The Polish Arabian Horse – A Brief History
The history of the Arabian horse outside of its desert home is more closely tied to Poland than any other country. The earliest accounts of the purebred Arabian horse kept for breeding purposes within the borders of Poland date to back the 16th century and the court of King Zygmunt II August, the first records within Europe of such endeavors. Esteemed for its cavalry in a period of history where military might on horseback equated to success and survival as a nation, Poland was always in search of superior bloodstock. The Middle Ages were fraught with Christian-Islam conflict, during which the aristocratic armies of Europe were exposed to swift and capable mounts of the Ottoman and the Bedouin. The Poles were quick to recognize the inherent traits of speed, strength, courage, intelligence, endurance, hardiness and all-around versatility of these Arabian mounts, understanding the need to keep purebred breeding stock to use as an outcross with the stockier, sturdier cavalry horses in favor at home. This incorporation of oriental blood proved monumentally important, for it was on these Arabian-infused mounts that King Jan Sobieski and his famed Hussars fought back the Turks at the Battle of Vienna in 1683, turning back the attack of the Ottoman Empire on Europe and forever altering the course of human history.
Aristocratic interest in the Arabian horse flourished in the 19th century, with the establishment of several large-scale breeding operations on the eastern frontier of the Polish kingdom. The noble families of Branicki, Sanguszko, Dzieduszycki, Czartoryski, Potocki and Rzewuski all played pivotal roles, leading fabled expeditions to the deserts of Syria, Turkey and Arabia to secure the finest purebred bloodstock directly from the Bedouin. Poland’s oldest continuous dam lines were established during this period, with the three “Pearls of Polish Breeding” – Gazella, Mlecha and Sahara – adding to these in an 1845 importation. High quality bloodstock was also obtained from other European sources such as the Weil Stud of King Wilhelm of Wurttemberg, from which Poland’s oldest continuous sire line of Bairactar still flourishes. It was during this period that the Arabian horse in Poland took its long-lasting foothold, becoming a permanent part of the national identity and the Polish psyche. Generations of noble families expanded breeding programs throughout the fertile steppes of eastern Poland, establishing new studs with proven bloodstock and fresh ideas, yet firmly centered around the historical idea of the beautiful Arabian athlete.
From these aristocratic roots, the Arabian horse of Poland was noticed by ambitious breeders from around the world. Prior to the outbreak of the First World War, Polish Arabians were exported throughout Europe, having especially significant impact on the breeding programs in Spain and the United Kingdom. One of the most influential Arabian stallions of all time, Skowronek, was sold from Antoniny Stud in 1914 to England, eventually fulfilling his destiny with Lady Wentworth at Crabbet Park.
Geographically challenged in the crucible of Europe between ambitious powers on all sides, Poland has suffered horrifically during times of war and conquest. Caught between the expanding powers of Imperial Germany and the merciless Bolsheviks during the dual desolation of World War I and the Russian Revolution, the aristocratic studs of Poland on the Eastern frontier were completely decimated. The Arabians fortunate enough to survive the horrors of war, which included just a handful of mares and stallions, were collected at Janow Podlaski Stud. It was during this inter-war period that Janow established its reputation as the most important center of Arabian, and Anglo-Arabian, breeding in the new Republic of Poland.
The Arabian breeding program at the National Stud of Janow Podlaski flourished with the assistance of the handful of private breeders that had survived the cataclysmic events of the century’s second decade. Prince Roman Sanguszko sponsored one of the last Polish-funded expeditions to the desert to import asil Arabian bloodstock directly from the Bedouin in 1931. Bogdan Zietarski, together with Carl Raswan, successfully acquired nine horses, among them the stallions Kuhailan Zaid, Kuhailan Afas and Kuhailan Haifi. All three of these stallions would have a profound effect on Arabian breeding worldwide, especially Kuhailan Haifi, who gave Janow Podlaski the legendary Ofir.
It was during this inter-war period that official Arabian racing was established in 1927. The Polish Arabian Horse Breeders Society was established the year prior, with the first official studbook printed in 1932. Continuing the long-standing tradition of performance testing to maintain the authentic attributes of the desert-bred horse was the fundamental aim of Arabian racing in Poland. As a direct result, the Polish Arabian gained fame the world over for its inherent athletic ability, soundness, durability and trainability.
