The Norik horses of the older type were considered as the most typical representatives of the western group of domesticated horses, not only because of their chronological characteristics were the closest to the diluvium varieties of equus robustus Steg., but also because the Noriker has the least of the Oriental blood.
This horse got his name after the Old-Roman province Noricum that consisted from today’s alpine countries south of Danube, hence upper and lower Austria, Steiermark, Tyrol and southern part of Bavaria. At one time there were recognized several types of Noriker – Kärnten, Pinzgau, Steiermark and lower Bavaria. Only the Pinzgau Norik kept the purest and most massive forms, because he was bred in remote valleys of Pinzgau, Pangau and Lungau, distanced from the main interconnecting roads between the north and south. Therefore during the consolidation of the race the Pinzgauer Noriker was chosen as a prototype into which all other local types were converted by consistent placements of the Pinzgau stallions in the surrounding alpine countries for many generations. Hence the Noriker became also known as the “Pinzgau Horse”.
Antique statue of Marcus Aurelius in Rome (2nd century A.D.)
Suchanka, the author of the Norik horse monographs, expressed an opinion that Noriker has origins in the Old-Roman horse that existed in Italy already in the second century B. C. and then spread further north to the alpine regions. This explanation is not verified and the opposite is more likely the truth.
The numerous findings of skulls of the wild diluvium horses in the alpine countries, in contrast to very disputable findings of similar sculls in Italy, further according to historical records about the existence of wild horses in the Swiss valleys from the early medieval era, it appears very plausible that in the Alps exists more likely an isolated domestication center of the western type and that from the Alps along the Apennines came this heavier domesticated horse to Italy. Here he was further crossbred with the Oriental horse that came to southern Italy, and relatively high to the north, already with the Phoenician and later on with Greek culture, for the statuaries of these cultures already in the 5th century B. C. are showing the Oriental type of then contemporary horses.
The Old-Roman horse; for example the well-known horseman statue of Marcus Aurelius in the Roman capital or the horse of Roman emperor Commodus in the Vatican’s collections fairly depict a crossbreed of the Oriental with the western horse, but with obvious predominance of the Oriental type. It is the same crossbreed that was bred in Italy by the end of Middle Ages, depicted in Raphael’s frescos, paintings of Ruben, Vandyke, Rembrandt and others. There exist further historical records that in the times of king Charlemagne (768 – 814) the breeding of heavy horse in the Alps existed as an individual breed and it is not coincidental the in the beginning of Modern Times in the alpine region and northern Italy were bred the heaviest carosiers (carriage horses), and the further to the south the lighter the horse becomes; in Naples was actually bred pure Spaniard and in Sicily and Sardinia was bred pure Arab since the Middle Ages.
The preservation of the old breed and the domesticated horse of the alpine western type was in the hands of the Salzburg archdiocese, which maintained its own stud farm in Riess and according to their style was trying to improve the Noriker with the Italian-Spanish stallions bred in Riess. Majority of the breeders were opposed to this kind of crossbreeding and in the hard accessible remote farmsteads high in the mountains they were hiding the domestically bred stallions for breeding of their mares. The same took place later on when there were used, for the improvement of the Noriker in Salzburg, imported Clydesdales, Holsteiners, Normans and finally the Belgian stallions.
A typical domestic Noriker of older form, 12 years old stallion 303 Divis, born 1925. Sire Dietrich, dam 101 Lambert.
When the state took over the Salzburg archdiocese responsibility over the breeding program in 1803, the goal was to solidify and improve the Noriker as the best and most suitable horse for the use in agriculture in the Alpine countries. Also the well-organized breeders’ clubs were trying to eliminate the known deficiencies of the Noriker and make him more acceptable for other countries. The most common fault in Noriker’s exterior was the disproportion between the depth of the chest, further somewhat swayed back, higher in the hind end than in the withers, angular, short and slanted pelvis and on it and on crus, as well as on the forearm insufficient massiveness of muscles, further steep-sloped shoulder blade and heavy, not so fine head etc.
However, it was known that the Noriker had invaluable biological characteristics in his modesty (easy keeper), sturdiness and durability for work in the mountain terrain. When there was established the Noriker studbook, there were set minimal and maximal measurement limits; the minimal height for mares was set at 160 cm, maximal 178 cm, the chest circumference of 25 cm more than the height, the fore shin circumference of 22cm. The weight of 3 ½ year old stallion not below 700 kg and the weight of the mature stallions above the age of 5 between 750 to 800 kg (K. Shultz).
Noriker stallion – new form, 13 years old chestnut 315 Nornik, sire Norek, dam Liese.
