Monika Luft: Where did you come from?
Urszula Białobok: I was born in Sieradz, but accidentally. My father was a lecturer in the Officers School of Radio Contact. So both my brother and me were born there. However, my family comes from the East. My father was born in Austria, near the Yugoslavian border, but the main reason was the evacuation of Lvov. His family was evangelic, he had a foreign surname… During the Gomułka regime we were qualified as Zionists, because the communists didn’t know where we should be classified! My grandmother led the General Anders’s Office (he was Coronel at that time) in Lvov. So my father was raised there. My mother was also born in the East, in Zbarazh.
M.L.: How did the Arabian horses appear in your life?
U.B.: I was lucky to meet three wonderful men. The first one was my father, Ryszard Laufersweiler. He was afraid of horses, but he really loved cars. However, I learned punctuality, responsibility, order, and patriotism from him, what I really appreciate. The second one was my mother’s brother, Bogumił Wiśniowski, a cavalryman. He served in the Cavalry Training Center in Grudziądz, before he was taken to the 25th Cavalry Regiment in Poznan. The grandfather told the uncle to serve in a regiment that is stationed in the furthest place from Russia… He taught me to love horses, no matter the which race it was. And the third one is my husband – I really enjoy working with him! When I was a child, I used to visit my uncle who was a director in several State Agricultural Farms and he had horses there. I remember, among others, Sarnów, a really beautiful place near Łódź. My uncle was a co-founder of one of first popular sports clubs section in Poland. There were different horses, including one Arabian in my uncle’s section. His name was Czuj Duch. He was bay, tiny, by
M.L.: So what has changed in the breeding during these years?
U.B.: The breeding used to be much smaller. It was a tiny stud, we had enough time to sit in a stable for a while in order to know about everything that was going on. Now it is more difficult as it became a huge stud; we have two barns, 200 head of Holstein-Friesian, and 80 heads of Jersey cattle. Each year 80 or 90 foals are being born. Unfortunately I have problems with walking as my ankle is damaged; I’m not allowed to enter the squad because the ground is too soft – this is another problem. That’s why I have less contact with horses. And I shall spend several hours a day with them.
U.B.: Not always. There are foals that are outstanding from the very beginning of their lives. But some average ones also appear. They grow and also become champions.
M.L.: How did the things go with the most famous ones? Emmona, Kwestura, Emandoria?
U.B.: Emmona and Emandoria were exceptional from the very beginning. But Kwestura was not. Some horses don’t appeal to everyone. My husband and I sometimes have different opinions. I prefer the type of Emandoria or Emmona. In order to notice the Kwestura’s uniqueness, you shall have a trained eye; not every judge or expert would appreciate her. She is one of those horses that are difficult to judge. But she can perform, she has an excellent movement, and there are horses that don’t always want to do it, like Emmona. They sometimes are upset, flatten their ears and there is no way to perform. That was also the case of Emanacja, Emandoria’s grandmother. Indeed, horses can have better or worse days, and if they enter the ring being sluggish and reluctant, we cannot blame the judges. But, if they perform the way like our mares in Aachen, we cannot carp at them.
U.B.: I actually didn’t watch them being born – the mares usually foal at night, so we watch the foals in the morning. Unless the birth takes place before 11 PM – the caretaker informs us and we rush to the stable. Of course we remember our first impressions, because, when you have a certain breeding concept, you just can’t wait for the effect. We were lucky that Monogramm came to the Michałów State Stud because he acclimatized himself here in an excellent way, he became intimate with us, and vice versa, but, most of all, he gave us really fantastic offspring.
M.L.: Do you feel disappointed after this year’s Nation’s Cup? Emandoria didn’t become a champion, and Emmona, who scored the highest amount of points didn’t even get the Bronze Medal…
U.B.: I do feel disappointed indeed, but we have to respect the judges’ decision. However, disgust remained, we saw those horses perform. They should have been graded the way they look and win, according to the amount of points. We are still wondering why it isn’t happening that way.
