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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

Historic Horse Farm Is Pride of Poland

JANOW PODLASKI, Poland -- Snorting excitedly, two dozen colts burst out of a stable and onto a snow-covered pasture where they prance and then sprint in cadence with the repeating crack of a whip cutting through the icy air.

Marek Trela, director of this 5,000-acre stud farm by the River Bug, which separates Poland from Belarus, knows each of his charges, picking out one and then another for comment as the horses rush by in a galloping blur.

"That one will race," he says. And then pointing out the aristocratic gait of another - its neck tapered, its tail high, and its eyes wide and alive with the glee of the moment - he adds, "and that one will breed."

For nearly two centuries, these whitewashed, neoclassical stables, have been the source of Poland's most exquisite export - its purebred Arabian and Anglo-Arabian horses.

"Janow Podlaski is part of our national heritage," said Marek Grzybowski, president of Polish Prestige, a private bloodstock company. "Arabians are now part of the culture of Poland."

In a country where the post-communist privatization of state industry and agriculture is an article of faith, Janow Podlaski is an untouchable state farm, protected by the wealth of its history and central to the continuing prestige of the Polish horse in the world of Arabian horse breeding.

Even as the Polish state moves to privatize most of the 32 state-owned studs and 13 stallion depots, it has explicitly excluded Janow Podlaski and two other stud farms that specialize in Arabians. Two centuries of breeding practice, and carefully maintained bloodlines, have given this Polish horse strength, speed and beauty in almost perfect balance.

The state fears losing that, as do buyers from around the world who come here for potential show champions as well stallions and mares who can gird their own domestic stock. This year, for instance, the Janow Podlaski auction generated $1.2 million, the largest single auction of Arabians in the world, according to Grzybowski. And Polish horses won the U.S. and European Arabian show titles in 1999.

"If Janow was privatized, which is really unthinkable, 200 years of excellence in breeding would be washed away," Trela said.

"This is one of the few places, perhaps, that you can say with certainty that it should never be privatized."

State ownership, which dates back to the stable's creation by the Russian czar, Alexander I, is the key to the stud's uniqueness, according to Trela. In an industry where pure bloodlines are riches, Janow Podlaski is paved with gold. For instance, four horses at the stable - Ascota, Asoglina, Assunta, Astenia - are the 23rd generation Anglo-Arabian offspring of an English thoroughbred mare, Cypressa, who was brought to this stable when it opened in 1817.

"We are very patient," Trela said. "Sometimes it can take a horse 20 years to breed a great horse. At a private stud, that's too little return on the investment. But we can wait. We are profitable, but we would never sacrifice a horse for profits, or sell a horse that's essential to maintaining our bloodlines. That has been our practice for 180 years."

As a gesture to the Poles, whose country he was occupying, Czar Alexander I created the Janow Podlaski stud in 1817 with horses from Russia to help replenish the local stock, which had been devastated by the Napoleonic wars.

The farm was nearly ruined by subsequent world wars. When Hitler and Stalin partitioned Poland along the River Bug in 1939, Russian troops crossed the river to steal half the horses before the Nazis arrived. And, five years later, as the Germans retreated, they took much of the remaining stock with them, most of which died in the firebombing of Dresden. But a dozen or so horses survived.

The farm's primary challenge in the communist years was its ideological incorrectness: Arabians, and breeding for sport and show, could be construed as a capitalistic indulgence.

By the 1970s and '80s, Janow Podlaski was selling to luminaries such as Hollywood director Mike Nichols, Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts and American industrialist Armand Hammer, who dropped $1 million here for a horse called El Paso in 1981.

With the fall of communism in 1989, and a bust just a few years earlier in the overheated horse market, Janow Podlaski was forced to make some tough adjustments, trimming its staff of 220 by nearly 70 percent and using some of its rich earth to raise cattle and produce to offset the lean times.

And, for a number of years, Trela and others here were worried that private investors would tempt the new democracy with a cash offer and snap up Janow Podlawski, breaking up its carefully maintained stable. But with the state's commitment this year to maintain the stud as a national trust, Trela is anticipating a successful and peaceful new century.

"For the first time in our history there are no real threats," he said.

"I expect democracy to be good for Janow, and if it is, the Polish breed will still be flourishing when the next century turns."