Tuesday, March 10, 2015

A Horse of a Different Color: The White Horse of Hanover (4 of 6)

            King George III apparently created a stir by choosing to ride one of his Creams, a stallion named Beauty, who was deemed “not sufficiently strong” to pull the state coach.[1] It should be mentioned that the carriage made for King George III’s coronation weighs four tons without passengers, and required a team of eight of the largest horses available.[2] Even so, they were only able to pull the immense coach at a walk. The Creams were occasionally ridiculed for being weak, and this incident was cited. However, I believe this supposed weakness was due more simply to the fact that the horses were only ever used for important state occasions. When not preparing for and event, they sat idle. While the Hanoverian Cream was considered exclusively a coach horse, the Hanoverian White was bred for primarily elite riding, as one would expect of the symbol of the royal house (although a handful were still used for coaching purposes).[3] The Hanoverian Whites had little gossip surrounding them, either due to them being less in the public eye, or simply not as commonly leaving the breeding farm in Hanover. King George III had a second “favorite charger”[4] named Adonis from among the Hanoverian Whites, and this stallion elicited none of the commentary that Beauty did.
            By the 19th century the British populace (and American tourists) seem not to have distinguished between the Creams and the Whites, but the Herrenhaus and Royal Mews staff did. Until very recently, it was thought that there was “no such thing” as a white horse. However, over the last decade at least a dozen paint-type mutations have been identified that can cause a white phenotype.[5] Modern enthusiasts generally assume this was the case with the Hanoverian Whites (“white-borns”). While this is possible, I believe they were homozygous LP (appaloosa). The term Weißgeborene is still used for fewspot (homozygous LP) Knabstruppers[6] (Danish spotted warmblood), and an interview with the “oldest retainer belonging to the establishment” printed in J. Wortley Axe’s “The Horse” in 1906 suggested that they “descended from an ancient Danish breed of that color.” The Knabstrupper studbook was not established until 1812, but it was an effort to recreate a type that had been popular in the 17th and 18th centuries.[7] An 1888 German breed book describes them as white up until their eyes, which were black. Many, though not all, paint-type white phenotypes have blue eyes; LP, by contrast, generally does not effect eye pigment. And, an 1864 German Veterinary manual says explicitly that “Die weissgebornen Schimmel-Hengste, [in Hanover] welche wir hier in vorzüglicher Schönheit und Grösse sahen, stammen aus Frederiksborg in Dänemark.”[8] Denmark claims that their “Frederiksborg Horse is the world’s oldest pedigree domestic animal breed…The operation of the royal stud farm at Frederiksborg dates back to King Frederik II [1534-1588].”[9] They were also the primary source of the ‘tiger horses’ (appaloosa spotted) that helped inspire the 19th century creation of the Knabbstrupper. The author of the veterinary manual calls them “weissgebornen Schimmel,” literally white-born mold, which is not uncommon. There are several reasons he might use the term “schimmel.” It is most often used to describe grey horses, and he, like modern enthusiasts, may have baulked at the idea of a true white horse, instead assuming that they were a form of early grey.[10] They may actually have been grey, overtop their LP base coat. Even a fewspot appaloosa often exhibits some shading, especially around the knees, which would be quickly faded by the grey gene. Or, it may actually refer to the inheritance of LP itself. Although “schimmel” usually refers to grey, it is occasionally applied more loosely to other horses with an uneven speckled appearance, such as varnish (controlled by the LP complex) or incomplete leopards (a common result of breeding a fewspot to a solid horse).[11] None of these, of course, preclude those horses being appaloosa.




[1] Sporting Magazine, 256.
[2] http://www.royal.gov.uk/TheRoyalHousehold/Transport/Carriages.aspx
[3] A white horse on a red field was symbolic of the Electorate of Hanover, and thus also the Hanoverian Kings of England.
[4] Adonis, King George III’s Favorite Charger, painted by James Ward ~1800
[6] http://www.knabstrupper-of-independence.de/text/rasse.htm
[7] http://www.knabstrupperforeningen.dk/sider/english-knabstruphistory.htm
[8] “The whiteborn-mold stallions, which we saw in exquisite beauty and size, are from Frederiksborg in Denmark’
[9] History of the Frederiksborg Horse http://www.frederiksborg.com/
[10] Grey in horses is a progressive gene. Horses are born with normal coat color, but go through several shades of grey and are usually entirely white by between 7 and 12 years of age. “Schimmel” is used most often for the middle stages, which have a speckled or “moldy” appearance.
[11] LP complex is still not completely understood, but for the basics see: Equine Color Genetics by Dr. Sponenberg and http://bfg.oxfordjournals.org/content/9/3/193.full.pdf+html

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