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The spoga horse country check (7): The horse industry in Poland

spoga horse is the world's leading B2B trade fair for the horse industry. An important plus point for visitors and exhibitors: Its internationality. Exhibitors from 33 countries and visitors from 72 countries took part in spoga horse autumn 2019. The networking of business partners across national borders is an important mission of spoga horse. That's why in the new series "spoga horse Country Check" we take a close look at the most important sales markets for spoga horse.

Please note: These are partially abridged versions of the articles originally published in the trade magazine "ReitsportBRANCHE" by Sebastian Reichert. If you are interested in the complete publications, you can order the complete Ländlercheck series at info@reitsport-branche.com .

Traditionally decorated horses in Krakow

Traditionally decorated horses in Krakow

Between tradition and glitter – from cavalry to booming equestrianism

A Pole is born in the saddle, and he dies in the saddle, they say. From half-wild Koniks, the legendary Winged Hussars, officer Kazimierz Pulaski as “Father of the American Cavalry”, Marshal Józef Piłsudski with his Kasztanka or the horse painter Wojciech Kossak through to Janów Podlaski state stud with its world-famous Arab show and, last not least, great equestrian holiday offers – Poland has a distinctive equestrian culture which has just started developing again. “For some years now, equestrian sport has been booming in Poland,” says Agnieszka Maziarka, spokeswoman of the 5-star CSIO5 in Sopot. In part 7 of our “Country Check” series we are presenting Poland and its equestrian sector.

Horse breeding and riding have a long tradition in the territory of today's Poland. The Trakehner horse, the epitome of a noble horse, is considered the oldest horse breed in the world, for example. “Anyone who used to ride a Trakehner must now drive a Porsche in order to keep up the standard,” the Trakehner breed society quotes Marion Gräfin Dönhoff. The later co-editor of the weekly German newspaper “Die Zeit” had ridden the Trakehner chestnut Alarich in early 1945 on a seven-week escape from East Prussia to Westphalia. With an area of 312,000 square kilometres, Poland is the sixth largest country in the European Union, and, counting 38 million inhabitants, the fifth most populous. While in Germany, which is only slightly larger, there are 235 inhabitants per square kilometre, Poland counts only 124. Since 2004, Rzeczpospolita Polska, the Republic of Poland, has been a member of the European Union. Measured by gross domestic product, it is the 22nd largest economy in the world.

Winged hussars

Poland’s national holiday is on 11 November. On this day, the country celebrates the regaining of its independence in 1918. The last time Marshal Piłsudski rode Kasztanka, by the way, was at the parade on 11 November 1927. The elegant mare died only twelve days later. Before 1918, Poland had been divided between the neighbouring countries Russia, Austria-Hungary, and Prussia (later German Empire) for 123 years. Since 1569, the aristocratic Republic of Poland-Lithuania had formed the first modern state in Europe with an aristocratic republican system and separation of powers.


In 1791, the Republic ratified the first modern constitution in Europe. Poland's early fame was also down to the “Hussaria” – an elite cavalry, which formed the fighting corps of the Polish army in the 16th and 17th centuries. The Winged Hussars wore wings made of eagle feathers on their backs, the noise of which was intended to frighten the enemies and their horses. But the wings also served as protection against blows and slings. The Polish cavalry, which remained unbeaten for 125 years, achieved its most significant victory in the Battle of Kahlenberg in 1683. Under the leadership of King John III Sobieski, the Winged Hussars succeeded in defeating the Ottoman army, ending the Second Turkish Siege of Vienna. After Poland’s last mounted unit was abolished in 1949, the country again set up a small lancer unit in 2000, shortly after joining NATO, for representation purposes and to maintain tradition.

Seven European neighbours

With seven neighbouring countries – Russia, Lithuania, Belarus, Ukraine, Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Germany – Poland is one of the countries with the most European neighbours. 524 kilometres of the 3583-kilometre-long state border run along the Baltic Sea. The north-south extension (649 kilometres) almost corresponds to the east-west extension (689 kilometres). Poland has 9300 lakes larger than one hectare; in Masuria alone, there are 2700. This makes it one of the countries with the most lakes in the world. In Europe, only Finland has more lakes per square kilometre. The longest rivers are Wisła with 1022 kilometres and the border river Odra (840 kilometres). The highest peak in Poland, the 2503-metre-high Rysy, is located in the Tatra Mountains in the south of the country.

