If I could credit a single book for my current work-in-progress, the Dreams of Yesterday series, it would be the Western Horseman Book called “Arabian Legends.” Published in 1999, the paperback book features 24 of the most successful and legendary Arabian mares and stallions.
I have worn down my copy to the bare threads of the binding. I have spent hours pouring over this book and the photos of horses from in the 30s to the 90s. There are pen marks, pencil marks, highlighter marks, bent pages, sticky notes and everything in between. A hybrid of my two loves: horses and history, this book has followed me everywhere – even to college and back!
Every few weeks, I will post an “Arabian Legend,” from this book and additional sources, to share my love for the breed and its rich history.
One of my favorite stories is one that not even Hollywood could have dreamt up.
April 1st, 1938, in Poland, a striking bay foal was born and named “Witez” (VEE-tez), which means “knight, hero, prince.” He had a small snip on his nose, a star and a white pastern on each foot. Aside from his notable pedigree, the colt was striking in his own right and grew up in the pastures of Janow Podlaski Stud.
Then, September 1, 1939 brought a new dawn. Hitler’s invasion would change the face of Poland within weeks. The managers at Janow feared seizure of their horses by the German Calvary or by the Russians to the east. Most of the horses were scattered through the countryside and eventually returned once Germany took control of Poland.
To hide his distinctive features and fine breeding, *Witez II was smeared with mud and hidden with a local woodcutter and even put to work. The strain of journey and lack of proper feed rendered the stallion in dire health and he was eventually apprehended by the Germans and returned to Janow, now under Nazi rule.
He lived a good life under Germany’s care, bred and raised with the goal of creating an elite race of “super” horses for Germany’s “super” humans. By the end of Hitler’s campaign in 1945, the U.S. Army closed in on the area and captures a German Intelligence unit next to the stud farm. The officers of the farm pleaded with the Americans to release the horses. General Patton, a calvary officer and horseman himself, ordered their rescue.
While the continent lay in chaos and ruins, a handful of Europe’s finest horses had survived. *Witez II survived the ocean voyage to the states and went on to leave a long lasting legacy of championships and champion offspring. Ever the celebrity, the Polish government later put his face on a stamp, and he modeled for countless photos and book covers.
The great stallion died at age 27 in 1965, the survivor of a war that redefined a generation. *Witez defied the odds and influenced Arabian breeding in the United States. His story touched me and opened up a new realization to the damage and everlasting reach of war.
- “Arabian Legends” Marian K Carpenter
- Fictionalized story: “And Miles to Go” by Linell Smith