The Endangered Polish Arabian
© 1996 Roxanne Rogers
There has been much political change in Poland since its countrymen started breeding Arabian horses. Perhaps it is because of the Poles' great love of the horse that we see these changes mirrored so clearly onto the very shape of the country's horseflesh. One of my favourite sayings from Poland goes: "A man without a horse is like a body without a soul". The horse has always been of great importance in Poland so it is easy to see how over time Polish horses have been admired and even revered in other parts of the world. The Polish Arabian was once the most desirable of all Arabians but for some reason(s) this has changed. I would like to examine some of the reasons, as I see them, in this article.
In Poland the original purpose of introducing pure blooded desert-bred Arabians was mainly to upgrade native stock. The Sanguszko empire probably had the most to do with keeping a pool of pure Arab blood available at all times to upgrade horses for military, farm work (Sanguszko draft horses were to have 50% Arab blood), sport etc. Foundation sires were, Kuhailan Haifi, Koheilan Adjuz, Kuhailan Afas, and Kuhailan Zaid. Among the foundation mares were, Jerychonka, Lalka, Muszka and Zgoda. Also used in the Sanguszko (Gumniska) Stud were a large group of French Arabians in 1927 including Nemer, Nedjari, Arba and Djeballa to improve racing ability. From the Potocki Stud (Antoniny) came Skowronek and from the Dzieduszycki Stud (Jarcowcke) came the stallions Bagdad and Krzyzyk and the immortal mares Gazella, Mlecha and Sahara - horses from this Stud later built up Janow in the 20's and the Stud of Prince Cartoryski, breeder of Kaszmir. From the Branicki Stud came Van Dyck and Ursus, founders of today's Spanish Arabians.
Without going into too much detail suffice it to say that these aristocratic equine empires provided the base for today's Polish Arabians. It is important to note that Arabians were greatly admired unto themselves but they played a key role at all times in upgrading other breeds. Many breeders have questioned the purity of Polish Arabians since record keeping was not important in the early 1800's when Arabians started being bred in Poland. This premise is a little absurd since record keeping was not done anywhere in Europe with any consistency. There wasn't any need since only a few breeders were capable of owning these rare creatures and they kept their vast herds segregated on their respective estates. Besides, I don't think anyone but a dreamer could say that perfect records have been kept on Arabians anywhere, even in the desert. Since we have established that the original purpose of Arabians in Poland was to upgrade native stock on all levels, how then did it come about that some of the best Arabian horses existed in Poland?
Some would say that the soil and climate played a large part - indeed one could argue for this. It has been said that the Seglawi and Kehylan desert strains did so well in Poland because of their requirements for 150 day vegetative periods per year to mature properly. Muniqis are said to require a 300 day vegetative period to thrive hence they were not so popular. Purists will tell you that Kehylans and Seglawis should never be crossed but I am afraid it is much, much too late to belabour that point. Too many crosses have come down the pike and indeed Arabian pedigrees are so entangled now that only a masochist would consider making breeding decisions based on this theory.
In 1918 the Russian Revolution came and with it the end of the Aristocratic Polish Empires and their individual Arabian herds. From the years 1914 - 1920 the ravages of war greatly depleted Arabian breeding stock in Poland. From 400 broodmares in 1914 the stock was depleted to only 45 in 1926. The Polish Arab Association was established in 1926 by Count Alexander Dzieduszycki and Dr. Edward Skorkowski and Janow Podlaski State Stud was established. It could be argued that the organization of racing for Polish Arabians saved these horses as their reputation for soundness, improved conformation and outstanding athletic ability spread quickly and they became desirable throughout Europe and the U.S. Prevalent foundation mares of this day were, Milordka, Gazella II, Mlecha, Pomponia, Zulejma, Hebda, Koalicja, Kalina etc. Stallions were, Bakszysz, Abu Mlech, Burgas, Farys II, Enwer Bey, Fetysz, Koheilan I and, of course, Ofir. By 1939 there were 237 horses at Janow alone.
On September 1st, 1939 the Second World war broke out and by September 11th Janow was evacuated towards Romania. Many horses were lost enroute and news came that Russian troops were now advancing towards them so they turned back to Janow where the Russians soon appeared and occupied. On October 5th the Russians went home taking 400 horses including all of the Arabians except for the mare Najada who injured a Russian soldier. Surprisingly she wasn't shot. When the Germans arrived an attempt to reviatalize Janow was made. By mid August 1940 there were 40 youngsters, 21 broodmares and the famous stallions, Trypolis, Witraz and Amurath Sahib at Janow. However by 1944, Polish horses were looking for cover again. They found temporary haven in Saxony but later had to continue moving in the dead of winter towards Dresden. When they arrived it was under heavy attack causing horses and handlers to panic. Soon there were 60 stallions running amuck. Which brings us to the famous story of Witraz and Wielki Szlem who were among this group being handled by their unflappable groom/hero, Jan Ziniewicz. Somehow Jan kept his head, even when Witraz's tail caught on fire from a bomb explosion and he struck out in a rage and the blood ran from Jan's lacerated palms, still he did not let go. In the aftermath Dr. Krzysztalowicz (Janow's Director) rode past the 22 carcasses of his dead stallions on the great sire, Amurath Sahib (who happens to be the paternal grandsire of my stallion, *Falat) and I have no doubt he wept. We must never forget the bravery of Jan Ziniewicz who is responsible for saving the two most influential sires in Poland today, Witraz and Wielki Szlem.
