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Noriker stallion with official edelweiss brand
Other namesPinzgauer, Norico-Pinzgauer
Country of originAustria
Distinguishing featuresAgile, sure-footed draft horse of medium height
Breed standards

The Noriker horse, also called the Norico-Pinzgauer and historically known as the Pinzgauer horse, is a moderately heavy Austrian draught horse breed. The Noriker is considered indigenous to the central Alpine region of Europe, and is believed to have originated around the highest mountain of Austria, the Grossglockner. This region was once known as the Roman province of Noricum. At the end of the 19th century the original name Pinzgauer horse was changed to Noriker horse, due in part to the Romanophile attitude in this time.

The breed played an important role in the transportation of goods through the Alps, carrying salt, gold and Celtic iron from Salzburg to Italy, and on the return journey bringing back wine and spices. This use developed a powerful, long, deep-barreled and sure-footed draught horse as an adaptation to the alpine terrain. The use of Noriker horses in agriculture started much later, during the industrialisation period in the 20th century.


Harnessed pair at the Freilichtmuseum Roscheider Hof in Konz, in Germany
The Noriker horse is ridden in the Kufenstechen, part of a traditional folk event in Feistritz an der Gail during the annual Kermesse on Whit Monday, wherein unmarried young men attempt to smash a wooden barrel with an iron

Up to the end of the 19th century, Noriker horses were an important link in the trade between central Europe and the Adriatic. Very early in the breeding history of the Noriker horse, baroque horses also played an important role. With the establishment of the stud farm Rif, near Salzburg in 1565, the phase of the refinement by Neapolitan and Iberian stallions began, which exerted their influence on the Noriker horse until 1806. Down to the present day this influence is visible in the conformation of these horses: Roman heads with a powerful and compact topline, long manes and tails. Baroque influence is also visible in coat colours, with a large number of black horses as well as blue roans, called Mohrenköpf referring directly to the Italian expression testa di moro or capo moro, meaning "dark head" or "Moor (dark) head". Besides Mohrenköpfen, the leopard spotted coat colour, named tiger, is still an active breeding objective of the breed as well, which is unusual for nearly all other European horse breeds.[citation needed]

In 1903, the studbook was closed, and since then Noriker horses are strictly purebred.[1] The Italian stud book was established in 2011, but because Noriker is a cross-border breed and Austria holds the original stud book, the AIA defers to the Austrian rules of selection.[2]

The years between the two world wars were when the popularity of the Noriker horse peaked, and the population grew constantly. However, after the Second World War, mechanisation started to take over, though in the poorer mountainous regions of Austria the machinery was not affordable, so horses in the Alps have continued to be part of everyday life until about 1968, when the Noriker horse population, then at 34,510 head, began to decline.

The late 1970s were called the crisis of horse breeding in Europe, and within about twenty years, 80% of the Noriker horses disappeared, a fact that was directly connected to the third wave of mechanisation. By 1985, only 6,996 Noriker horses survived. While today, many draught horse breeds of Europe are endangered, the Noriker has rebounded to some extent, and currently about 10,000 Noriker horses are living in the Austrian countryside. The Noriker is also bred in Italy, predominantly in the Puster Valley and the Ladin valleys.[3] The Noriker is considered an indigenous horse breed recognised by the Associazione Italiana Allevatori (AIA), the Italian breeders' association,[4] which also publishes the Italian breed standard.[1]: 6  The regional breeders' federation is the same as that for the Haflinger, the Provincial Federation of South Tyrol Haflinger Horse Breeders.[5]

The Abtenauer[edit]

A smaller sub-type of the Noriker, standing about 147–152 centimetres (14.2–15.0 hands; 58–60 in), was reared in the area of Abtenau, in the Lammertal to the south of Salzburg. Unlike the main population, this Abtenauer strain did not carry the leopard-spotting gene; the most usual colours were chestnut, black and blue roan.[6]: 432  It had quality gaits and was noted as a good trotter. The breed's primary use was to transport wood over steep terrain. It was absorbed into the main Noriker population.[7]: 97 


A spotted "tiger" Noriker horse at Fieracavalli, Verona

The Noriker is a moderately heavy mountain draught horse with a low centre of gravity, sure-footed, and with a good sense of balance. The height at the withers lies between 158 and 163 cm (15.2 and 16.0 hands). The head should be dry, typy and should express draught horse characteristics. The neck is strong with visible musculature. The shoulder should be long and well positioned. The width of chest is broad and deep, the croup is very muscular. Special attention is placed on correct position of the short legs having strong clean joints and little feathering.[8] Circumference of cannon bones of mares has to be between 22 and 25 centimetres (8.7 and 9.8 in).