U.B.: A little bit of politics, a little bit of connections… It definitely matters. But this is not the first time that a horse which receives the best grading, remains unnoticed in the championship.
M.L.: How, regardless of the Emandoria or Emmona’s final result, do you assess the judging in Aachen? The discrepancies in legs grading was commented by many people… Do you think that judges didn’t act the professional way?
U.B.: We can interpret their behavior that way. Judges don’t often have the zootechnics background, they often are, for example, medical doctors, lawyers, etc. I don’t want to harm them, claiming that they aren’t professionals, however their decisions are food for thought. Because, when a horse has a long and soft topline, we shall know how many points for this feature it shall receive. Or if movement, body, or legs are different than they shall be. Before sending horses to the show we watch them very carefully. And if the horse is beautiful, but its legs are not perfect, we just don’t send it to the show. We realize that lower grades for legs will affect his worse final grading. That’s why the notes can be surprising. I did judge once, during a Danish Championship, a long time ago. Actually, I have never enjoyed it, I was annoyed when a horse with a soft body was getting a ‘19’ for this feature. I remember a common astonishment during one show, when an American judge started grading legs the normal way, giving the deserved amount of points, instead of limiting herself to giving ‘15’ and ‘16’. Now, 17 points for legs is a very high grade! If someone reads a report from Polish shows, he will find out that Polish horses have terrible-set legs, which is not true. So that’s why I became discouraged to judging. However, the health does also matter, of course. When the stallions enter the ring, the handlers have a wild look in their eyes! Everything can occur, so we have to watch out not to be trampled… It is a very hard work.
U.B.: First of all, everyone wants to show off his breeding, and to compare it with the others. But it’s also a pleasure to leave, meet, and exchange opinions with other breeders. Before they used to say: I have good horses. But the others also think that their horses are fine! I remember the old days, when Tomasz Skotnicki used to say in Janów Podlaski: My horses are so beautiful that I will lead them out of the stable and I will win. It used to be that way indeed, but times have changed. That’s why we had to build a hall. We are lucky to have Mariusz Liśkiewicz who feels and understands our horses’ needs. They listen to him, they know what he expects from them. I really enjoy the shows, but I prefer to follow the rules of fair play.
M.L.: But is the fair play possible now, when the shows are about such huge amounts of money?
U.B.: It’s more and more difficult. I remember those times when Polish judges – like director Jaworowski, director Krzyształowicz, or my husband – were removed from judging, when Polish horses performed. However, these regulations didn’t apply to Spaniards, when Spanish horses were performing, or English, when English horses were to be graded, or Italians.
M.L.: Don’t you think that the future of Polish breeding doesn’t look rosy? There is an enormous horses overproduction, a drastic fall of prices, a small amount of buyers…
U.B.: The situation doesn’t improve. And the thing is, not to produce weak horses. If somebody owns a mare and the mare is a weak one, who gave birth to two or three weak foals, should not breed her anymore! Horses, that are not needed by anybody, should not be born.
U.B.: Every single breeder is responsible for this situation. We don’t cover all mares – some of them walk the saddle. It’s better to have one beautiful foal than five lousy!
M.L.: Breeding likes no sentiments – your husband says. Are you sentimental?
U.B.: I am very sentimental, but I know it is no good. When a decision is to be taken, I’m no longer sentimental. For example, when we have to say goodbye to a horse, like Kwestura. However, the best moment to sell the horse should be felt. In the Kwestura’s case it was a real masterpiece. This kind of sale is a reason to be proud, just like the horse’s success, with a new owner. I am happy that she is bringing glory to her purchaser!
M.L.: How do you see the Michałów State Stud’s future? What will be your biggest treasure?