These stories elevate the Polish Arabian into the realm of legend and myth. From the remnants of the Second World War by 1946 Poland had only a handful of horses left with which to begin again. The State Studs, Nowy Dwor and Albigowa were established in addition to Janow and from this small nucleus came some of the most accomplished and desirable Arabians in the world. From my personal perspective, the great heyday of the Polish Arabians in North America was in the 1960's to early 1980's. There were earlier imports - *Czubuthan, *Ba-Ida, *Babolna (Dickinson) but not until 1961 when *Mohacz ,*Ardahan (Reese) and *Caliope with *Gaypolka inutero (Rogers) did it become obvious that Poland had something special to offer the serious breeder of Arabian horses. In 1963 the LaCroix's imported *Bask, Gwadiana, *Bajram etc. and the wave was on. My father, Allan Rogers, was hired as agent for PB Williamson to find the next National Champion and by this time it was obvious that Polish Arabians were something superior. In 1962 Dad was sent to pick a breeding stallion of Ferzon bloodlines at Gainey's but he came home with *Gaypolka (*Pietuszok x *Caliope by Witraz) instead. Because of this Polish "find", in 1963 he was sent to Poland and he came home with, to quote Neil Wood in The Polish Arabian Horse in North America..."some of the most notable horses ever exported from Poland". The stallions, *Barysz (Faher x Bandola), *Kirkor (Gwarny x Carmen) and the mares *Arnika (Faher x Arwila), *Esterka (Anarchista x Estokada), *Rusaalka (Czort x Risznica),*Edycja (*Naborr x Estokada), *Gorczyca (*Naborr x Gwara), *Harda (*Pietuszok x *Caliope) and her full sister, *Harpia and my personal breed standard, *Arwistawa (Geyran x Arfa). *Arwistawa did indeed become the next National Champion as well as the first Double National Champion. Added to that was her top Polish race record, 2/15 (4-4-5)O+1/tr,2600m. And besides, she was a perfect horse. She represents the pinnacle of Polish breeding. Why did Poland let her go? It was the year after the big bash of imports and Mr. Williamson gave them the choice of selling 10 horses to him if they included *Arwistawa or none at all. Other noted importers were Denise Borg (*Wiraz, *Rokitka), Ed Tweed (*Orzel, *Zbrucz, *Prowizja), Clay-Struck (heavy Comet-*Flis, *Dar, *Meczet, *Gulden), Ruth Simms (*Sabellina - a great race mare crossed too often with *Bask in the U.S.) and Leon Rubin (*Sambor etc.).
In the 1970's Americans slowed their purchasing activities in Poland. It was about this time that many American breeders confusedly looked on as Poland introduced Egyptian blood into the program. I think this was done in response to the Polish perception of what Americans wanted to buy. After all, a Polish friend of mine who was around the racetrack at Warsaw and Janow Stud Farm in the 1970's told me that two of America's most famous Polish stallions were just big jokes that Poland played on us. Imagine the Pole's surprise when those big jokes became big stars in America. Many breeders today will not acknowledge these Egyptian related horses as Pure Polish, although by definition they are since they were bred in Poland. They do acknowledge that an outcross was necessary but cannot see the logic in the Poles' choice. To quote Denise Borg, "Personally, I have never figured out why the Poles incorporated this breeding (Aswan) into their program. Perhaps they thought, erroneously, that the crazy Americans were willing to buy any pretty or typey horse irrespective of conformation or leg faults..." This is not to say that only culls came to North America. The government policy was to sell whatever possible, even the best of stock.
