The HORSE

Of the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth

by MACIEJ RYMARZ

translated by Rick Orli from the Polish Version at http://www.husaria.jest.pl/kon.html

(Translation In progress)

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The East and South of Poland is unsurpassed horse country. The soil and grass is perfect, and conditions are similar to the ideal climate of the Hungarian plains. The rich steppe grass made for rapid breeding. Horse breeding must have been profitable since the saying went:

 

            "Horses, honey and wheat,

               Pay the debts of the elite".

 

 horse1.jpg (28084 bytes)

Poles were extremely passionate about horses, and are known for their horse breeding. The old Russian Proverb says:

"A Pole without a horse is as a body without a soul,

                A Jew without a goat,

                A preacher without a hymnal

                Or a farm without a kitty by the oven."

 

99% of the common horses were raised in the open "under the sky". Horses for farming or common transport usually bred of their own volition. Given this lack of directed breeding, there was no special Polish breed in the present sense. Perhaps, there was not enough time to establish a definite Polish breed. Various disasters in history have surely prevented it.

The fairest horse areas are in the East and South. Especially in the South, horses stayed in a natural environment practically all the time, and were less often deliberately bred. There they experienced the natural selection of survival, especially, such as survived the many wars in good health.

The outstanding breeding achievement was the great hussar cavalry horse, primarily of eastern blood. These were mostly of what was called "Turkish" stock, which included Anatolian, Persian, Turkish, Kurdish, Crimean, Caucasian, and Arab. As the old Polish saying goes, about some good things:

 

            Horse Turkish, servant Mazurish;

            Hat Magyarian, saber Hungarian.

               "Kon turek
                chlop Mazurek
                czapka magierka
                szabla wegierka"

The need for cavalry horses was considerable because of the constant wars. The waste of horses was principally severe in time of battle. For example, hussar battle casualties were 300 horses but only 150 riders at Kircholm. In battles, horses were always lost at a higher rate than men.

Jan Chryzostom z Goslawic Pasek in his memories wrote about his bad luck with horses, how they were repeatedly shot dead or crippled under him in battle (he took a few serious wounds himself). This cost him (and his father) dearly. However, after a victorious battle, which was Pasek’s normal experience, replacement mounts could usually be found among the defeated enemies’ horses.

The creation of a good combat cavalry horse was not a simple affair. There was a long training process. Ideally, they were used in battle only after they were 7 years old, only when they were mature, properly trained, experienced and acclimated to work. The rigorous training program bore fruit in strength and reliability. Strength and endurance is important, but of particular importance is good temperament, experience and training, Let's take an example from the Chocim War when Ensign Jankowski, who held the precious white banner of the general (hetman Chodkiewicz) with its insignia of one black eagle wing with one talon.

"Evil took the horse (it freaked) which ran away from the Polish lines; the Turks caught the ensign, hacked him with their broadswords, and carried away the banner "

Combat horses, but particularly hussar horses, were expensive. Whereas a good wagon horse would go for under 10 zloty, 100 zloty was typical for an "ordinary " cavalry horse, and 200 –800 zloty for a hussar’s horse. Some sold for 1500 zloty, but that was an exceptional animal for the most wealthy. There was not for definite type of breed for cavalry. It bought expensive horse Hussars but through better. The quality of the hussar formations and the quality of horse use by polish cavalry is best testified to by the words of the Swedish General Arvida Wittenberg:   "Those who will not sustain their attack will lose. Do not hope for escape or rescue, because nothing can escape before the extraordinary polish horses’ endurance and reliability".

These horses must be characterized by a certain beauty as in 1689 DAlerac said: "The Polish cavalry are mounted on the finest horses in the world.” Ze wzgledu na urode ceniono w Polsce hiszpanskie dzianety. However, they had little influence on breeding the "polish" horse.

While the blood of these great horses undoubtedly runs in many fine horses of today, unfortunately, the huge demands of the world wars on horses eliminated much of the genuine Polish equine gene pool.

                    Picture of Polish and Arabian Horse – about 1860s, by Julius Kossack.horse2.jpg (35538 bytes)

 

The hussar’s horse was heavier and stronger than the type used for the Cossack or light cavalry. Hussar Horses must weigh over 500 -kg. Weight was required since a lighter horse did not cope with high tasks put before it, such as 100 -kg hussar (including armor and kit). However, the heavier horse lacked some nimbleness and speed.

 

From the dawn of the Polish race they knew and appreciated a good horse. They knew that many great battle victories would not have been possible without good horses.

The whole life of a Polish nobleman, not only a knight, was related to horse – his ‘brother in arms’. The father’s first act on the day of his son’s birth was to take him out to the stable for his first ‘steps’ on horseback. The horse was a cause for pride, and we can envisage endless discussion about the merits of various horses. This painting by Leopold Loeffler is of Stefan Czarniecki, who says goodbye on the moment before death to a "friend".

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In conclusion, let's quote again:

 

A Pole without a horse is a body without a soul

 

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