05 August, 2011

A Little Giant of a Summer Rerun


"When Antar cast his eye upon the horse, and observed his speed and his paces, he felt that no horse could surpass him, so his whole heart and soul longed for him."-From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume I, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society
I could feel the summer sun on the back of my neck, as I stood over the grave marker, overwhelmed by the presence of *Bask++. The intensity of the heat was as strong as the emotions that were welling up inside of me. “I wasn’t expecting this.” I thought. I kneeled and placed my hand upon his stone marker, now, the only connection to this wonderful horse.  "I so wanted to meet this horse, when he was alive." I said, to no one in particular. As I stood over *Bask++'s grave, I wondered over life and the irony of the entire situation.
“Probably, no nation is rich enough to pay for both war and civilization. We must make our choice; we cannot have both.”-Abraham Flexner
Wars have had a long-lasting effect upon purebred Arabian Horse breeding in Poland. Between the Russian revolution and both world wars,  Arabian Horse breeding in Poland was victimized by the devastation. No single program could enjoy long-lived continuity and in my opinion, it seemed like the private and state-run programs were always in a state of renewal. I continue to wonder over the kind of horses who could have been produced, had the program not suffered the great losses over and over and over. How much greater would Polish breeding have been,  if horses were not killed or captured by other countries? The tenacity of the Polish Arabian Horse breeder is to be admired, despite all the odds, they eventually produced many outstanding horses. For me, there are no greater lessons of hope, than those taught by the Polish breeders.
"A man without a horse, is like a body without a soul."-old Polish saying
At the time of *Bask's birth, Poland's priorities were focused on rebuilding the post-WWII infrastructure and not necessarily horse breeding, a topic which was subject to intense debate, regarding its necessity. The state run Arabian breeding program was forced to reduce the number of horses kept, reluctantly selling horses that they would otherwise retain, to farmers and circuses, in order to raise cash and lower expenses. *Bask++ was foaled at the Albigowa Stud farm, in southeastern Poland, which was eventually closed and all the horses were moved to Janow Podlaski. *Bask++ was the tenth foal of the Amurath Sahib daughter, Balalajka, a beautiful and elite mare bred by the private breeder, Anna Bakowska of the Krasnica Stud. This 1941 grey mare and her daughter, Arfa, were the only survivors of the entire Krasnica breeding program. Balalajka was priceless and a national treasure of the country. *Bask’s sire was the bay son of Ofir, named Witraz, who together with his brother Wielki Szlem were the main sources of the Kuhaylan Haifi sire line in Poland. In 1931, Bogdan Ziertarski and Carl Raswan traveled extensively in the Middle East and from this trip, imported five stallions and four mares. Kuhaylan Zaid went to Babolna, Kuhaylan Haifi went to Janow Podlaski and the rest of the horses went to Prince Roman Sanguszko's Gumniska Stud.
"Finally I hear a neigh, they guide the stallions... they lead the bay Kuhailan Haifi. My legs buckled under me, it is just the horse I am looking for. Not large, dry, on splendid legs without any trace of cow hocks. A long neck, a noble head, although not very small, with distended, thin and moveable nostrils; a splendid high carried tail. I feel, the first time in my life, that during the purchase of a horse I am fainting."-Bogdan Ziertarski, as quoted in Arab breeding in Poland, written by Edward Skorkowski
*Bask++, traces to this authentic horse, the desert-bred Kuhaylan Haifi in the sire line. However, this little giant of a horse also traces to the desert in his tail female line, through the famous Mlecha of the Dzieduszycki Stud.

When I think of Witraz, I think of how he escaped death on the road to Dresden, Germany, the home city of Carl Raswan, thanks to his very brave groom, Jan Ziniewicz. Of the 80 horses that were evacuated, only 38 horses made it to Dresden. Witraz and Wielki Szlem were two of the 38 horses. Understanding the impact that World War II had upon the Arabian Horse breeding program is important, in recognizing the contribution that particular horses made on the breed and why certain horses that we now understand as crucial and vital, were not used. If you can understand the great loss that Poland suffered, you can understand better as to why the majority of progeny that Balalajka produced were sired by Witraz; except for the mare Bachantka, who was sired by Wielki Szlem. Of the progeny produced by Witraz and Balalajka, only the mares Bandola and Arfa and the stallion, Banio remained in Poland, for use in the state breeding program. Rather than selling  *Bask++,  the horse was put into race training. *Bask raced until he was six years old, competing in 40 races and placing in 22. At the end of his racing career, *Bask was sent back to Janow Podlaski, for evaluation as a breeding stallion and he remained at Janow Podlaski, until Dr. Eugene LaCroix saw him and brought him to America. Had it not been for Dr. LaCroix, I am not sure what kind of legacy *Bask++ would have had upon the breed. I don't believe that physically, *Bask++ embodied the look that Polish breeders sought in their program and there was always a concern for using any Witraz-sired son, as the Polish breeders were not fond of Witraz's temperament. For this reason, Polish breeders preferred Wielki Szlem and had made his sons, a more popular choice over the Witraz sons. Under the guidance of the LaCroixes, *Bask++ became a formidable show horse, as he was named a US National Champion in halter, as well as a National Champion Park Horse, a Reserve Champion Formal Driving horse and a Reserve Champion Formal Combination horse.
"...when lo! a knight rushed out from the ravines in the rocks, mounted on a dark-colored colt, beautiful and compact, and of a race much prized among the Arabs; his hoofs were as flat as the beaten coin; when he neighed he seemed as if about to speak, and his ears were like quills."-From The International Library of Masterpieces, Literature, Art, & Rare Manuscripts, Volume I, Editor-in-Chief: Harry Thurston Peck; The International Bibliophile Society
Over thirty years after his death, *Bask++ remains a significant horse, an important horse, a horse who achieved many milestones...FIRST. *Bask++ was the first horse to sire over a thousand foals, in a period of time when horses were not bred using artificial insemination. *Bask++ is the third top sire in the list of top-ten all-time leading sires...STILL. He is the breed's all-time leading sire of show champions and national winners, siring approximately five hundred show champions, out of more than one thousand horses. Of these champions, two hundred were National winners, including his son MS Santana, who was a US National Champion stallion and his daughter Ambra, who was a US National Champion Park Horse.  

I find it amazing that Poland did not incorporate his bloodline until fairly recently, when his grandson, the Patterson Arabians-bred Monogramm (sired by the *Bask++ son, Negatraz out of the mare, Monogramma) was leased by Michalow State Stud. The results have been phenomenal, regarding what a "little bit of *Bask++ blood" has achieved in the Polish breeding program. This very classic chestnut horse has sired wonderful horses for Poland, like the beautiful show champion mares *Zagrobla, *Kwestura plus handsome sons like Ekstern and *Kordelas.

So, as I stood up and lifted my hand off of his grave marker, I silently gave thanks for the perseverance of our Polish brothers and sisters, who still believe in this breed, these little giants among all the horses. They are to be congratulated for giving the world, this one little, GIANT of a horse.

EnJOY and happy summer...see you in the fall,
Ralph

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