Just as we dedicated Polish Arabian breeders were getting over the Aswan shock along came the next surprise of Poland buying *Grandorr (*Naborr x Gwadiana) back a few years ago from America, then they leased a Negatraz son in the first part of this decade (Monogram) and bred quantities of mares to him. Meanwhile valuable sire lines are dying and the over-represented ones (particularly, Kuhailan Haifi through *Bask and Ibrahim through Negatiw) continue to grow and so Polish breeders paint themselves into a genetic corner both here in North America but especially in Poland. Racing has slowed in Poland due to the overall poverty of the country, hence this is no longer as strong a selection vehicle as it used to be. During the prime of Polish breeding a horse would rarely go to the breeding shed without a race record. Now we see many unproven horses being used for breeding and the ever popular activity of showing. Introduced in the early 80's one can also see the negative effect of showing in Poland with too much attention to type and not enough to conformation. Add to this the recent news that Sanadik el Shaklan is going to Poland to be used as a breeding horse and one has to wonder, exactly what direction are the Poles trying to go in? Now that there are more private breeders in Poland, instead of overturning stones and shaking bushes these breeders seem to be following the modern fashion of show breeding. One private breeder was quoted as saying, "Racing doesn't matter in breeding Arabians, the only thing that matters (in the breeding of Arabians) is the 'bouquet' (type)". Sounds familiar doesn't it? Dr. Skorkowski wrote of the importance of racing in 1969 as follows, "The racing trials are a magnificent performance. They are the only test of the horse quality'. Dr. Skorkowski also quotes Mr. George Ransom White, MD DVM in his book, Arab Breeding in Poland, "In proportion to body size and weight, the Polish Arabian horse possesses strength second to that of no other animal... The Polish Arabian is a stronger, healthier and better horse (than the Egyptian Arabian). In the Polish Arabian there is no evidence of deterioration. Each generation is stronger and better than its predecessor. This cannot be said of the Egyptian Arabian: as a matter of fact the reverse is true. The Polish Arabian is superior in all material respects to the Egyptian!' This was the thought of the day in 1969.
I believe that a more likely and already tried and proven outcross would have been the French Arabian. This would not have been such a radical departure and we may not have seen such a deterioration of the Arabian in Poland. No longer do the best Arabian racehorses come from Poland. In fact modern day Polish race Arabians do not dominate the International racing scene. Probably the last racing star to come from Poland was *Wiking and that was some years ago. The best Arabian racehorses come from France (see Canadian Arabian News , March/Apr. '96 The French Arabian.)
It is paramount for those serious breeders in North America to salvage all possible classic Polish bloodlines and maintain them to the best of their abilities. Not just for the sake of race breeding but for any type of athletic endeavor and/or just for the purpose of preserving something valuable. We have already lost the Kaszmir branch of the Krzyzyk sire line. The Abu Argub sire line through the great stallion Rozmaryn, can be found only on the distaff side of Polish pedigrees. The Kuhailan Zaid sire line should have been maintained through the magnificent stallion, Grand and even through Mir Said it is still very near extinction. The Kuhailan Adjuze sire line is currently available through *Pietuszok (*Gaypolka - sire of Arwitraz, Khazor, Gay Orzel etc. *Wosk - only one pure Polish son, Eldans Wotan, *Orzel - Brusally Orzelost, SGR Vayu etc. and Bajczar - by *Bajram) and Laur (*Chutor - sire of the upcoming sire, Albion) but it is not very widespread in pure Polish stallions. Anarchista should have been preserved as a branch of the Kuhailan Haifi sire line but it is too late for that. This sire line through Wielki Szlem is also available on a limted scale through stallions such as, *Sambor (*Czort x *Sabellina), *Sabson (a full brother to *Sambor - use him while you can) and El Mundo (*El Mudir x Inca Legend). The Bairactar sire line is one of Poland's oldest sire lines and it is also very scarce. Fortunately I found *Falat (Gwarny x Forta) and am preserving it as best I can. The Iderim sire line is under - represented also but is available through *Feniks (Elf x Ferezja) and Nelkin (Elkanada x Gay Miracle). The Kuhailan Afas line is over-represented through Comet and his many sons; very few sons of *Dunajec (sire of SC Dunaczort) are available. Better to use Kuhailan Haifi through Celebes (*Mellon, Etap, Set, *Zloty I) and Wielki Szlem than through *Bask. Here's a scary statistic: 25% of all purebred Arabians registered in the US trace to *Bask and a lot are probably inbred to him. I think *Bask was a fine animal but enough is enough. Soon we will start to lose dam lines also. Horses similar in type to Grand, *Pietuszok, Czort, Kaszmir, Rozmaryn, Mir Said and mares like *Arwistawa, Sabellina and Forta are a dying "breed" in Poland.
The political changes of the 1980's in Poland made it financially impossible for State Studs to continue breeding with racing as a goal and a selection vehicle. Therefore the type of Arabian that we see in Poland in the 1990's is very much like any other North American or European show horse. Perhaps the bone, conformation and class is somewhat better but not so noticeably as in the past.
If you have some of these rare old Polish lines be responsible and put some thought into how you breed them. Try to find under utilized but valuable lines before these treasures become lost to us for good. By maintaining an older style of Polish Arabian we can feel secure that we are preserving a little piece of important Arabian horse history. Heaven knows this type is mostly gone in Poland and I think it would be little short of a tragedy if after all the effort, over the course of two centuries, they just slowly faded away and became nothing but a few scratchings in some obscure breed history books.