Poland is a place like no other. As I alluded to in my blog on Thursday, the grounds of Janów Podlaski, Michalów and Białka are very special indeed. To be there, to drive through those iconic gates at Janów, is a moment guaranteed to induce goosebumps. ‘Special’ does not even begin to cover how amazing the State Studs are, and arriving at them is emotional every time.
So where to start on sharing magical memories? Trying to convey just how special Poland and its horses are? Today is Sunday. It’s almost 12.30pm here, which means that it is 1.30pm in Poland. People will be viewing the sale horses. Enjoying a glass of wine. Relaxing and chatting with friends. The whole world will be watching to see how this auction goes compared to previous years – especially with the new regime in place. So many of us have chosen to stay away. To be there, this year, would feel wrong. Many have gone.
But this piece is not about the politics, the whys and the wherefores. This is about celebrating the horses of Poland, the horses that for so many truly epitomise the true romance of the Arabian horse. Before I delve into my own memories, I have asked a few of my friends, and fervent supporters of the Polish Arabian, to share their recollections.
Jen Miller – Horsefly Films
“Like so many of us, I am truly Polish in my heart and to say it is difficult to choose just one memory of Poland from thousands of cherished moments spent with good friends who have become family, well, it’s nearly impossible. Should it be Pianissima’s (Gazal Al Shaqab x Pianosa by Eukaliptus) retirement ceremony, not a dry eye in the house as Marek led her around one last time? The infamous, vodka-soaked – and well-documented on film! – post-auction Olympic foot races in the TrelaDome, complete with manure juggling? Oh the mirth, the joy of that memory! My cheeks flush hot even now with laughter and the abiding camaraderie we celebrated that night. You can enjoy a link to the video at the end of this feature.
“But no. I choose a much quieter memory. Several years ago, the auction preview night was interrupted by a wicked, thunderous storm – an angry deluge that ripped trees down, doused power and generally wreaked havoc on what would normally be a festive evening under the lights. Lightning pierced the dark of the TrelaDome as people scrambled to figure out what to do. Clouds burst and thunder crashed mercilessly. In the midst of this swirl stood our Marek, Director Trela, who just simply emanated calm control. Like a father. While Mother Nature raged on outside, he calmly commanded his staff and all the other horsemen present. The evening was naturally cancelled as all hands on deck worked together to secure all the horses. Most vulnerable were the horses housed in the temporary barns for the show and sale. Several of the tents had gone down and there was a lot of kerfuffle trying to account for all the horses. It seemed some had gone missing.
“Marek asked us to lead people back to the parking lots and as we gathered our camera gear and headed for our car in a pelting rain, we could hear horses and people everywhere. Shouts of “Do you have stallions or mares in your hand?” “Mares, give me another!” As we hurried down the path between the barns, several visitors new to Poland were overwhelmed by the drama – excitable and quite upset at the idea that horses may be missing and out in the storm. It is burned into my memory, the rain hitting my face, the black leaves shrieking, a fierce orchestra punctuating the darkness. I turned to these newbies and smiled. My heart felt somehow calm. Assured. ‘Don’t worry. These horses have weathered far worse storms than this. They’ve gone through centuries of war. This? For them this is nothing.’
“Many hours later, when we had all reconvened back at Zaborek, cosy by lamplight as the storm raged on, we learned that the missing horses had been found. One of the tents that had collapsed had trapped them underneath it. Rather than fighting or struggling, the horses had simply remained laying still underneath the downed tent. They knew someone would come for them. Whether by blood or DNA or collective memory or all the saints and magic in Poland, they knew how to weather the storm, and we toasted their clever blood long into that night…
“I suppose I chose this memory because that still holds true and it’s what I hang onto in these dark times— these horses, our beloved Polish horses, they will weather this storm.”
Stuart Vesty – Photographer
“This year would have marked my 20th year photographing the Annual Pride of Poland – formerly Polish Prestige – Auction catalogue. Unfortunately, the ridiculous and careless actions of the new Polish government made that impossible. Not attending the Polish National Show and Sale this weekend has brought a flood of emotions and memories and I can’t imagine who I would have become without the incredible experiences that Poland and its people have given me.
“Two memories come immediately to mind – the first being the tribute to Janów Director Andrzej Krzysztalowicz back in 1999. 50 uniformed grooms leading mares from the family of Algonkina (Pietuszok x Alga by Witraz), each holding a long stemmed red rose, entered the arena in single file circling around a large vase in the centre where they carefully placed their rose. The last to enter was Director Marek Trela, leading the legendary Eukaliptus (Bandos x Eunice by Comet). When he paused before placing his rose in the vase, you could feel the admiration and respect for Director Krzysztalowicz fill the air. After Director Trela and Eukaliptus exited the arena, a group of mares and foals were led into the arena and simultaneously let free. As some of the most powerful music I’ve ever heard played loudly, these mares and their babies ran beautifully around the arena with nothing more than a row of potted plants between them and the crowd. Like a flock of birds, they all exited the arena as the music ended. There wasn’t a dry eye to be found that day. Certainly the most moving tribute to anyone I have ever experienced.
