A R A B I A N
H O R S E
W O R L D
by Jen Miller photos by Jen Miller and Horsefly Films.
F E A T U R E D J U L Y
A R T I C L E
2 0 0 9
T o s ubs cri be to AHW go to www.a ra b i a n h o rs e wo r l d.com or cal l 805.771.2300 or 800.955.9423
by Jen Miller photos by Jen Miller and Horseﬂy Films.
Horseﬂy Films partners Jen Miller and Sophie Pegrum, in Poland to shoot videos of this year’s Polish sale lots. SEE VIDEO HIGHLIGHTS AT WWW.ARABIANHORSEWORLD.COM
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There are few truly perfect moments in life.
But as I bumped along on our way to the Bug River in the regal green open-air carriage, the Polish sun on my face and one, then two storks wheeling and turning in an impossibly wide blue sky, I knew such a rare moment had presented itself, demanding my awe. I tried to sear every detail into my brain. An exercise in futility. All I could think of was the small faded piece of paper always tucked away in my pocket. A list of 40 things I wanted to accomplish in this lifetime. Rolling through fields choked thick with dandelion tufts, the matched team of Eldon and Elgar in the capable hands of handler Dariusz, even those most improbable of goals seemed within my grasp. After all, I was finally here in Poland, just as I had dreamed of being as a little girl. Just as I had written on the list. Sandwiched in between No. 6 (Learn banjo really well) and No. 8 (Show my horse in AO classes), No. 7 read simply “Go to Poland to see the studs.” Like so many other lifelong Arabian horse fanatics, I was raised on the stories of *Bask and *Naborr journeying across the turbulent seas in the belly of a ship, battling colic and with a yet unknown, glorious future before them. Many a night I covered my pillow with dreams of Witraz and Wielki Szlem’s harrowing and heroic night during the bombing of Dresden when Jan Ziniewicz, their loyal groom, somehow managed to hold onto both of them throughout the night and keep them safe while hell rained down on them. Here was glory. Here was devotion. Here were man and horse together, soaring to greatness in the midst of tragedy. If that isn’t a story I don’t know what is. So when my partner, Sophie Pegrum, and I were chosen to film the first video catalog for the 40th Pride of Poland Sale, it was literally a lifelong dream come true. We planned, learned key Polish phrases possibly handy for filming — “piekny!” (beautiful!), “lepiej” (better), “gorszy” (worse), “wolny” (slow), “szybki” (fast), “borsuk” (badger) — OK, maybe we wouldn’t need that last one — and checked, rechecked, packed and repacked our video gear. What I was unprepared for was the outpouring of love and support we received from so many people — friends, colleagues, clients, and complete strangers — all wishing us the trip of a lifetime.
We must have done something right because as luck or providence or behind-the-scenes power-brokering strategy would have it, our trusty and dedicated guide, driver, helper, translator, and all-around purveyor of laughter and wisdom was the inimitable Scott Benjamin. All hail Mr. Benjamin, without whom we may have possibly muddled through but certainly with far less grace and not nearly as much fun. It quickly became apparent that Scott’s passion for all things Polish Arabian more than equaled my own and his knowledge of the Polish Arabian bloodlines, honed during his six years working at Michalów, was a wonderful addition to our trip. Also a great party game for long car rides, “I’ll take prewar mares for a thousand!” Now the cast of characters was complete and upon our arrival at Michalów, Sophie, Scott, and I entered the main building, stepping into the foyer that overflows with decades of ribbons, rose blankets, and sumptuously woven prize Arabian saddles. My eyes could not settle, which was of little consequence as we were whisked into lunch in the adjacent trophy room, a long hall filled floor to ceiling with countless monuments to greatness. My head-on with history had begun. We would have every meal in this room yet never see everything it had to offer. At this point I would be remiss not to mention the food. The Food. In quality and quantity I don’t think I have ever been so satisfied. And the soups, which begin virtually every lunch and dinner, are simply the most delicious anywhere. If my Polish were better I would have attempted to wrest the recipe for the mushroom soup served to us on the third day at Michalów. The work of a genius. It is a good thing that our film work is so physical or we would have come home much larger in body and not just in spirit. The velvet throaty call of the mourning doves from the linden trees outside our bedroom window at Michalów stud woke us in the predawn light. Swallows danced in and out of the stone barns, famous red roofs shining under the Polish sun that greeted each new day, bathing what was already glorious in ever more gilded splendor. On our first full day of shooting, we decided to capture the renowned moving of the mares from the barns to the pastures. Each morning, the director and his staff made their rounds through the barns at 5:30 a.m., inspecting each and every horse. Nothing goes unnoticed. Yet it is not clinical in any way. It is … familial. A nuzzle, a touch of the hand. Communion of horse and man.
