk practising Pat Parelli techniques

Sunset at the Finca Cerro Caballero