“With its huge forests, green areas and almost untouched natural landscapes, Poland offers ideal conditions for horse lovers,” says Magdalena Korzeniowska. “The costs for rides or riding lessons are much lower than in Germany.” The importance of equestrian tourism for her home country is currently increasing, the spokeswoman of the Polish Tourist Office says, a fact that was partly accounted for by the increasing ecological awareness.

The high mountains "High Tatras" in the south of Poland

The high mountains "High Tatras" in the south of Poland

Dönhoff Masuria trail - Retracing the countess' tracks

Today, tourists can, for example, ride in the footsteps of Marion Gräfin Dönhoff on the “Dönhoff Masuria Trail”. In the “Palac Galiny” hotel near Bartoszyce, close to the border to Russia, the Masurian winter tradition of sledging is being cultivated. The Warsaw married couple Joanna and Krzysztof Palyska (Bell Cosmetics) revived the former Gallingen estate in the mid-1990s, using it as a hotel and stud farm with associated riding school. Today, more than 70 horses live in the historic stables of the noble East Prussian Eulenburg family. The 100-horse-stud farm of the Ferensteins, a family of show jumpers, which is located not far from the Krutynia River in Masuria, also has a lot to offer.

Around the city of Łódź, the longest bridle path in Europe has been created for around eight million euros. Opened in 2012, it consists of two connected loops and amounts to 1,800 kilometres. Another well-known bridle path is the Transbeskid route, which is about 600 kilometres long. A tour of over 300 kilometres leads from Kraków through the Kraków-Czêstochowa Highlands. The Bieszczady, a Carpathian mountain range in south-eastern Poland, sometimes referred to as the Polish Wild East, is famous for its Hucul ponies, an endangered breed. The small mountain horses,which used to be the farmers' all-purpose horses, are considered particularly gentle and sure-footed, their strength of nerve is legendary. Today, horse farms offer carriage tours or rides with this almost ideal trail riding horse. Hucul ponies are bred in southern Poland, for example in a state stud in Gładyszów, in Odrzechowa and in Popielnie (Masuria).

The Konik is a robust Polish breed

The Konik is a robust Polish breed

Konik - The polish primitive horse

The Konik (Polish for a small horse) is a robust Polish native breed, which probably originated from horses from the Biłgoraj region. Koniks are willing, calm, undemanding, robust and very friendly towards humans. The Konik is also considered the parent form of the Panje horse (Panje = master). These persevering and undemanding horses, which are always willing to perform, were used by the thousands in the two world wars and during the flight of the Germans from East Prussia at the end of the Second World War. Today, Koniks can be observed, from a distance, in the Roztoczański national park.

On the one hand, Poland is one of the most forested countriesin Europe (and even has primeval forests) and the most important breeding ground for migratory birds in Europe. It has the highest number of animal and plant species in the EU and is one of the countries in Europe with the most national parks (23). On the other hand, Poland still produces almost 80 per cent of its electricity from coal – a record-breaking share in the EU. The country also has the oldest cars of the EU on its roads, many of them imported from Germany. In 2017 alone, Poland imported around 350,000 diesel vehicles that had been discarded elsewhere. With 980,000 commercial vehicles, each of them an average 16.7 years old, Poland also has the largest fleet of trucks. No wonder that in 2017, according to the World Health Organization WHO, 33 of the 50 European cities with the highest air pollution were in Poland.

"Age of the horse" ended later

Until 1996, there were off-road and agricultural vehicles under the name of Tarpan built in Poznan. The brand name referred to the name for the extinct western form of the Eurasian wild horse (Equus ferus ferus). In Poland, the “age of the horse” ended relatively late in comparison to other countries, when horses were replaced by machines. “When we started moving our production to Poland in 1992, there were still a lot of horse-drawn carts on the roads there,” Peter Mattes, Managing Director of the equestrian manufacturer E.A. Mattes, recalls. In Poland, one of the countries with the highest proportion of Catholics, Złoty is the currency.

