Kladruby National Stud - breeding unique Old Kladruber horses for over 400 years

Photo: Helena Gornerova, National Stud Kladruby nad Labem

For this edition of Spotlight I have come to the Narodni hrebcin, or National Stud, at Kladruby in central Bohemia. Here, by the banks of the River Elbe, unique Old Kladruber horses have been bred for over 400 years.

Zuzana Sancova works at the stud farm and is an expert on Old Kladruber horses.

"The stud farm was founded in 1579 by the Habsburg emperor Rudolf II. The reason he started...or the reason his father Maximillian II started breeding these horses in Kladruby was to have their own Spanish-blood horses for ceremonial purposes. These horses were used in Vienna and Prague for special occasions, as driving horses."

We're in the stables here now and very near us there are quite a few of these horses- could you describe them for us?

"These are quite heavy warm-blood horses..."

Sorry, when you say warm-blood horses, are some horses cold-blooded?

"Yes, but we are not interested in cold-blood horses or draught horses. These are very noble horses, they have noble heads with a typical shape called Roman nose, they have quite a strong neck and a long body.

Old Kladruber horse,  photo: National Stud Kladruby nad Labem
"For them also their trot is also typical, the movement of trot - they are known for their high front leg action. Also we breed these horses in grey and black colours, and all grey horses are born dark, so the foals are dark brown, black."

So basically their job is to look good?

"Yeah, yeah, you are right. It's very important because in the past they were very close to the emperor and his family. So they must be very noble, the exterior of these horses must be perfect."

Today for instance are these horses used by, I don't know, the Queen of England or someone like that? Are they in use?

"Yes, we sell horses to Sweden and also to Denmark. In Stockholm they are used for...great music. You can imagine that they have more than 60 horses as an orchestra and there are five horses in the front row in white or grey. They use Kladruby horses because they are very calm, they are not afraid of noise. And the riders play trumpets. And also in Denmark they use Kladruber horses for driving, for their queen."

As we heard a few moments ago, Kladruby was established way back in 1579. Surely that must make it one of the oldest stud farms in the world?

Old Kladruber horse,  photo: National Stud Kladruby nad Labem
"Maybe it's not the oldest, because we know about stud farms which were founded earlier than Kladruby. But Kladruby...or Kladruber horses have been kept in Kladruby more than 400 years.

"And that's very important, because we know about older stud farms, but the original type of horse is not kept to the present time. So in old German stud farms nowadays they breed modern types of horses. But that's a different situation than in Kladruby."

The Kladruby estate - which is owned by the Czech state - is also impressive. I asked Zuzana Sancova if it had changed much since the days of Rudolf II.

"I think it's very similar to...not directly to the 16th century but maybe the first half of the 19th century. Because in 1757 there was a great fire, and the buildings, church, chateau was destroyed. And there was a big renovation in the beginning of the 19th century, and these stables - you can see - are from this time."

Photo: Helena Gornerova,  National Stud Kladruby nad Labem
Established by the Hapsburgs, the Kladruby stud came in for something of a backlash in 1918, when - with the foundation of Czechoslovakia - there was a strong anti-Habsburg mood.

"Fortunately the population of grey horses was not attacked by this feeling. But the black horses had great problems, and the population of black horses was nearly destroyed and there were only about 20 horses in Czechoslovakia at the beginning of the 20th century. And Professor Bilek collected these few animals and he started new breeding of black horses.

"Nowadays we have maybe the same amount of grey and black horses, but there are more differences among the black horses: one is big, one is small, one is fat, one has a straight nose, one has a beautiful Roman nose. It's necessary to select them more than grey horses."

Old Kladruber horses - with a mix of Spanish and Italian blood - are quite rare. What does the future hold for the breed, and what about inbreeding?

"There are 1,200 Kladruber horses in the world, most of them - more than 1,000 - in the Czech Republic. Five hundred horses are in private hands and five hundred are owned by the National Stud Farm, I can say. So we have approximately 250 grey horses and 250 black horses.

"We have no problems with inbreeding, because sometimes we use the blood of another kind of horse. It's necessary. Now the stud book is closed, and it's not possible to mix Kladruber horses with Lusitano or Lipizzaner horses, which are quite similar to Kladruber horses.

"But maybe in 20 or 30 years we will use a Lusitano sire, or a Lipizzaner, and in this way we will get fresh blood into the population of our Kladruber horses."

And if you would like to ride a carriage drawn by these magnificent horses it can be arranged if you call the stud farm a couple of days in advance. For more information go to www.nhkladruby.cz (only in Czech and German).