U.B.: It’s a difficult question. Maybe Gazal Al Shaqab daughters will become our biggest treasure, although they inherit from their sire, apart from the excellent topline, also quite short legs. However, they are special indeed, although the type is quite different from the traditional ‘Michałów’ one. Maybe Ekstern, or Laheeb daughters? We like Laheeb daughters very much. We want to tie the loose ends of the stud. We want many dam lines. We want everything renovated, built and prepared the way it should be. But there are no potential successors… It is a hard work, people are afraid of doing it. Every single day, my husband wakes up at half past five and he makes a round of the stud. We don’t ease up. We demand a lot from ourselves and from the others. Besides, I always say that today everything is ready! 40 years ago everything was different. I had to order a telephone call to Warsaw and wait three days to be connected. But the communism period didn’t mean that our stud was supposed to be an ugly or dirty one. The flowers were planted just like today, the uniforms were clean and the windows were washed. Mr. Władysław Byszewski’s words moved me deeply; during the last parade he said: “This is the last stud in which grooms wear uniforms, have glanced shoes, white shirts and ties. Horses are milky white – those that are supposed to be milky white. And the parade of over three hundred horses lasts from 10 AM till 4 PM, according to the program.” We were the first stud that applied the rule that if a mare isn’t in foal we return the money for the breeding. Like I always said, in order to get something we have to loose something. I planned that after the retirement I would order pictures and cups but I still postpone it. We have a full documentary in two enormous books, kept since the very beginning. The first entry is is Adis Abeba (Amurath Sahib – Ofirka by Ofir), born in 1947. She arrived in 1953. Written probably with Roman Pankiewicz’s handwriting. In 1953 Gwarny, at his mare’s (Gwara by Wielki Szlem) side, arrived. And the first foal born here is Dakota 1954 (Como – Damba by Oboźny). There were fifty six horses in Michałów State Stud, when the 57th one, this mare, was born.
U.B.: The stud’s kea is the grey mare Gaskonia 1987 (by Probat, out of Gizela/Palas), the 2006 Polish National Champion, mother of champions Grafik and Gaspar – still in an excellent condition. Beautiful mare.
M.L.: What do you pay attention to when you evaluate a stallion?
U.B.: The stallion’s mare matters a lot, as well as the whole dam line – it’s more important that the top of the pedigree. That’s why I believe in Ekstern although he can give both very good offspring and a mediocre one. But generally those horses have something very nice in them. And he has a typical appearance of Michałów-bred horses. I don’t believe that much in Ganges. I would say there are some bit controversial horses in his pedigree. The horse itself is good and when he got a mare like Pianissima, he didn’t spoil the offspring. This is also important. When we analyze those mares that were bred to Comet, we can find out that they had an average appearance, and he gave such a wonderful offspring! When I arrived at Michałów, the Comet and Nabor daughters were those who were drawing the biggest attention. And it was quite a phenomenon in those times. I remember them well, even better than the later ones. I can recognize them in the group pictures. Even when the Chief ordered taking pictures of Comet daughters with other horses, I can recognize them. I often dream about them. Comet worked miracles. Unfortunetely, he died young of a colic.
M.L.: What kind of stallions would you like to see in Michałów?
U.B.: It’s difficult to answer this question. Monogramm is unavailable and I don’t have any dream stallions, but I shall admit that I really like Al Lahab, a Laheeb son. But I also like Eden C very much.
M.L.: Is it true that Eden C will come to Michałów?
U.B.: We are still talking about this issue, but it isn’t easy to negotiate. The break between the Paris World Championship in December and the Al Khalediah Show in January is very short. Getting this stallion’s semen will be difficult as he is still training for the show… We were also interested in Enzo, but we think Eden C would be better. Maybe after the Al Khalediah Festival… We don’t know yet.
M.L.: And what about Kabsztad? Will he become a sire in 2010?
U.B.: We will see. He is coming back home and he rather will be covering, however will he be available for other breeders? We shall find it out after the Paris show.
U.B.: Next season, Ekstern is going to Janów Podlaski. We think he will fit there. And Ganges shall cover the Gazal’s daughters.
M.L.: So you think Ekstern hasn’t fulfilled his mission in the Polish breeding?
