Emma Maxwell is the youngest daughter of Major & Joanna Maxwell, founder of Lodge Stud, UK, one of Europe’s most celebrated and successful Arabian horse breeding programs. Major Maxwell was one of the founding members of ECAHO, while Emma, a leading authority on the Arabian breed worldwide, has enjoyed decades of success as one of the world’s leading trainers and showpersons, and more recently as a talented photographer and a respected journalist.
I am often asked the question by people outside the world of Arabian horses, which country the best ones are bred in ? They are always amazed my answer. Poland. Yet the reason for this answer is simple. Continuity.
It is undoubtedly the single most distinctive feature of the Polish horse breeding program and the one that has allowed them to top the tables since international competition and export began in a way that no other country can compete with. Since ’before the modern age’ the forties and fifties, both studs have been developed over the directorship / apprenticeship of just two managers. Janow Podlaski with Andrzej Krzysztalowicz and Marek Trela. Michalow with Ignacy Jaworowski and Jerzy Bialobok.
There is no coincidence between this information and that of their longstanding success. Horse breeding does not have a simple algorithm of success; X + Y = $$$. There are so many factors whose combination is not necessarily predictable that breeding knowledge is more a slow accumulation of information that over time bears fruit. I come from a horse breeding family and I know my levels of prediction and success are far higher in the families I have or five or seven generations of experience with. Where I can recall not just the good horses from the family, but the ordinary and even disappointing foals in detail as well. I can see the larger patterns not just the occasional triumphs. Without this experience, say with an unusually bred import; I understand I am playing my cards blind. The enormous advantage the Polish State Studs have accumulated over the rest of the world is that the managers have generations worth of cards on the table. But to someone who has never played this particular game of cards before, there is no advantage. They are gambling along with every other person who is breeding their first Arabian foal this year.
Part of Poland’s success also relies on the fact that it has bred pure Arabian horses for longer than any other non Arabic country, and the foundation stock is referred to as “Pure Polish” . There are other European foundation countries whose bloodlines were sufficiently noteworthy to be defined by their country of origin; and whose contributions were originally tied together by a Govt funded State Stud. Yet the trajectories of the Russian and Spanish State Studs could not be more different to Poland’s. From 1965 – 1985, like Poland they exported several hundred horses of high reputation and price, and imported very few over that 20 year period. In Poland this is still the case and the annual auction is not just the romantic pilgrimage of the Arabian horse year for Arabian horse fans; but last year reached another economic peak with both the highest total and the highest ever single price. Russia and Spain export just a handful of horses each year now. Tersk is privately owned, the Yeguada Militar disbanded.
The reasons for the decline of these other State studs are complex and they have very different circumstances but they can be summarised. Spain bowed to pressure from private breeders and closed its annual auction of State owned horses to foreign buyers in the early eighties, an error that devalued the “straight Spanish’ brand in international eyes. Furthermore as the income to the stud dropped, it changed the system of governance to handing the breeding manager job to a new General every four years. This had terminal results. Russia was always compromised by the fact it did not compete internationally itself and thus lost sight of the real standard of horses it had to breed to keep up with the outside world. It replaced this with an unrealistic, patriotic faith in the gene pool it already collected but the buyers dried up. It is now privately owned.
None of these errors affected the Polish State stud whose management has navigated the fast changing world of the last fifty years with breathtakingly sure steps. The Polish consistency of breeding prizewinning individual horses is apparent to anyone studying the results of major international horse shows since the time of their inception around 1980 to the present day. Other European countries which also led the way in the early years of competition through their private breeders – Germany, the UK, Spain have long relinquished any claim to prominence in the face of prolonged investment in show and breeding horses from the Gulf States and Saudi Arabia. Even the giant of Arabian horse registries, the USA cannot quite compete. Poland is the single country in the world still able to compete with the major farms of the Middle East at major championships. This is a stunning achievement to both sell million dollar championship winning horses and yet have enough left to still compete and then keep breeding more. The grand studs of the Middle East don’t need to sell their champions so they keep their advantages to themselves. Private breeders very often have to take the money before establishing the breeding future. Steering a centre path between continuation and remuneration is the most impressive tightrope walk of all, and one that Jerzy Bialobok and Marek Trela, with the help of Anna Stojanowska have mastered so well they make it look easy.
To dismiss the architects of Poland’s horse breeding success after such an extended period of forward movement on all fronts is an astonishing and poorly researched decision. It is bewildering to any rational observer and makes a profoundly depressing forecast for the future of the Polish State Studs.