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Arabians behind the Iron Curtain

Breeding

Arabians behind the Iron Curtain

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Bałałajka, archive photo
Bałałajka, archive photo
The lots of Arabian horses in Poland, part 3 – Communism

After World War II Poland found itself within the influence zone of Soviet Russia. The authorities imposed by the Soviets were completely dependent on their Moscow principals. Once again bloody repressions, persecutions of people with different political views, divestitures of private property, nationalizations of land, factories and houses began. Courts, controlled by the authorities, sentenced people who fought against the German occupant to prison or even quite often to death. The political police brutally crushed the opponents of the regime. The “Iron Curtain” fell, cutting Poland off from the Western world for many years.

The Arabian horse was treated by the new authorities with suspicion, as a bourgeois relic, a whim of the former ruling class which ceased to exist; as a luxurious good redundant in the new proletariat system. Only draught horses, indispensable in agriculture and transport, were appreciated – under the condition that they did not belong to private owners. So writes in her memoirs “Samo życie” [“Such is life”] sculptor and breeder Anna Dębska: “Horse riding was treated by the authorities as some kind of lordly habit and a fancy of the followers of Piłsudski.” So it was hard to expect any respect for Arabians. Regardless of their breed, the horses which survived the war became national property. As Roman Pankiewicz (a historian of Polish breeding, also known as the breeder of Bask) noted in his work titled “Polska hodowla koni czystej krwi arabskiej 1918–1939” [„Polish breeding of pure blood Arabian horses 1918-1939”] the only pure-blood horses to remain in private hands were mares originating from the stud of Prince Czartoryski – Pełkinie: Dakaszma 1944 and Ak-Haifa 1945. They were handed to Wiktor de Junien-Sarnecki as a result of financial settlements with the prince. They gave birth to foals, but it is not known what happened to them later.

Admittedly, Anna Bąkowska, the owner of Kraśnica Stud, reclaimed her two extremely valuable mares, including Bałałajka 1941, the later dam of Bandola and the world famous stallion Bask, known as the “revelation of America”. Both mares were soon taken to the National Stud at Albigowa. “The acquiring of the grey mare Bałałajka was a fortunate coincidence”, so wrote about this incident Professor Witold Pruski in his book “Dwa wieki polskiej hodowli koni arabskich (1778-1978) i jej sukcesy na świecie “ [“Two centuries of Polish Arabian horse breeding (1778-1978) and its successes worldwide”] in the chapter on Albigowa. He could not phrase it otherwise in a work published in 1983. However for Anna Bąkowska it was surely not a fortunate coincidence, though she was the only one among private breeders who won compensation from the government. It amounted to the price of a draught horse of that time… Still, it is worthy to note down this one time case of purchasing pure blood horses from a private owner. The others were automatically nationalized. In 1948 Anna together with her daughter Ewa were arrested on a charge of helping the Home Army, a Polish resistance organization during World War II. Released after several months they did not have an easy life in the new system, especially since Anna’s husband, Jerzy, was murdered by the Soviets in the sentenced to be forgotten Katyn… Both breeder-women had nothing to do with horses ever again.

Józef Tyszkowski. Photo from Maria Wierzbicka-Maciejewska's private archive
Józef Tyszkowski. Photo from Maria Wierzbicka-Maciejewska’s private archive
The organization of state studs was given to the newly formed Horse Breeding Inspectorate, while the task of reclaiming horses robbed by the Germans was in the hands of the Polish Studs Board in Germany. The latter repurchased, among others, 50 Arabian and Lipizzaner (descending from the Hungarian stud at Babolna) mares from the serum production plant. The Board succeeded in regaining 39 Arabian mares from Janów, together with 12 suckling foals; also having returned to Poland were epochal sires Amurath Sahib, Wielki Szlem and Witraż. They were stabled at Posadowo (Poznań voivodeship), because Janów Podlaski was completely ruined. In Nowy Dwór, near the small town of Wieprz, a shelter was found for the stud saved by the family of Józef Tyszkowski, including 25 broodmares and the stallion Bad Afas 1940. Already in 1947 foaled here was the stallion Abu Afas 1947, the sire of the later famous Comet 1953, whose progeny enjoyed great successes in the US, as well as in Sweden in the 60s and 70s. Also foaled at Nowy Dwór was the stallion Czort 1949 (by Wielki Szlem), who sired the American Derby winner Sambor 1965, as well as the record-price setter El Paso 1967, who was in turn purchased in 1981 by the then 80 year old American multi-billionaire Armand Hammer for a million dollars. It was Józef Tyszkowski who also bred the Derby and Oaks winner Sabellina 1954 (by Abu Afas) and many other remarkable race horses. As Patricia Lindsay recalled, the first breeder from behind the Iron Curtain to purchase a group of five Arabian mares in 1958, including Celina and Karramba – Tyszkowski was quite independent and that was very impressive. He was not afraid to make his own breeding decisions, despite the threat of the all-knowing authorities taking appropriate measures against him for such actions. Among others he used the stallion Banio, a full brother to Bask, not admitted for stud duties by bosses from the central office. “The selection was done by inspectors who were breeders employed in the Federation of Breedings of Pedigree Animals. We didn’t have much to say”, Roman Pankiewicz, who worked at Albigowa Stud in the 50s, told polskiearaby.pl. “The inspectors treated us as though we had no knowledge on breeding and did not even bother to discuss their decisions with us. A great pity, because maybe it would’ve been possible to save more animals for breeding. This was one of the reasons why I left Albigowa.”