U.B.: He’s got a lot of work to do! We’re waiting for his sons to be born. Esparto performed very well and his mare is excellent. I hope he will do well, but I still wait for a continuation and I count on Marek Trela and Janów Podlaski State Stud. By the way, when I can’t sleep at night, I wonder why the director Krzyształowicz was not convinced and he didn’t use Monogramm… this stallion did cover practically only in Michałów. While being in the United States I watched beautiful, piebald Monogramm half-breed daughters. I saw one of them at some show, under the saddle, she was fantastically proportioned, she had a wonderful color. A great mare. So I said: “Sir, if you don’t want him to cover the Arabian mares, why don’t you cover these piebald ones?”. I heard: “No, he won’t be covering in my stud”. I still wonder why. Because Monogramm had a chestnut color? Or maybe because the director insisted and later it was difficult for him to change his mind. Because Janów Podlaski had at that time some horses that fitted Monogramm better than those Michałów-bred. And if in Michałów the result was excellent, it would definitely be better in Janów. I remember a similar situation when we brought Tallin from Tiersk stud – Tallin is of Bairactar sire line which lacked in our stud. I went to Brest – we survived a real horror with Dr. Marek Trela – in order to bring Tallin and Pesennik, two stallions, exchanged for Gwizd and Harfiarz. So at the castle where he was quarantined, we were watching Tallin with the director Krzyształowicz, and he said: “He won’t be covering in my stud”. Indeed, his legs weren’t the best ones… but he became sire of Wojsław at Michałów! That’s why it was worth it to bring Tallin. And Pesennik, who was beating records in Pyatigorsk or Moscow? His offspring was supposed to conquer the Służewiec racing track in Warsaw. But there were no such horses running there! So nothing can be determined.
M.L.: Sometimes quite surprising connections occur in Michałów. Excellent mares, like Espadrilla, are being bred to Kulig (by Balon, out of Kawalkada/Penitent) or Werbum (by Wojsław, out of Werda/Piechur), which are not the first breeding league sires. Why?
U.B.: Kulig is a Bairactar. Our aim was to achieve a stallion from this mating. Although Wojsław had four sons – Emanor, Monar, Werbum and Druid – we have to face the fact that we do not have anything special. Werbum has an interesting pedigree, his offspring has beautiful heads and eyes, but Wendetta, his grandmother (by Palas) – as well as Werbum – is somehow soft. We don’t use him often, only with those mares that have muscular loins, but it is very difficult. Kulig has been removed because it turned out that his offspring was not that kind that we expected. But before we find it out we have to ‘sacrifice’ a couple of mares, to give the stallions a chance. And sometimes the mare is being covered in order to foal her anyway, because the last attempts, using, for example, frozen semen, were unsuccessful. And in that case it’s difficult to talk about a breeding concept.
U.B.: I don’t like one thing. Laheeb came to us when he was 2,5-year-old, and he was used to breed already before. I think there are certain standards that shouldn’t be ignored. Another example is QR Marc – he was milked till his last sperm!.
M.L.: What is the whole mating about?
U.B.: We must imagine the result and match the adequate parents. However, the biology likes to play tricks on us and, as we know, the full siblings can be completely different. For example, Emigracja mated with Eukaliptus gave the excellent Emigrantka, Emanacja who was completely different and Erlanda, who also was different. Emigra, who was born from this mating as well and was also absolutely different from her siblings, is still alive. So the whole mating is luck and sense of breeding. Some people think hard, devise, but they are unlucky, and there are those who are born with a silver spoon in their mouth. Sometimes one has to answer the question, what the result is supposed to be. For example, I often think about WH Justice. His offspring has beautiful heads, but also long, soft bodies. Someone might ask: what about Eukaliptus? His offspring was also somehow soft… But in total it was beautiful as whole one. And now a question could be asked: shall we produce only those horses with beautiful heads, or shall we look for a stallion whose offspring would be more like Monogramm’s? We cannot object the movement or the body in the case of his offspring. It was an ideal horse!.
