At this time of year, I am typically packing my case, telling Merlin Cat to be good and that I’ll see him soon, and heading out of the door to Norwich International Airport. Destination – Warsaw. Final destination – Janów Podlaski State Stud.
The draw at this time of year is the incredible Arabian Horse Days, set against the beautiful backdrop of Janów, and then going on to celebrate the Arabian horses of Białka and Michalów State Studs. The emotion that these visits conveys is immense. The memories made there are magical. And, just as important, it is the many friendships forged in Poland that have gone on to become some of the truest, purest friendships that I have.
There is no denying that Poland is special. From the history of the city of Warsaw, so devastated in the Second World War, to peacefulness of just walking the mare barns at any of the three studs by yourself, just drinking in the soul and beauty of the Arabian horses around you.
Each year, hundreds of people from around the world would converge at Janów Podlaski, all with the same intent – to see some of the most revered Arabian horses in the world in their homeland. Many a time, I have watched foals here that have gone on to conquer the world – Pogrom and Equator being two such examples – while mares that have reduced me to tears with their extraordinary beauty – such as Norma – have also made their mark elsewhere in the world for new owners. Quite simply, there is nowhere like Poland.
This year, however, things are somewhat different. There is a gap in my calendar where Poland should be. The new government – so aptly named the PiS party – fired Anna Stojanowska, Jerzy Bialobok and Marek Trela from their respective positions as Inspector of the Agricultural Property Agency, Director of Michalów State Stud, and Director of Janów Podlaski State Stud. The outcry around the world was huge – I do not think that the government expected there to be such an outcry then, and now. The events happened on 19 February and I wrote on my Facebook page almost a week after it happened, after I’d had tome to get my head around things slightly:
“Poland – Poland – POLAND!
“For my friends and family that have seen nothing but ‘Poland’ on the Facebook walls of myself and my mum, since last Friday, be assured that you will continue to see more over the coming days! But why? For those of you not captivated by the Arabian breed, you must be baffled, confused, and maybe even a little bored. I will attempt to give you some insight – and I have even found myself referring to the programme Top Gear, so that my British friends may get an inkling of the depth of feeling that we all have about Poland right now.
“Like so many of us since the news broke last week that Anna Stojanowska, Jerzy Bialobok and Marek Trela had been unjustifiably dismissed from their respective roles in Poland – as Inspector of the Agricultural Property Agency, Director of Michalów State Stud, and Director of Janów Podlaski State Stud – we have been unable to think of little else than the horses at the three State Studs in Poland, their future and their past, as well as the roles of Anna, Jerzy and Marek in making this bloodline so revered the world over. For so many of us, Poland is the most unique place in the world to visit. It celebrates its history with modernity, and going to the State Studs there is like no other experience in the world.
“In 2004, my parents visited Poland for the first time – the WAHO Conference was held there that year. In the magic of Janów, they fell in love with Poland and its horses. For yes, they already knew, and admired, the Polish Arabian but there is nothing in the world – NOTHING – like seeing these horses at the Polish National Show at Janów, and then seeing them on the tours at Janów, Bialka and, of course, Michalów.
“I can still remember my own first visit well, back in 2007, when I made firm friends for life and fell in love with the breed all over again. To see the young horses come out, confident and assured, and enter the show-ring… You see one eye-catching filly. Then another. And then another – and only half the class has come into the ring so far! Come the mare classes, you are a crying, emotional mess as these proud beauties shine so much and as for their movement – it is legendary… I remember THAT year when Norma won her class – I stood with my parents, who had returned once more, and we were speechless at this incredible mare that danced before us. That year – and so many others besides – there was not enough Kleenex for the number of people moved by the amazing Arabian beauty before them. I remember seeing Perfinka as a foal at Bialka, all of us just standing there in the pouring rain, not caring that we were getting soaked by the weather – we were just transfixed by this amazing Polish filly that stood before us. Pianissima, Emandoria, Ekstern, Ganges, Emanda, Entologia, Pilar, Pinga – all names that we know and love so well, and all ones that we have seen within the hallowed grounds of Janów and Michalów, where they bred, born and raised. And – most importantly – all these names, and more besides, were bred through the incredible wisdom and knowledge of Directors Trela and Bialobok.