This independence of Tyszkowski was presumably a decisive factor in the closing of the stud, which was liquidated in 1960. The horses were transferred to Janów Podlaski. “More and more often I heard rumors about serious conflicts with the local authorities”, recalls Maria Wierzbicka-Maciejewska, a regular visitor at Nowy Dwór. “The liquidation of the facility was unpleasant for me, but how tragic must it have been for the Tyszkowskis?” (“Araby” quarterly, 5/2007). Tyszkowski, who rendered great service to Polish breeding, after retiring vegetated in an extremely humble flat in a stable. After his death his son buried all mementoes of him, as no one was interested in them.

Not enjoying respect from the authorities was also another legendary Polish breeder, Bogdan Ziętarski, the same who imported horses from Arabia to Gumniska Stud of Prince Sanguszko in the 30s. After the war this expert on Arabian horses and world-class authority worked as a director of a foal barn of draught horses at PGR Milicz (a state-owned farm). His large experience and knowledge were never used in the new system probably due to his former job with Prince Sanguszko. He died in 1958.

After the war also the fate of Janów Podlaski hung in the balance for a long time. The Janów Stud, evacuated to Germany, returned to Poland led by Andrzej Krzyształowicz, a breeder continuing the breeding philosophy of Stanisław Pohoski, credited for the stud’s pre-war successes. “A new reality, driven by different values” – wrote today’s director of the stud, Marek Trela (“Araby” quarterly, 11/2008) – “brought decisions which for many years changed the breeding position of Janów, decreasing the significance of a stud which rendered great service to its country.” Carrying out orders of the country’s breeding authorities Krzyształowicz had to send his horses to three studs within just two weeks’ time: Nowy Dwór, Albigowa and Klemensów. At Posadowo, where the stud was temporarily stabled, only one colt remained. “It is not hard to imagine the feelings of people who, having previously rescued these horses, were now loading them onto train wagons and sending them into the unknown”, wrote Trela. “It was a personal tragedy for Krzyształowicz, questioning his efforts to save the Janów herd and a failure of his and his master’s breeding philosophy.” After years of endeavor Krzyształowicz received permission for horses from Albigowa and Nowy Dwór to return to Janów. They began coming back in 1959. That in turn triggered a grudge and a feeling of injustice in the breeders of those studs, who worked hard at developing their breeding, from the end of the 40s and through the entire 50s, as far as resources let them. Roman Pankiewicz wrote about this incident: “We could’ve returned only those mares, which left Janów in 1948. If not for this directive, the achievements of Nowy Dwór would’ve been far greater today, as it turned out that that region’s community was favorable towards Arabian horse breeding.”

Albigowa, similar to Nowy Dwór, was closed down. „Horses eliminated from the stud were purchased by peasants from the Miechów County and these were ultimately lost for our breeding”, recalled Roman Pankiewicz. Klemensów ceased to exist even earlier, in 1953. The stud, together with its boss Ignacy Jaworowski, was transferred to Michałów. And that’s the history of how this world famous breeding began.