“At no point has Poland ever been boring for me, but it did become a lot of the same thing year after year. May was filled with photographing beautiful horses, in sometimes terrible weather. Food and laughter was non-stop, and evenings were filled with photo reviews and shots of ice cold wodka. August and the National Show and Sale was a whirlwind of events, sometimes lasting well into the next day.
“Last year at the 2015 Polish National Show, the most amazing thing happened. Janów mares dominated their classes with seven or eight making the mare finals class on Sunday. Director Trela came to me and asked if I would present one of the mares in the Championship Class. Are you kidding me?! ABSOLUTELY! I had the honour that day to present the 15-year-old mare Amra (Eukaliptus x Albigowa by Fawor) purchased by Shirley Watts in the 2008 auction. We didn’t make it into the Top Five that day, but you would have thought we were World Champion if you could only feel the pride I felt. My life is vastly richer because of Poland, her horses and her people.”
Rhonda Coleal – Breeder
“Poland has very special memories for me, and to try and put how I feel into words is very difficult.
“With my mother, Rhoda, we bred the stallion, Eden C (Enzo x Silken Sable by Genesis C), and he has been used at the State Studs with great success. With my husband, Jim, we made the trip from the US to Poland last August, and the experiences that I enjoyed there will stay with me forever. It was wonderful to see so many daughters of Eden show, and one young mare in particular caught our eye. Her name was Piniata (ex Pinga by Gazal Al Shaqab out of Pilar), and this beautiful bay won her class easily.
“On the Sunday, Piniata stepped into the ring for the Senior Female Championship, and she received the winner’s garland. They also do a ‘Best in Show’ in Poland, and so this pretty mare made her way into the ring once more. Before they announced the results, the show organisers made some presentations. It was then that Scott Benjamin, a great friend and someone who helped run the show for many years, came over. He told Jim and I that Piniata had been awarded Best in Show, and that we were to go into the ring for the presentation. My word, did I cry! Not only that but even though I don’t drink, I had a shot of vodka to celebrate! Well, we were in Poland, after all…
“The memories of that day in Poland, as well as the great friends that I made there are particularly important for me now. My beloved Jim passed away suddenly in July, and I feel lost without him. I am so thankful that we had so much time together, and that we were able to enjoy that wonderful day in Poland, where a daughter of the stallion that we had bred was named Best in Show. Thank you Poland for that tremendous gift.”
Shannon Lawlor – Artist
“I could write a book on my memories of Poland. Briefly, however, my first memory of Poland was when I was five or six years old, growing up on the frozen prairie of Manitoba, Canada. Having those big old Arabian Horse World (AHW) magazines arrive via mail. Well, they silently shaped a good part of my love for the horse. The Jerry Sparagowski photos of the mares at Janów, knee deep in straw hidden in the pages of the AHW; at six years of age, I knew I had to see that for myself. It took me forty years, but I got there. The day I walked into the mare barn at Janów and saw those dry, white mares knee deep in straw, I broke down. My life had come full circle. I was in love, all over again.
“Kulig (Balon x Kawalkada by Penitent) was perhaps not the most popular stallion, but in 2011 he gave me some exceptional reference photos to work from, depicting his aged soul in this painting, and this was a joy for me. And in 2014, the photo of Ararat’s (Palas x Arra by Bandos) muzzle resting in the palm of my hand. I had the whole world in my hand that day, that moment. Hundreds of years of breeding, heritage, history, sacrifice, pride and beauty – it was breathing in my hand that day.
“The friendships developed from my only two trips to the State Studs of Poland will last forever, and my love for the Polish Arabian has been further cemented in my heart and in my paintings. I love Poland and the Arabians born and bred there. A piece of me stayed in Poland when I left, and will always remain so.”
Magical memories are made throughout the world, but Poland truly seems to inspire something special in people. Certainly, I have more recollections of horses that have moved me to tears in Poland than I do at other places I frequently visit. So what are those special moments?
Horses are so much a part of our lives, and you can see from this brief glimpse into one very small section of the Arabian world just how much they touch us. There is much, much more to share not only on Poland, but on the Arabian breed in general and our incredible relationship with them.
Please continue to follow The Romance of the Arabian Horse. Have a wonderful Sunday.
Title image – Kulig (Balon x Kawalkada by Penitent). Photo copyright Anette Mattsson.
And as the Olympics are still on… The Horsefly Film video of that night in Poland..!