“Thanks to the vision of others, as well as the foresight of these Directors, I and countless others have been lucky enough to see the Polish mares show, and shine, across the world. For Poland – in spite of the little that it had following the end of World War II – is generous. It shares its knowledge, and it shares its treasures with the rest of us. It is well known that the people of Poland count the Arabian horses of the State Studs as their own – but when we are in Poland, or watching horses from there compete in the Middle East or the US, we feel that we own them too. Because we were there – we saw them as foals, we saw them enter the show-ring for the very first time, we saw them in the stables at the State Studs and loved them, we saw them shine in Paris, we saw them receive the crowns that they truly deserved. The Directors shared so much of these horses with us. They never hid them away but instead, were happy, indeed honoured, to allow the world to celebrate with them every time a new foal was born, every time a horse reached its potential, every time a mare gave a special foal. For the Directors, the wins were necessary to keep the Studs going, but each horse has its own respected and essential place within each breeding programme as a whole.
“The true beauty of the Polish Arabian, and thus visiting the Polish State Studs, is not just about the horses. It is also about the people behind these horses. Nothing is too much trouble. Everyone is welcome. Every new person they meet is a gift – as they can then share their knowledge, their passion, their insight. A walk through the barns becomes a history lesson as the pedigree of each horse is explained to us in depth, memories and stories of generations now passed become alive as Marek and Jerzy share their insights with you. What will happen to this history now?
“The events in Poland last Friday truly rocked the Arabian horse industry. Many of us are still in shock – and we fear for the future. Since the end of World War II, there have only been two Directors at Janów and Michalów – with Trela and Bialobok being the student, and then the leader. With them gone, along with Anna, who knows what the future will hold. Will the studs close? Will they sell all the horses? What will happen to the older legends that call this part of the world home? What will happen with the Sale this year? What breeding decisions will be made now? And how long will it be before the Studs that we all know and love and follow so passionately are no longer recognisable? I, along with so many, are almost afraid of the answers.
“So, my non-horsey friends, I hope this gives a little insight into why my timeline is full of Poland. I guess that it would be like your favourite band or TV Show having its entire crew replaced – think of the outrage you all felt at Top Gear? That is how we all feel now, but on a whole other level. And while no one was physically punched in the process unlike on Top Gear, I cannot imagine how everyone felt when they were told to “pack your bags and go”.
“As an industry, I have never seen the world of the Arabian horse pull together so, all in a desperate bid to make the Polish Government overturn this decision. Poland has stood united for hundreds of years while it was pillaged by other countries – now, the whole world is standing with Poland, fighting for the truth, fighting for what is right, and fighting to preserve this amazing place that is like nowhere else in the world. Poland – Janów, Bialka, Michalów – we all stand with you. Anna, Marek, Jerzy – our collective strength is with you, and we all fervently hope that you will be back in your rightful places soon.”
We are now six months on from those traumatic first few days – and a great many of us are not going to Poland this year. It just does not feel right.
I will miss Poland. As I mentioned at the start of this article, I have made so many great friends there: Julia, my all-American ‘sister’, who is just fabulous and lives in Dallas, Texas; Shannon, artist extraordinaire and equally fabulous and who lives in Calgary; a whole gang of Aussies – Ian, Deb, Suz, Kim, Robyn; the mad Irish brilliance of Mickey and Ian; and last year, the wonderful American/Canadian group of Lorne, Susan, Pam, dear Rhonda and her late husband, Jim. And there are so many more besides.
Poland was also special for cementing acquaintances into firm friendships – the rock star that is Mr Stuart Vesty and ‘Mr Poland’ himself, Scott Benjamin, being two that instantly come to mind. Precious time was also spent there with the late Sigi Siller and her daughter, Janina Merz, and the experiences that I shared with Jen Miller over Emandoria also need to be shared!
And then there were those, already great friends, who I got to share so many special experiences with in the hallowed grounds of the Polish State Studs; Anette Mattsson, yes I am especially thinking of you there!
This weekend sees the first Arabian Horse Days since the changes back in February. I shall be posting again over the weekend, sharing some of my favourite memories from those incredible days in Poland as well as those of my friends. But for now, I leave you with a link to one of the musical tracks that makes those days in Poland so very special – Glenn Miller Sing Sing Sing, the music that we all tapped our feet to, with smiles on our faces, as the horses came trotting into the ring… Oh Poland, we will miss you this year!