Maciejka, photo from Anna Dębska's private archive
Maciejka, photo from Anna Dębska’s private archive
The less valuable mares from the liquidated Nowy Dwór Stud were withdrawn from breeding and sold. Two of them, Wielka Zorza 1945 (by Wielki Szlem) and Murcja 1959 (by Comet) were purchased by Zygmunt Braur from Dobrów, who began his adventure with Arabians even before the war, in 1937, and became one of several private breeders in the period preceding the fall of communism in 1989. Murcja expressed her gratitude by establishing a valuable family. In 1977 the mare was sold at auction to Sweden. Another private breeder was Andrzej Ou, who was able to purchase the mare Falbanka 1959 (by Banio) from PGR Gnojno (a state-owned farm) based on a specially issued permit from the Ministry of Agriculture. As a son of a Chinese restaurateur who managed a diner named “Chinka”, he had the opportunity to “influence” the decisions of the officials by means of lavish dinners… The mare established her own family at his stud. A third private breeder who had Arabians in the communism period was the already quoted Anna Dębska, an artist sculptor. Upon hearing that “wonderful young horses, Arabians and Thoroughbreds, are slaughtered” she made several attempts to purchase at least one horse meant for the slaughterhouse. However it was extremely difficult. Despite many efforts, she also failed at rescuing Arabians from the circus at Julinek. After a racing career horses which did not qualify for breeding headed either to the slaughterhouse or the circus. Here, after a couple of years, they were replaced by younger ones and the wonderfully trained, most handsome stallions bearing impressive pedigrees were killed. Dębska found people who would’ve taken them with pleasure. Unfortunately. „I could not understand” – wrote Dębska in her autobiography – „what kind of beastly satisfaction could such people have from slaying wonderful, noble animals (…) I still could not forget these beautiful horses, so cruelly and senselessly deprived of life.” Finally however this stubborn woman succeeded. From the Służewiec racetrack purchased the mare Maciejka 1961 (Sędziwój – Mira/Wielki Szlem) bred at Albigowa, just 3 years of age, who was to be slaughtered only because she did not stand ill treatment and did not like racing at the track. And although officials from the Ministry of Agriculture, wanting to confiscate the mare from the new owner, threatened Dębska with courts and police, the horse was saved. “They prefer to butcher a horse than to sell it to a private person”, complained Dębska. Maciejka soon became a founder of a valuable family together with her partner Muharyt (by Witraż), a remarkably talented racehorse, purchased by the go-getting artist from the Military Equestrian Club “Gwardia”. The stallion originated from the liquidated stud at Nowy Dwór and avoided the fate of other horses due to the fact that he was given as a gift to a well-connected general. The latter, not being able to handle the horse, meant to send him to slaughter. However upon learning about the sale of the horse he decided to get him back. But once again, as in Maciejka’s case, Dębska resisted the pressure put on her. Years later she sold the mare at auction (in 1978). She was paid the price achieved at auction not in dollars paid by the American buyer, but in Polish zlotys, based on an official conversion rate, six times lower that the price of the dollar on the black market.

Anna Dębska atop Muharyt. Photo from Anna Dębska's private archive
Anna Dębska atop Muharyt. Photo from Anna Dębska’s private archive
These couple of examples are, however, just few exceptions. State studs were not allowed to sell Arabian horses to domestic buyers. And those which by some miracle managed to purchase an Arabian were in for an ordeal, for example when they had to find feed for the animals. As Dębska recalls, farmers did not have oats to sell due to the levies imposed on them. If there was any surplus, people lined up for it at the market as early as 4:00 am!

It was not until 1987 – a crucial year, as it turned out – that Krystyna Duda purchased at the Janów auction the mares Wiklina 1983 and Aktorka 1984, paying for them in dollars. From that moment on private breeders could “officially” own Arabians.

It is not possible to count how many valuable horses were lost during these years; how many mares were not as lucky as Maciejka of Anna Dębska. At the state studs broodmares literally held “job posts”. When it comes to bureaucracy what matters is quantity, not quality. Many horses, which under different circumstance could leave a mark in breeding, simply went to the slaughterhouse. As Dębska claims, much responsibility for this lay in the hands of Władysław Gomułka – the First Secretary of the Communist Party during the years 1956-1970 – who for reasons known only to himself hated horses.

However the 60s brought a certain change in the treatment of Arabians. Already the first purchases done by Patricia Lindsay showed that pure blood horses could be a source of valuable foreign currency. And so socialist Poland became a provider of a luxury good in the form of Arabian horses for the “rotten” – using the beloved phrase of the officials of that time – Western world. Already in 1960 the first buyers from the US appeared, purchasing 8 horses. A year later that number doubled and in 1963 making their way across the ocean were 43 horses – for the first time by airplane! – including the famous Bask, purchased by Dr. Eugene LaCroix from Lasma Arabians, Arizona. The Iron Curtain was lifted more and more frequently and even became a sort of attraction. Patricia Lindsay recalled how she rode in a horse-drawn cart together Director Andrzej Krzyształowicz to see the watchtowers. In 1969 the first Arabian horse auction took place at Janów Podlaski. The buyers were coming in greater and greater numbers, although the bidding took place under an open sky at the mercy of changeable weather and the “hard currency” visitors had to make do with one privy situated next to the arena…

And today? The number of broodmares in the hands of the private breeders greatly exceeds the number of mares at the state studs. In 1937 the ratio of private mares to state-owned mares was 143 to 39, in 1948 – 2 to 50, in 1978 – 6 to 201, in 1990 – 19 to 296, in 1997 – 142 to 267. It is estimated that in 2010 the number of broodmares owned by private breeders amounts to 750, while the state studs have 250!

As we can see, Polish Arabian horses have managed through yet another historical cataclysm, namely the communism years. The problem which troubles the Arabian community today is actually an excess of supply and not prohibitions, orders or rapid turns of the course of history. And although it is a Polish custom to grumble and be dissatisfied about everything, when comparing today to the past we must categorically agree that there truly are no reasons to complain.

The article has been published in the “Arabians. Horse Mag”, France/Belgium

Read the 1st part: This breeding cannot perish, since it gave Melpomena and Skowronek…
Read the 2nd part: From Caucasus to America – the war wanderings

Download the PDF version of the article – English/French»

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