The Noriker breed was being solidified by the help of the blood lineages from which the most known are: Max, Dietrich, Diamant, Agras, Falkenstein, Opal, Samson, Saalfelder, Weidermoser, Michael, Nero, Norbert, Lubin, Brandelhofer. All these lineages, except the Brandelhofer, contained only the Noriker blood; in the Brandelhofer’s pedigree was emerging one mare of the Belgian blood. Later on of course, the demands of the breeders have changed and in the effort to make the domestic Norikers more early maturing and marketable they were forced to make certain concessions in reference to the blood purity of the breed. In conjunction, the Noriker’s form was changing in individual time stages.
Norikers of the old type were 170 to 178 cm tall, stood on taller but dry leg, often with longer and tubular torso; the head was heavy, straight or more or less roman nosed slimly attached to a long, nicely curved neck, the back and loins were long, often slightly in caved, in relevance to the torso the hind quarters were somewhat short, steep and angular, the crura relatively skinny (frog stand), which caused the lack of vogue everywhere where the breeders favored horses with round and split (creased) and fleshy hindquarters, as it is typical by the Belgians.
Many of the above mentioned insufficiencies of the old Norikers exterior were gained partly by harsh breeding conditions, partly due to hard work for which he was widely used. In Salzburgs were used carts with a single bar-hitch close to the ground and by traveling down hill the horses them selves had to hold the cart back. Because the Norikers were hitched in relatively young age they got from this type of use sickle hocked hind legs. The pastures for the foals are fairly large, but in the higher Alpine elevations they are poor, the vegetation period is somewhat short there; the horses are moved from the valleys to the mountains only in June and half way in August they are moved back into the valleys where in the winter the foals are tightly stabled and fed only with hay.
153 Norbert 407, gray-brown striped gray Noriker, born 1901, old type, breeding stallion in Silesia 1923.
In color the older type Norikers were mostly bays, dark bays or blacks, often exhibiting odd colors of “tiger” – “leopard” spotted white or times albino, which is inherited from the Spanish and old Italian predecessors. This type of characteristic coloring was traditionally kept up, of course only in smaller counts of individuals. The least frequent color was a chestnut. Today however, the chestnut color with white main, besides the bays and blacks (dark bays) is the very common. Because, the foals of the older type Noriker were much more difficult to convert into money than the Belgian foals, the Alpine breeders of Noriker decided to reform the contemporary type from the foundation to an early maturing form resembling as much as possible the Belgian. This was achieved in relatively short time period by improving the upbringing conditions of young foals as well as by selecting early maturing individuals of a coldblooded horse of the same race and obviously by abandoning the purity of the breed . From the previously mentioned bloodlines were used for the building of the new form of Noriker mainly the following four: Vulkan, Diamant, Nero and Samson.
The new form of Noriker does not differ much from the Belgian. It is a horse of medium height, 160 –170 cm, and 700 – 800 kg in weight, wide, short and rounder, with heavy massive head on short neck, deep chest, shorter legs, with short and strong bones but from the exterior fairly dry joints and tendons, long pelvis whose greater slant remained as the only remnant from the old form; however even that was managed to have the hind quarters more round and creased, as it was favored by the customers. A question remains, whether or not in these new shapes the Noriker will keep his former biological advantages: modesty (undemanding) and priceless endurance in draft in the mountain country with difficult terrain, often lacking sufficient feeding. The Noriker of the older type had more livelier temperament and was relatively more difficult to handle than the Belgian, which was often unfavorably commented on. Never the less, a livelier temperament combined with faster metabolism is a main condition for endurance at work.
The Noriker stallions were hitched in two or three pairs into the heavy Forman wagons and were providing in previous centuries connection and transportation between Alpine countries and harbors on the Adriatic coastline from where the Formans were importing merchandize from overseas. Another quality of the Noriker was his longevity: in Pinzgau the mares were bred for the first time as three years old and still delivering foals in 20 to 25 years of age.
The Noriker was also bred in southern Bavaria, where the breeding center of his breed was in the Bavarian Alps and its lower laying lands with vast pastures and grassy slopes with humus soil providing rich forage. The Alpine and sub-Alpine climate enabled a natural raising of foals on the high laying pastures, toughening them for harsh weather condition. At one time there was bred in this land a cross-breed that had most of his blood from the Noriker but also a great deal of the warm blood by the Oldenburg and Norman stallions. This horse was called the Oberländer. Today this horse has admixed so much of the Noriker blood that the cold blood is predominant in him, hence today’s Oberländer is only a little smaller and lighter than the heavy Noriker from Saltzburgs whom he very much resembles. The coldblooded stud farm Schwainganger was raising a great number of Noriker stallions for breeding purposes in the above-mentioned region.
*crura – crus The section of the leg or hind limb between the knee and foot; shank. (back were I was).