After this, the horses ate their breakfast while their trusted grooms washed each horse from a steaming bucket and brushed each flank until they all shone. The celebrated grey mares of Michalów gleam with the attention and care that is lavished upon them. The lounge barns the mares call home are warm and inviting, foals dozing in the thick golden straw until one of their friends convinces them to play. After breakfast, the signal was given for the mares to go out to pasture. It is a sight like no other and words will no doubt fail. As we waited at the far end of the wide lane flanked on either side by rows of chestnut trees in full bloom and buzzing with bees, the grooms stood behind us at the pasture gate, laughing and talking among themselves. Then a signal was given and 400 mares came pouring out of the barns, swirling through the paddock in a riot of color and hoofbeats, charging down the lane straight for us. Whether for us or for our camera, the grooms implored us repeatedly to get out of the way but we stayed filming, hearts pounding as the horses kept coming. And coming. And coming. We were desperate to capture every glorious second of the thundering action. At the last possible second before imminent collision, we leaped out of the way as the mares ran hell-bent for grass, unfazed by our presence. A game of chicken with 400 mares left us breathless and thirsting for more! And more there was: next mares and foals, then colts — wild-eyed and gangly and full of themselves — then mares with the youngest foals turned out for the first time. The tiny foals, unsure of the big wide world, would hang back, their mothers galloping to the back of the pasture, eager for fresh air after their maternal layups. Each mare in turn would circle back, calling and imploring their baby until at last the foal would run off into the tall grass by its watchful dam’s side. I swallowed the lump in my throat. I missed my son. In the late afternoons, everything would happen in reverse as the horses were brought in from pastures back to the barns, with a stop at Michalów’s well-known long stone water troughs. The sorting of horses — yearlings from two-year-olds, or open mares from mares and foals — was another fascinating study in behavior, both equine and human. As the last horses would drink their fill and roll in the soft dirt of the paddocks, the grooms placed themselves among them and begin their rhythmic chanting, “Tsey, Tsey, Tsey!”, dividing the horses into their requisite groups to head back to the correct barns. With very few exceptions, the sorting went like clockwork — a kind of equine sleight of hand. In the colt barn, the sorting was even more impressive: 250 unruly twoyear-old colts whirled and galloped into the barn in a wild adolescent scramble, and the grooms would crack their whips on the ground and again chant “Tsey, Tsey, Tsey!” Then the spiraling horses would arc
An impromtu lunch behind the Michalów barns, where the “Memorial Boulder” sits.
and unwind, moving to their rightful place in the barn — calm from chaos in about 15 seconds. It was breathtaking. One late afternoon head trainer Mariusz and a few others invited us to celebrate Scott’s birthday. When we came back from filming, we found the group sitting on the grass behind one of the barns where the Michalów memorial boulder sits. The boulder bears the plaques bearing the names of some of the greatest legends ever to grace Michalów’s pastures: Fawor, Negatiw, Eminacja, and the latest addition, the incomparable Emigracja who died only last year. Goodwill and warm camaraderie enveloped the group. When I asked about celebrating in this particular spot, they all had the same answer — that it was only natural for them to congregate here and include these members of their equine family. They missed them and mourned their loss. I was struck by the simplicity and honesty of such a statement. This
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“A game of chicken with 400 mares left us breathless and thirsting for more.”
