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Poland’s purebred Arabian horses gallop into election race

Poland’s ruling PiS party hopes to repair the battered reputation of its Arabian horse auction before October’s election.
Their fear, however, is that this list of national treasures could soon be whittled down to two, as the future of Polish purebreds becomes increasingly entwined with the country’s polarized politics in the run-up to elections on October 13.

For two centuries, Arabian horses, with their distinctively delicate heads and glossy coats, were reared in southern and eastern Poland by world-renowned specialists. That professionalism unraveled when the Law and Justice party (PiS) came to power in 2015. It appointed new managers with little or no expertise to run the state-owned stud farms, triggering steep financial losses and a devastating loss of their blue-ribbon reputation.

PiS was blasted for the stable’s problems, which became one of the first rallying cries for the opposition claiming that the party was making a hash of governing the country. Now, two months before the general election, the government is trying to erase those memories and revive the fortunes of the stud by making a big success of its Pride of Poland auction, an equestrian show that celebrates its 50th anniversary on Sunday.

The biggest concern among horse aficionados is that PiS is willing to sell off an unusually high number of the very best horses to try to recoup losses, even if that means losing prime bloodstock for continued breeding in Poland. It’s a criticism that PiS slams as deeply unfair.

Two centuries of tradition

The oldest Polish stud, which dates back to 1817, is located in Janów Podlaski, a village in eastern Poland, right on the border with Belarus. It’s become part of the national mythology — how the stud was reborn after the devastation of the Russian Revolution, and again during the Second World War under German occupation, and finally when the horses were brought back to Poland in 1950 after being evacuated to Germany to escape the Red Army. For years this village of less than 3,000, linked to the rest of the world by a dusty forest road, attracted leading international horse breeders and buyers for the annual championship and auction.

“International breeders for years knew that it’s worth coming to Poland to buy these good horses. It’s taken years to build this reputation … that the state is responsible for the horses and that the best experts are hired to look after them,” said Anna Stojanowska, an expert on Arabian horses with 22 years of experience.

But the hallowed status of Polish studs plunged after the ruling PiS party had decided to fire Janów’s managers and the people responsible for organizing the auction, replacing them with partisan appointees. Since 2015, the Janów stud has had three different bosses.

“I didn’t even realize how fragile this reputation was and how easy it is to destroy 50 years of building this market,” added Anna Stojanowska, who was herself laid off from the government agency.

The subsequent years have been tough. Several months after the reshuffle, Janów made international headlines after the deaths of two mares owned by Shirley Watts, the wife of Rolling Stones drummer Charlie Watts. One of her horses was transported when heavily pregnant. In 2016, one of the most valuable horses was auctioned twice, which fueled fraud accusations. Last year, the horse championship — an annual event linked to the auction — was moved to central Warsaw, which garnered attention, but the blue-ribboned horses were presented in rain and mud.

This malaise was reflected in the stud’s financials and auction profits. In 2015, Janów earned 3.2 million złoty (€740,000). After three years of the new management, the stud posted a 3 million złoty loss.

In 2015, the auction’s income reached €4 million and 25 horses were sold — one of them for €1.4 million. In 2018 the auction brought in only 254,000 złoty and only three horses were sold.

To any casual visitor, the stud in Janów doesn’t look like it is in financial distress. Grooms work at a calm rhythm in the stables, the buildings are well maintained and the lawns neatly mowed.

A week before “The Pride of Poland” auction all the preparations are in place.

“This year everyone wants this auction to be a success,” Stojanowska said.

Full Story: https://www.politico.eu/article/poland-purebred-arabian-horses-gallop-into-election-race-pis-criticism/

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