In less than 25 years after the armistice of World War I, the Second World War erupted with fury with the invasion of Poland on September 01, 1939. The Arabian herd at Janow Podlaski was mobilized and evacuated East, in an attempt to avoid the invading Germans. When word reached the Director that the Soviet Army was advancing from the East to confront Hitler’s troops, the decision was made to return to the safety of Janow Podlaski to avoid the atrocities suffered at the hand of the Communists less than three decades earlier. The Russians, unfortunately, were the first to arrive, confiscating all of the horses that were willing and able to make the more than 1000-mile journey on foot to Tersk Stud in the Caucasus. Those Arabians that fled in the chaos, had been hidden and/or refused to be led away quietly during the frenzy of the Soviet invasion were collected together and cared for at Janow Podlaski during the period of German occupation of Poland. At the end of 1944, the decision was made to move the Janow herd to Germany for safety, which found the Arabian horses of Poland in Dresden on the fateful nights of 13-15 February 1945. Amidst the fires and the bombings, the prized Arabians of Janow Podlaski were led to safety against all odds, including the stallions Witraz and Wielki Szlem, invaluable sons of Ofir.
Following soon the surrender of Germany in May 1945, the decision was made to return the Arabian herd to Poland under the care of Janow Director Andrzej Kzysztalowicz, who had traveled with his beloved horses eastwards towards Russia and westwards toward Germany throughout the six-year ordeal. Several of Poland’s best Arabians were kept by the liberating powers, including the Ofir son Witez II and the esteemed broodmatron Iwonka III. Both were shipped to the United States as General Patton prizes of war, where they found fame and long-lasting influence in the post–war pedigrees of Arabian in North America.
Repatriated to the temporary stud of Posadowo following the war due to the destruction of the Janow Podlaski facilities, the decision was made distribute the surviving Arabians to three newly established centers of Arabian breeding: Albigowa, Nowy Dwor and Klemensow. Under Communist rule, private ownership of Arabian horses was forbidden, with only limited breeding conducted in State Studs under strict administration. Despite governmental oppression, Arabian breeding thrived at all three studs from 1948. The State Stud at Klemensow, under the leadership of Director Ignacy Jaworowski, was eventually relocated to Michalow. More than a decade of successful breeding at both Albigowa and Nowy Dwor was returned to Janow Podlaski beginning in 1960. With these horses, came the fabled Witraz daughters of Albigowa, the Wielki Szlem daughters of Nowy Dwor and the pivotal sire Comet. Amongst these legendary horses were Bandola – the “Queen of Poland”, her full sister Arfa, Ellora, Eleonora and Ellenai. It was from amongst these horses that Dr. LaCroix and his son Gene would find the immortal Bask in 1963, a son of Witraz, rescued during the bombing of Dresden, and grandson of the legendary Ofir, bred during the height of Janow’s interwar success and himself a son of the desert-bred Kuhailan Haifi, last of the original imports.
The interest of the LaCroix family in the Arabians of Poland was sparked through the involvement of a talented and ambitious British breeder, who had acted on behalf of several American buyers to obtain horses from Poland in the late 1950’s. Patricia Lindsay, herself a noted breeder of Polish Arabians in the UK, acted, most famously, on behalf of Varian Arabians to obtain the mares Bachantka, Ostroga and Naganka, all of whom would become influential mares in international Arabian breeding. With the revolution of Bask in the United States, several of the leading breeders in North America turned to Poland for quality bloodstock, leading to the “Polish Invasion” of the 1960’s and early 1970’s.
This increased demand for the Polish Arabian worldwide was directly responsible to the survival of the breeding programs at Janow Podlaski and Michalow, leading eventually to the expansion of two other State Studs devoted to Arabian horse breeding: Kurozweki in 1974 and Bialka in 1983. The first Polish auction was organized in 1970 at Janow Podlaski, a modest affair with breeding mares and stallions offered to international clientele. Record-selling prices were soon established for breeding and show horses, which led to the development of Arabian Horse Days, an annual summer event which encompasses the Polish National Show (first conducted in 1979), breeding parades at each of the State Studs, and, formerly, an international Race Day at the Warsaw track.
The success of the Polish Arabian horse in North America as both a show and breeding horse fuelled the modern success of the Polish Arabian horse to new heights. With the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989, Poland gained independence from Soviet control, leading to the establishment of a new Republic, the exponential expansion and welcome return of private breeding, and the Ministry-administrated privatization of the three remaining State Studs: Janow Podlaski, Michalow and Bialka. Expanded horse show opportunities in Europe, the Middle East, South America, Africa and Australia led to further demand for the Polish Arabian worldwide, driving the success of the annual Polish auction into its fifth decade. With breeding significant breeding horses in the major programs around the world and an unparalleled list of show ring winners at every level of competition, the Arabian horse breeding program of Poland continues to set the standard for equine excellence worldwide.