The Noriker horse is a mid-weight draft horse that hails from the country of Austria. They are commonly used as farm horses in the mountains of that country, and are very talented at pulling heavy loads and performing under harness. They are hardy, well conformed and graceful movers.
The Noriker was originally developed in the Alpine regions in the country of Austria. This area was the ancient Roman state called Noricum, which gives the Noriker its name. The ancient horses were used as farm horses, pack horses, and were used for transportation across the rough mountain terrain. The Romans had stud farms on which they bred working draught horses from the heavy warhorses they used for conquering. As time went on, monasteries took over the breeding of the Noriker, and it was common for them to have stud farms on their land. Through the ages, the horse is thought to have been influenced by Burgundian, Spanish, Haflinger and Neapolitan blood.
In 1729, the breed was modified by the infusion of warm blood into their pedigree. Formerly a very popular agricultural worker, this infusion allowed them to function as an army horse as well. It’s stud book was closed in 1903 to ensure purity of blood with in the breed. The horse became extremely popular in the time between World Wars I and II, but after World War two, numbers began to decline due to increased mechanization. By the year 1900, only about 7000 Norikers were left in the world. Due to efforts to save the breed, these numbers have risen to about 10,000.
The Noriker has an uncanny ability to handle harsh and inhospitable climates. It was developed in an area and during a time when only the strongest survived. They are very tough, and can survive and thrive in areas with severe winters, with little or no shelter. They are excellent foragers and easy keepers. They also have excellent temperaments, and have been part of Austrian folk tradition for centuries.
The breed has been kept very pure due to the rigorous selection of breeding stock. Stallions must be tested before being allowed to stand at stud. There are five sire lines making up the Noriker population, and these are: Vulcan Line, Nero Line, Diamant Line, Schaunitz Line, and Elmar Line. Most of these lines were founded by the named sire in the late 19th and early 20th century. Each line has its own unique characteristics that distinguishes it from the others. The Vulcan Line is the most dominant, with over fifty percent of the Noriker Population coming from this sire. The Nero Line is the second most popular, with the Diamant Line being third most popular. The Daimant horses were origially more popular than the Nero, and are a more agile horse. The Schaunitz Line is comprised of smaller and more temperamental horses, and the Elmar Line exhibit lepoard spotted coloration
The Noriker generally stands between 15.2 and 17 hands tall. It is usually seen as a liver chestnut with a flaxen mane and tail, but it can also be spotted, skewbald, bay or dun. They have a heavy head, with a slightly convex profile. Their necks are large, arching and muscular, and they tie in nicely at the shoulder. The shoulders and chest are thick and muscular, and the rib cage is well sprung. They have round and muscular hindquarters, a low set tail, and strong, well-boned legs. Their hooves should be hard and round. Their movement is strong and forward, and they have and especially pleasing trot.
It should be noted that the Noriker breed now also encompasses the Pinzgauer horse, which was a separate breed at one time. The Pinzgauer is very similar to the Noriker, but it has a spotted coat.
The Noriker is used and bred today by many enthusiasts. Popular activities include pleasure riding, driving, farm work where a tractor is either not capable, or is not wanted, parades, and police mounts. They are widely bred in Austria, but also throughout Southern Germany.