THE NOBLE KLADRUBER: a Living Cannon
The Kladruber breed is not one which is very familiar these days to people in the West; partly because for much of its recent history the Kladruby Stud was behind the Iron Curtain; but it is the oldest operating Stud in the world established for over 400 years; originally by the Hapsburgs.
I had the privilege of studying the breed for artworks for a few weeks ten years ago and was completely captivated by them. There was one stallion in particular, Generale Proxima XLVIII who was also the Baroque dressage horse of the then Stud Director Dr. Norbert Zalis.
The stallion's lines go back over two hundred years and many generations.
He described him as 'a living cannon in both proportions and movement'. It was easy to see why. On a quiet morning at the Stud shrouded in fog, I had a coffee with Dr Zalis and we entered the indoor school beneath a beautiful crystal chandelier. A stable girl brought in Generale Proxima the mighty whhite stallion without any tack or headcollar. He stood motionless this giant animal standing 17 hands for a few moments just staring at us, as the stable girl exited quietly.
My Czech is not good, so I can't tell you what Dr Zalis said to the animal but he immediately started trotting in a circle around us after a one word command. All the time, he had one eye upon us, and I felt as the rippling silver flesh floated seemingly effortlessly and silently how graceful this animal was , and realised he was not doing it because he had to, but because he was proud of himself. With fog still hanging outside, the stallion moved into a canter at another command, and equally as silently and gracefully for such a powerful beast. It was like watching a ghost in the silence. Already I was aware I was in the presence of a special animal. He still kept one eye on us, as if to say 'Behold me'.
Well if that sounds all a but romanticised for you then you won't believe what I saw next. On Zalis softly spoken one word commands, the horse erupted into the air; Generale Proxima did indeed become a living cannon as his latent power erupted . The airs above the ground, each in turn, on whispered command and without schooling whip performed with fearsome but elegant violence. Oh yes, I have seen the Lipizzaners; but this creature was far more powerful. For the first time in my life I realised what it must have been like for an infantryman in battle to see a horse of the apolcalypse open up so violently before him 400 years ago.
Dr Zalis had in fact done unique genetic research to establish the Kladruber as an important blookstock basis of the Lipizzaner. It is however larger more powerful and has very distinctive features. Descended from the northern Spanish horse of the early middle ages, it has a huge Roman nose on a very large head which can make the body appear a little less large than it actually is. There are Black versions of the breed at Slatinany stud about thirty miles away, and Grey Kladrubers at Kladruby Stud though the foals are born black. Both are near to Pardubice, home of the Velka Pardubicka the infamous Czech Grand National. Both Slatvny and Kldruby horses pull carriages for dignitaries on important race days. For it is as a carriage horse that the breed is best known. They are used for carriage driving as a sport and state occasions. The Kladruber is the only living animal in the world classified as a National Monument; as the Czech Republic sees it.
The older generation of rural Czech people still believe the Old Kladrubers to be the old souls of people reincarnated. When you look in the large intelligent and soulful eyes of a Kladruber it is easy to sympathise with the legend.
When I was there working in 1999 there were some foals and yearlings including some beautiful fillies. A couple of those made their way to the United States and I believe are now resident in California at the American Kladruber Association. I hope that this helps the future of the breed, because as Norbert Zalis says:
'The question is whether this age needs the Old Kladrub horse or not. In my eyes we need him just as unconditionally as we need the Nightingale and the Rose'
If you get the chance Kladruby and Slatinany studs are musts for the horse lover to visit. At Slatinany stud there is an engaging Horse museum. Combine visits - by appopintment -with a trip to the Velka Pardubicka in October or any of their summer race meetings. You will never be quite the same again.
Quotes Dr Zalis from 'His Imperial Grace's Horse Park' Author Dr Norbert Zalis published by Didot sro Prague 1999
Paintings in watercolour and pastel by David Dent shortly to be turned into giclee images.
Ordeer the set of four now. Two 28x18 inch images and the head portarits 16x20 inches.
Special portfolio price for the four with original enhanced work by artist David Dent below