is a family, one that stretches back in time and forward into the future. The following morning I went to the barns just as the first light was hitting the horizon. The warmth inside the stalls enveloped and thrilled the senses. In the rows of color-coded mares, my eyes fell on one white individual flecked now with flea-bitten spots of brown. I approached and the mare’s dark liquid eye softened as she nuzzled my hand. I put my arms around her and softly greeted her, “Good morning, El Dorada.” She arched her neck over my shoulder as I breathed her in. A moment. A treasure. El Dorada. The El Dorada! Enough said. Zlota Orchidea, Elgara, Elimeja, Lozanna, Filistia … the invincible Monogramm daughter Fallada, Estaka the “look-atme” Gazal daughter, Euscera the classically beautiful flea-bitten Emigrant daughter, Droga Mlechna the very pregnant yet powerful freight train Ekstern daughter. Filming the 13 Michalów sale horses flew by in a whirlwind of mane and tail and trot, and leaving Michalów after “living” there for six days was hard to do. We felt like a small, albeit temporary, part of a tight-knit group, privy to the day-to-day magic. The mundane and the sublime. It would have been a good time to know how to stop time. Alas the hour arrived for our departure and yet, we were blessed with one more surprise. Director Bialobok placed a large book in my hands and told me to write an entry. Me, writing in the Michalów guest book. I sat on the floor of the entryway, surrounded by rose garlands, ribbons, trophies, and prize saddles and tried to conjure up the best of what my heart felt. In the end I thanked everyone for allowing us such spectacular access into their world, for their incredible hospitality and generosity of time and spirit. I invoked the names of some of Michalów’s great E family: Elkana, whom I adored as a child and whose pictures papered my bedroom walls; Emigracja, queen of Michalów; and the miracle of Emandoria,
my all-time favorite mare who embodies everything a mare should be and whose U.S. National Championship night in Albuquerque is a night whose memory I will treasure forever. I hoped my entry in the book expressed a small part of what we felt. It would have to suffice. A flurry of handshakes, hugs and kisses and we were off, the red roofs receding into the distance. On the way to Bialka we stopped at the magnificent 17thcentury ruins of Krzyztopor (The Cross and the Ax) in the village of Sandomierz. The castle was built based on the calendar, having 365 windows, 52 rooms, and 12 halls. It even had a small extra window that was kept closed except for leap years. Krzyztopor was furnished with amenities rarely seen in the 1600s, such as ventilation and heating systems, and unique waterworks that provided all rooms with fresh water. Allegedly, the ceiling in one of dining rooms was made up of an aquarium containing exotic fish! Makes for one pimped-out palace! Unfortunately, the Polish nobleman completed it only to die the following year and have it overrun by the invading Swedes. Apparently the strength of the cross and the ax weren’t quite enough to stave off the conquering hordes. We made the mental note never to turn our back on a gang of Scandinavians and continued on our way. At Bialka, the late afternoon sun shimmered on the fields of dandelions, tufts bursting into the air as the horses galloped past. It turned out it was the only sun we would have. The tranquil rolling hills radiated with brilliant yellow canola flowers, creating a kaleidoscopic patchwork surrounding the stud as far as the eye could see. If there had been more sun, my eyes would have watered. We stayed in the nearby city of Zamosc, named for the great Polish leader Jan Zamojski, whose statue astride his horse dominated the town square. In a good way. The town center is uniquely charming, having been designed as a Renaissance utopia. Zamojski brought in Dutch and Italian architects and