U.B.: We are trying to match horses by their type, and not to match those that are completely different from each other. We are trying to find the most similar horses, while looking for parents. If a mare is a Saklawi strain, we look for a stallion who is also Saklawi. It can’t always be this way, the pedigree matters, as we have a definite stallions’ reserve. For example, some Gazal Al Shaqab daughters are out of Monogramm daughters. If Ekstern is not recommended we cover the mares with Eryks who fits them, although we know that Eryks’s mare is also a Monogramm daughter. We usually try to find a stallion that has a different pedigree. So first we grade the look of selected horses, and then we check the pedigree – as we don’t want to have too many horses that carry, for example, the depigmentation or the bright eye that we’re not keen on at all. However, it is just biology, we can never achieve a foal which would have only the positive features of his parents, and no negative ones. Now, availability of frozen semen is some kind of facilitation, although we shall still remember that using it for foaling is, due to many reasons, more difficult.
M.L.: What is necessary to become a good breeder? Eye, intuition, experience? What is the most important factor?
U.B.: Passion! Everything is important, but passion makes the person live and breathe it. It is difficult to be a breeder without passion.
M.L.: If your work is your passion, can you find time for something else?
U.B.: Absolutely! I love reading. I also used to spend a lot of time in my garden, but now I am no longer available to work there. I love flowers, I love all kind of plants, I know nurseries in the surroundings… And I still read a lot of books from different fields – for example, I am a great Harry Potter fan. Once Wisława Szymborska (Polish poetess, a Nobel Prize winner) visited us and we started talking about our reading. I admitted reading Harry Potter and I said that my husband was laughing at me. And Mrs. Szymborska answered: “Czesław Miłosz (Polish poet, a Nobel Prize winner) loved Harry Potter books!”. Last time I started reading “The Chronicles of Narnia”, which I also like very much. I love fairy tales, I grew up on fairy tales.
U.B.: No, I enjoy it. There must be some kind of hierarchy and the stud’s chief should be the one that respects it. I also think there should be only one person responsible for the decisions. And the chief should be that kind of person. I respect it. Besides, I can’t travel around the world due to my health.
M.L.: A common job, a common life… Is it easier or more difficult?
U.B.: It is more difficult, but interesting. More difficult because the work is endless, it is being brought home, and the closest person is the one that gets a scolding.
M.L.: Do the professional arguments among both of you occur often?
U.B.: No. We do sometimes have a different opinion, but we generally agree about the direction. Everyone prepares the breeding plan separately: Mrs. Magda Helak, my husband and me. Then we gather round and each justifies the choice. If one is able to convince the others, we amend it. My husband is in a better situation, he often travels abroad, he can watch different stallions’ offspring. But when he returns, he tells me everything.
M.L.: Your biggest authorities of the world breeding are…?
U.B.: Patricia Lindsay for sure – I like her and respect her very much for her ability of watching a horse. Also Kay Petterson, she is an excellent breeder, as well as Sheila Varian.
M.L.: How important to you was your first boss, Ignacy Jaworowski?
M.L.: How the horses’ names are being chosen in Michałów?
M.L.: Which foals, born in 2009, will be the best ones in your opinion? Did a new Emandoria appear?
U.B.: There is a new Zi, but I won’t say anything more! A mare. I am superstitious and I don’t want to jinx it.
M.L.: How do you react to new promoting ideas, like, for example, selling an inexistent Pianissima’s embryo on the Janów Podlaski auction?
U.B.: Indeed in the beginning I was astonished… I don’t know a thing about virtual horses! Besides, there were many questions: is she supposed to be a mother, or the embryo should be rinsed out and carried by another mare? But, why shouldn’t we, if this effect was achieved (2010 Pianissima Produce was sold for 175 000 EUR)? We shall go with the times. If I had had enough money, I would’ve taken part in the auction because I’m a great fan of this mare. In my opinion, she is one of the most beautiful mares in the world and I’m really glad that she gave birth to a filly by our Ganges. I felt deeply moved while watching pictures of the baby Pia. We only can envy the breeder who will have the future foal.
M.L.: So who needs Arabians in Poland? They are an indicator of a certain status, they are fashionable, valued. In Poland there is only a handful of people that have a passion for Arabians. Does the future belong to Arabians indeed?