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The Polish Arabian Horse – A Product of War



Polish Arabian horses have a history that is inextricably entwined with war. Lacking natural boundaries, Poland has been a stomping ground for one invader after another: Mongols, Tatars, Turks, Germans and Russians have all taken their turn. Horses were valuable weapons in wartime. Due to Arabian horses’ superior agility and stamina, cavalries in possession of Arabians would have a military advantage over their opponents.

Polish horsemen were at first victims on the receiving end of Arabian horses’ astonishing abilities. The Poles captured the agile, fearless mounts as prizes of war from Asian and Middle Eastern foes. Polish stud farms were established as early as the 1500’s to propagate the herd and level the playing field. Ironically, a truce with Turkey in 1699 cut off the supply of Arabian horses acquired in battle. Knowing how fleeting peace in their country generally was, the Poles sought to maintain their light cavalry’s superiority. It was at that point that the Poles sent expeditions to obtain bloodstock from the Bedouins.


The breeding of Polish Arabians accelerated during the eighteenth century. The Slawuta stud, founded by Prince Sanguszko, was stocked with imports from Arabia. The first state-run stud farm was Janow Podlaski, established in 1817 by decree of Russia’s Alexander I. Antoniny, the great stud farm that ultimately produced the stallion Skowronek, was established in 1850.


The Polish cavalry was an essential weapon in wartime, and thus a target by Poland’s invaders. By the end of World War I, the Polish Arabian breeding program had been virtually destroyed, with only two dozen mares and seven fillies remaining. In 1926, the Poles formed the Arabian Horse Breeding Society, publishing their first studbook in 1932. In 1927, racing was introduced as a means of testing the mettle of their herd.


Although the Polish Arabian breeding program has always been based on its broodmares, two sires imported in 1931 had significant ramifications to the Polish Arabian line.

o Kuhailan Haifi: known for his athletic prowess.

o Ofir: sire of the 3-W Stallions, Witraz, Wielki Szlem (the foundation for Poland’s post war sire lines) and Witez II (who would spread his influence in America.)


While World War I was devastating to the Polish Arabian breed, World War II was an unmitigated disaster. In 1939, under the threat of the advancing German army, Russia removed a dozen of the finest stallions and 42 mares from the Janov stud. Included in the rescue – or theft, depending upon the point of view – was Ofir. Although the Poles protected their horses as best they could, many were lost. Iwonka III (grand-dam of Bask) and Witez II were shipped to the United States and auctioned off. At the end of World War II, Poland lost its autonomy once more, becoming part of the Soviet Union. What remained of the legendary Polish Arabian studs became the property of the state.


The Polish Arabian breeding program has always been driven by two types:

o Seglawi

This type designates those horses possessing great beauty and refinement.

The color is predominantly grey.

o Kuhailan

This is the athletic ideal.

The color of these horses is predominantly bay.


The proving ground for three-year-old Polish Arabian horses is the Warsaw track. There, breeders judge a horse’s soundness, speed, and ability to recover quickly. The most proficient horses are sent to the stud farms to be bred. The others are sold.


Apart from Henry Babson and General Dickinson in the 1930’s, Poland was not a source for very many American purchases until the late 1950’s. At that time, Patricia Lindsay, a British breeder who had become interested in the Polish Arabian breeding program, learned the language and made an excursion to Poland. While buying horses for her own program, she also became a purchasing agent for interested Americans.


Each year, on the day following the Polish National Horse Show, an auction is held. This is the only opportunity for foreigners to buy horses for export. The stock consists primarily of broodmares. After a couple of seasons at stud, or sometimes fresh from the track, young Polish Arabian stallions are offered for sale through a silent auction.


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