Norikers present in several colors: bay, black, chestnut, roan (called Mohrenköpf), leopard (tigrato in Italian and tigerschecken in German) and, rarely, tobiano. The latter three originate from a clerical baroque stud farm near Salzburg.[9][1]: 16 

Founding sire lines[edit]

There are five sire lines: Vulkan, Nero, Schaunitz, Diamant, and Elmar.[1]: 11 [10]: 2  Male foals are named with a double name—the first name starting with the same first letter as their sire, the second name is the foundation sire's name, followed by a roman numeral indicating the number of generations since the founding sire. Female foals are named starting with the same letter as their dam.[1]: 11 [10]: 2 

Since the foundation of the Noriker stud books, this sire line has been the most popular one. More than 50% of all present Noriker horses belong to the Vulkan line. The line was founded by the brown stallion 13 Vulkan 635; born in 1887 in the Pinzgau. The reason for the dominance of this line was the fact that the founder stallions and their descendants represented the heavy draught horse type favoured in those times.
The Nero line is the second largest line in the Noriker breed, founded by the stallion 554 liz. Nero. The famous Noriker stallion 1378 Stoissen-Nero V/977, foaled in 1931 belonged to this line. He possessed all qualities which are also desirable in the present time. The reasons for the major influence of the Nero-line are the same as for the Vulkan-line.
The Diamant-line started promisingly in the early 20th century, but after 1950, it was surpassed by the Nero-line. The founder of this line was 367 Bravo 149, foaled in 1877. The name of this line origins from his great-grandson 216 Diamant 496, foaled 1903. Horses of this line are very typy and agile.
The Schaunitz-line was founded by the stallion Amor, born in 1888 in Tirol. The line is named after one of his sons, 255 Schaunitz, who was born in 1896. In former times, Schaunitz horses were famous for their lively temperament and their durable constitution. Their sometimes difficult character could be the reason for the decline of this line in the 1980s. Nowadays, their smaller size and pleasing conformation, combined with good movement has led to a new era of this line.
The stallions of the Elmar line are mostly leopard-spotted. The line was founded in 1896 by the stallion 80 Arnulf 55. For this line, the Baroque influence is seen in the special coat colour, as well as a smaller size and lighter build. It is a small sire line but valued for its leopard-spotting.


  1. ^ a b c d e "Disciplinare del Libro Genealogico" [Breed standard] (PDF). Associazione Italiana Allevatori (in Italian). Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  2. ^ "Relazione attività 2014" [Activity report 2014] (PDF) (in Italian). Associazione Italiana Allevatori. 2014. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  3. ^ "Norico o Noriker" [Norico or Noriker : Atlas of horse breeds - Italian breeds]. (in Italian). Retrieved 6 June 2017.
  4. ^ Razze-Popolazioni: D.M. 24347 del 5/11/2003 (in Italian). Associazione Italiana Allevatori. Archived 7 June 2007.
  5. ^ The Noriker - History. Provincial Federation of South Tyrol Haflinger Horse Breeders. Accessed June 2017.
  6. ^ Porter, Valerie; Alderson, Lawrence; Hall, Stephen J.G.; Sponenberg, D. Phillip (2016). Mason's World Encyclopedia of Livestock Breeds and Breeding (Sixth ed.). CAB International. ISBN 9781780647944.
  7. ^ Jaritz, Günter; Altmann, Fritz Dietrich (2010). Rote Listen gefährdeter Tiere Österreichs 4. Alte Haustierrassen: Schweine, Rinder, Schafe, Ziegen, Pferde, Esel, Hunde, Geflügel, Fische, Bienen [Red lists of endangered animals in Austria] (in German). Vienna: Böhlau. p. 97. ISBN 9783205784807.
  8. ^ Summerhayes, RS (1948). The Observer's Book of Horses and Ponies. London & New York: Warne & Co. OCLC 8385572.
  9. ^ Druml, T.; Baumung, R.; Sölkner, J. (2009). "Pedigree analysis in the Austrian Noriker draught horse: genetic diversity and the impact of breeding for coat colour on population structure". Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics. 126 (5): 348–356. doi:10.1111/j.1439-0388.2008.00790.x. ISSN 1439-0388. PMID 19765161. Retrieved 12 November 2023.
  10. ^ a b "Zuchtbuch über den Ursprung der Rasse Noriker" [Stud book about the origin of the Noriker breed] (PDF). Austria Horse (in German). Retrieved 12 November 2023.


  • Druml, Thomas, ed. (2006). Das Noriker Pferd [The Noriker Horse] (in German). Graz, Austria: Vehling Verlag. ISBN 3-85333-123-8.
  • Feuersänger, Helmut (1941). Der Pinzgauer Noriker. Landespferdezuchtverband Alpenland e.V. Salzburg.
  • Grilz-Seger, Gertrud; Druml, Thomas (2010). The Noriker Horse: Meeting the 21st century. Bücherott: Asmussen Verlag. ISBN 978-3-935985-49-9.
  • Schöfl, Johann (1960). Das autochthone Kaltblutpferd der Alpen, der österreichische 'Noriker', mit den charakteristischen Merkmalen seiner Blutlinien [The autochthonous draft horse of the Alps, the Austrian 'Noriker', with the characteristic features of its bloodlines] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Dissertation BOKU Vienna.
  • Suchanka, Franz J. (1900). Das norische Pferd. Historische Studie über die Abstammung und Zucht des norischen Pferdes, mit besonderer Berücksichtigung der Zucht des Pinzgauer Pferdes im Lande Salzburg [The Noric horse. Historical study of the ancestry and breeding of the Noric horse, with particular attention to the breeding of the Pinzgauer horse in the state of Salzburg] (in German). Vienna, Austria: Selbstverlag von H.H. Hitschmann. OCLC 49464151.

External links[edit]

  • Media related to Noriker at Wikimedia Commons