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their influence is unmistakable. Although we thoroughly enjoyed dining al fresco in the square, it felt strange to be away from the sheltering umbrella of Michalów and we missed it. Where was my mushroom soup? Where were the mourning doves? Didn’t Zamojski’s arm get tired riding with a scepter pointed toward heaven all the time? Poksa, Elmina, Emkira … catalog cover girl Emika, the delightful Aslan daughter Euspiria, the elegant Ekstern daughter Halima, and racing superstar Eliat. We had captured them all. After two overcast days filming the Bialka sale horses, we pressed on to Janów Podlaski. Driving down the tree-lined road to the main gate, I readily admit I had butterflies in my stomach. There it was — Pod Zegarem, the clock tower barn. Janów’s grounds were a wonderland of green and trees. Janów Podlaski, “Jan’s town under the forest,” had been aptly named. In stark contrast to Michalów and Bialka, there were people everywhere! Unbeknownst to us we had arrived smack in the middle of First Communion Sunday and huge groups of tourists had come to Janów for lunch and an afternoon stroll. For us it was back to filming. For our first location we chose “the Park,” a dense beautiful forest with a meandering path and the Janów memorial boulders. Here the plaques on the rocks bore the names of Bandos, Bandola, Balalajka, and Eukaliptus among others. So many greats gone, it was almost too much to bear. Then, just as day was ending and the last tourists had gone, Director Marek Trela beckoned us into a nearby barn where one of the mares had just given birth. The mare was Papusza, by Ararat out of the Eldon daughter Panafa. Her newborn colt by the Pepesza son Perseusz lay in the straw, wet and highly indignant, hopelessly long legs sprawled every which way. Papusza bent down and began softly nipping him, urging him to stand. This colt, unbeknownst to him, was part of a long succession, a continuity of his grandsire Ararat in his stall across the road in Czewowa, the great Janów stallion barn. After a few minutes, we quietly left mother and son alone as we walked out into the evening, the sun dripping honey over the last remains of the day. Deer frolicked through the pastures, eliciting the clacking of storks in their nearby skyscraper nests. This place was a fairy tale come to life. As we walked back to our room past the immortal clock tower, the bell chimed its salutation, keeping perpetual watch over all that had come before and all that will come after. We are a blip. Happy and joyous and drowning in the magic of Janów. Over the next five days, life at Janów unfurled in a pattern similar to Michalów — horses moving in large herds at the beginning and end of each day like clockwork. The routine, the familiarity, the family. There was that word again. When we asked Dr. Trela to describe his feelings about being the current driving force behind
Janów, he smiled and said, “This place is a living monument.” Truer words were never spoken. One day after lunch, Dr. Trela said he had a little surprise for us. We went outside and were met by the beautiful Janów open-air carriage, one of many we had seen earlier in the carriage collection housed in one of the barns. Michalów and Janów both have magnificent carriage and sleigh collections and everything is kept in amazing (and working!) condition. Breathless, we grabbed our gear and began our expedition out to the old pastures on the Bug River, which forms the eastern boundary of Janów Podlaski stud and across which lies Belarus. The meandering Bug isolates many of these old pastures as islands and peninsulas and though they are no longer used for the horses, the pastures are lush, graced with magnificent ancient oaks and pines. Dr. Trela pointed to the trees. “This is where Witraz and Ofir used to graze on the acorns. …” Stop the carriage. My mind reeled as Dr. Trela told us how Ofir, Witraz, Witez II, and even Bask used to live in these pastures, eating acorns. The grooms decided the nuts were essential to maintaining these legendary sires so the men began collecting acorns for the stallions to eat
Oﬁr, Witraz, Witez II and even Bask used to live in these pastures, eating acorns.
