A Bohemian breed with six centuries of history, having also Italian blood in its vein

In Kladruby nad Labem, 25 km from Pardubice, are the oldest stables in the world, a place surrounded by meadows, pastures, lanes and the remains of the ancient riparian forests on the Czech banks of the Elba and its tributaries. This is where the Kladruber come from. These white horses with an elegant gait that inspire respect with their 700 kg weight and big deep eyes. One of these horses became famous as the government decided to dedicate it as a wedding gift to the dukes of Cambridge, William and Kate, in April 2011. Its name was Favory Alta XXI-30 Cambridge and its story had a sad ending.

Little appreciated wedding present for William and Kate

Favory Alta was born on March 15, 2006 and descended from one of the oldest thoroughbred lines, the Favory. It was the son of a champion that had taken part in European competitions and at Windsor ones and had been trained both as saddle and plow horse. It was five years old in 2011 and had a value of 730 thousand crowns, around 30 thousand euros, when Czech Republic chose it as a state gift for the wedding of the year. It is true that the British Royal House was using Norfolk for its ceremonies and did not owe any Kladruber but the will of the couple to exclude any living gifts from the wedding list has not been taken into account. Following diplomatic protocol, Favory Alta was offered at Buckingham Palace by the Foreign Minister while the Czech Ambassador in Great Britain, Michael Žantovský, the only Czech to take part in the wedding, mediated the negotiations. Weeks and months passed by, and nobody claimed the gift or asked about the horse that in the meantime remained in Kladruby and became one of the main attractions for tourists visiting the stables, around 80 thousand people in 2018. Although famous, “William and Kate’s horse” has never received any preferential treatments, except being lodged in box number one and receiving food before others. In the meantime, he passed all the examinations certifying that it was a stallion suitable for reproduction but then he got sick of an incurable disease that led to the decision to put him down. It was put to sleep on January 24 2019, before turning thirteen years old in spring.

An Italian origin breed

The Kladruber are a breed little known in Italy, yet among its founders, there are also Italian horses, the Sacramoso.

The Kladruby stud farm was created in Bohemia under the counts of Pernštejn who in the last decade of the fifteenth century acquired the village of Kladruby and the surrounding lands, founded the stables and breeding facilities. The current establishment, occupying an area of 1200 hectares, includes, in addition to the stables a castle and coincides with the original surface on which during the Middle Ages the horses were pulling wooden trunks (which in Czech are called klády, hence the toponym of the town) up to Elba, from where they were taken by water to Hamburg. The last of the Pernštejn counts, Jaroslav, brought some stallions from Spain and in the sixteenth century’s 30s expanded the stud farm to meet the need for more horses in the wars against the Turks.

In 1575, Rudolf of Hapsburg visited Kladruby and was impressed by the richness of fodder and pastures and the quality of the structures. In 1579, he issued a decree that turned Kladruby into the imperial stud farm and entrusted it the task of providing his court, transferred from Vienna to Prague, with high and elegant gait horses for ceremonies and strong plow horses for the artillery that required powerful specimens to support the troops. The Kladruber were able to fulfill both requirements.

Many European stud farms tried to imitate the results achieved in Bohemia; when the breeding farm from Lipica was founded, in 1580, on the Karst plateau, some of the Kladruber were borrowed as progenitors. The Czech stud farm tried to maintain both its primacy and prestige intact, improving its production. It took over Smrkovice, the reserve of Duke Albrecht of Valdštejn, where Iberian and Italian horses had newly arrived. The duke owed between eight hundred and one thousand horses and was an expert breeder, a pioneer who used methods that would take root in Europe only two centuries later.

The results showed immediately. With the new blood flowing through their veins, the Kladruber acquired a majestic gait and became even stronger and more graceful receiving, therefore, the task of pulling the Emperor’s carriage. The Hapsburgs were so proud and jealous that all the noblemen wanting to possess such a specimen needed an authorization. During the seven-year war, the horses were even moved to Slovakia out of fear of falling into the hands of the enemy.

In 1750, they tried to renew the breed once more and the crossbreeding involved the Italian Sacramoso, coming from the breeding farms of Marquis Sagramoso in Verona, according to other sources located in Polesine. They were black coated steers, ram profile, with withers and croup well underlined and a deep and calm look.

During the reign of Maria Theresa, the breeding continued to grow and the Kladruber race established itself in two colors: gray, destined for the civil ceremonies of the court, and black, for the religious ones.

In 1918, the new Czechoslovak Republic probably saw in those horses a symbol of the Hapsburg monarchy and the farms were closed down. Nevertheless, President Tomáš Garrigue Masaryk preserved the species and he used himself a carriage pulled by Kladruber, introducing them in the welcoming ceremony of the ambassadors at Lány. However, it was Professor František Bílek to save the black line from extinction. He was a passionate hippologist who in 1925 wrote a book on the importance of preserving them. A few decades later, he started working on protecting the genetic patrimony of the race but mostly looking for survivors, even in the most unthinkable places. He recovered three rather battered black horses and seven mares and with this small nucleus he reconstituted a herd which, after the war, comprised already sixty horses. While the gray ones were returning to the historical site of Kladruby, the black ones were moved to Slatiňany, on the former estate of prince of Auesperger.

Starting with 1992, the stable disposed of the Stud book of all ancestors included in the race up to about the middle of the eighteenth century; it was not possible to go further back because in those times the establishments, completely out of wood, were destroyed in a fire along with the entire archive. In 1995, the historic farm buildings, the basic herd of 65 mares and four gray stallions of ancient lines were included in the National Cultural Heritage. It was the first time in history that living beings were included in the Patrimony along with architectural and cultural sites. The next goal is to have them included in the UNESCO Patrimony, the documentation having been already forwarded in September 2017.

Nowadays, the National Stud Farm in Kladruby is an organization benefiting of state contribution, to which the Ministry of Agriculture allocates an annual amount of 100 million crowns; it raises around 500 horses and sells every year fifty-eighty horses with a medium price of 250 and 300 thousand crowns. The Kingdom of Denmark is one of the buyers, having established a collaboration of more than twenty years. In 1994, prince Henrik, the husband of Queen Margrethe II wanted white horses and chose six of them from Kladruby. “Our white horses are a symbol of Copenhagen”, confirmed proudly Jiří Machek, the manager of the stud farm. There is an ongoing cooperation with Sweden as well, where the national guard on horseback uses them and appreciates their reliability and calmness on the noisy streets of Stockholm. Netherlands acquired seven horses as well during last year for its state police. In Czech Republic, one can observe them ridden by the city police in Prague, Pardubice and Ostrava but not in state ceremonies. “Twice a year we present our horses at the Armed Forces Festival at Prague Castle”, says the aforementioned Machek, equally revealing his dream. “We would like our Kladruber to return as part of the presidential ceremony, as it was during Masaryk times”.

by Sabrina Salomoni