year-round. I pulled on a dandelion tuft and let the silky wisps fall through my fingers. If I could have found an acorn I believe it would have found its way into my pocket. Ofir. The great Kuhailan Haifi son. I could see them all here with us in Dr. Trela’s words. The thread of history wove around us tighter. I held my hand over the grass. The thrill of this grass. We walked to the river’s edge, intricate spider webs sparkling in the meadow grass, ever-present storks circling and swooping. As we walked back to the carriage in the dusk, the sun dipped orange and purple over the dark glistening surface of the Bug, carrying my heart away with the rippling water. It seemed every day here ended with a miracle. Dr. Trela’s office was itself a treasure trove — photos, maps, etchings, trophies. One day he brought out the studbook and began showing us various entries. Just as at Michalów, tears blurred my vision as he turned the pages, everything recorded like a road map through time. What was the power of these books? Why was I so moved? It was more than the greats, although certainly seeing the original birth recording entries of Ofir, Witraz, Naganka, and Bandola was achingly joyous. Perhaps the answer was much smaller. Perhaps it was merely the original pulse, the simple recordable fact that the histories of man and horse have been inextricably tied together for eons. We have been recording their histories and our own for so long. And here was proof — tangible proof in beautiful penmanship — of that unbreakable bond. That was what had brought me here, what had kept me at rapt attention as a little girl, what compelled me still to create beauty with these horses in moving images. Pride is prevalent in Poland. It is rightfully everywhere at the studs. I suppose it is on display most often in victorious moments at shows, trophies hoisted overhead and rose garlands bedecking triumphant necks. All glorious, worthy occasions. But the pride I found most compelling is in the triumph of the small detail. The quiet unheralded integrity when no one is watching. Here, nothing is overlooked. Ever. Late one night after the last
glass of vodka had been raised in a toast, we headed out to film Pod Zegarem. Dr. Trela told us that the truck was leaving with the horses for the show in Austria if we wanted to see it off. We followed and saw the entire staff of grooms on-hand. Only a few were loading, the rest were merely there as the ever-present family. They loaded the last horses and closed the back doors of the trailer, which are emblazoned with the Janów logo. Just before the truck pulled away, Dr. Trela and another groom grabbed a broom and swept the few stray pieces of straw from the back deck of the truck. When it was done they banged on the back door and the truck pulled out into the night. It was a tiny gesture. A few seconds for a couple of pieces of straw that would surely have blown off by themselves. This quiet act spoke volumes about the pride and the responsibility to history — past, present, and future — that these people felt every day even in the tiniest of tasks. They are the caretakers of the living monument and everything matters. Minutiae matter. Immense attention to detail is also going into Dr. Trela’s latest baby — the renovation of an old Marconi-designed building that will house the new state-of-the-art clinic/semen collection station. Plans are constantly being changed to accommodate the hidden historical structure revealed each day. It is vitally important to everyone involved that the building be brought back to life exactly as it was originally. All of this deferring to history has even trickled down to Janów’s avian residents. Traipsing around the back pastures, we stumbled upon a huge abandoned chimney rising into the sky, skeletal remains of some long-ago building. At the top, a stork sat arrogantly on a spectacular multistory nest. It had probably taken years to build such a home. Just a stork and his chimney — not
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legendary in any way but still a crucial part of what makes Janów special. “We could never tear down the chimney because the storks obviously need it,” Dr. Trela remarked. Continuity and architectural integrity, right down to the storks. On our fourth night at Janów, we filmed some of the sale mares in the archway of the clock tower. Last to go was the beautiful Preria (Ararat x Pipi), swollen with her impending foal. She looked breathtaking and as we quit for the day, we all felt something special from her. Dr. Trela hugged her and told her “Have a filly.” Janów being a place where wishes have a way of coming true, the something special turned out to be her gorgeous filly born a few hours later. Preria, Basta, Faseta, Nike, Cesena, Panicz, Fabira, Pelota … The names and faces of the 14 Janów sale horses were etched forever in my mind. The beautiful, refined Ekstern daughters Pinta, Walpurgia, and Pogoda, the charming Eukaliptus son Alwaro, the Pilot daughter Bellanda, onyx-black, smooth and powerful. The night before we left Janów, I was overcome with emotion. It would be so hard to leave. And then it hit me. I wiped away my tears and reached into my pocket and retrieved the list. I unfolded it and proudly crossed off No. 7: “Go to Poland to see the studs.” I had not just seen them. I had lived them. As thousands had before me and thousands will after. I put pen to paper and wrote a new entry of three small words: No. 41: Return to Poland. Arabian Horse Days in Poland are August 7-11, 2009, and include the 40th Annual Pride of Poland Sale, the 31st Polish National Show, and Open Days at the State Studs.
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