In 2018, Poland had a gross domestic product of 496.4 billion euros. The national equestrian federation, Polski Związek Jeździecki (PZJ), cannot provide any details as to how many people in total are employed in the horse industry. Also, the PZJ cannot give details regarding the total turnover of the equestrian industry per year. The spoga in autumn 2019 saw five exhibitors from Poland participating. The Polish economy as a whole is heavily dependent on international trade. In 2018, Poland exported goods worth a total of 220.7 billion euros and imported goods worth 225.7 billion euros. With an import share of 22.4 per cent, Germany is the most important supplier (ahead of China and Russia) and the most important buyer. In 2018, 28.1 per cent of all exports went to Germany, followed by the Czech Republic (6.4 per cent) and Great Britain (6.2 per cent).(6,2 Prozent).

Horse carriage in Krakow

Horse carriage in Krakow

Economic factor Wielkopolski

The Wielkopolski breed is an important economic factor. The Wielkopolski – or Polish Warmblood – is a close relative of the Trakehner and one of the most important warm blood horse breeds in Poland. This excellent showjumper has, above all, particularly good qualitiesfor eventing, such as speed, mental stamina, and courage. After the Second World War, the Trakehner breed was initially continued in Masuria under the name of “Masurian horse”. In the 1960s, the Masurian horse and another popular Polish horse breed – the Poznan horse – were merged under the name Wielkopolska.

While Trakehners have (double) elk antlers as their brand, the brand of the Wielkopolski horses, an eagle's wing, refers to the Winged Hussars.Wielkopolski horses are methodically bred in 13 state studs, including, for example, Liski stud farm ten kilometres east of Bartoszyce in the Warmian-Masurian Voivodeship or Sieraków in western Poland. Five of the 13 studs have specialized in exclusively breeding sport horses. The Malopolski – aka Anglo-Arabian – is a horse breed that has been bred in Poland and elsewhere since about 1850. It is a cross between English thoroughbreds and Arab breeds. One of the horses produced by the Malopolski breed in Poland is the famous grey stallion Ramzes, born in 1937, who shaped German warmblood breeding. Malopolski sport horses particularly exploit their strengths in eventing. Every year at the beginning of August, well-heeled horse lovers from all over the world are drawn to Janów Podlaski – a Polish national shrine right on the border with Belarus. The oldeststate stud in Poland was founded in 1817 and made Poland a European great power in Arab breeding.

Even in communist times, a noble Arab “Made in Poland” could earn hundreds of thousands of dollars – valuable foreign currency. The record price of 1.4 million euros was achieved by the grey mare “Pepita” in 2015. The umbrella organisation of all Polish equestrians is the already mentioned Polski Związek Jeździecki. PZJ was founded in 1928 and joined the world association in the same year. Since 2017, Jan Soltysiak has been President of the Polish Equestrian Federation.

100 equestrian centres in the country

According to the Polish Tourist Office, about 100 equestrian centres are associated with PZJ. There are about 300,000 horses in the country, most of them are used for sport and leisure purposes. According to Polski Związek Jeździecki, 173 national equestrian competitions were scheduled for 2020. 1312 riders are admitted participating in national competitions and 1888 to regional competitions. There are 4862 horses registered with the association (with a license for 2020). According to its own information, the Polish Equestrian Federation has 16 regional equestrian associations and 469 clubs (with a license) as members. In 2020, a total of 3106 riders have a competition license – 2558 of them are female and 548 male. As regards the age structure, the strongest groups are made up of senior riders (1237 members, 39.8 per cent) and young riders (861 members, 27.7 per cent). The Służewiec racecourse in Warsaw is one of the most important horse racecourses in the country, alongside the facilities in Sopot and Wroclaw. It is considered an outstanding architectural monument of the interwar period.

The Sopot race course is the only race course with a sea view. The Hippodrome there is the venue for the international CSIO horse show and international gallop races. In Zakopane, a snow polo tournament is held. “We have been noticing an equestrian sport boom in Poland forseveral years,” says Agnieszka Maziarka. There are also many regional competitions throughout the year, explains the CSIO spokeswoman. “Sometimes it's really difficult to finish the last class before 10 p.m.” In 2020 (cancelled) and 2021, the European Pony Championships were/are scheduled to be held in Strzegom. Pony classes for children were becoming ever more popular in the country. Maziarka: “That is why we are planning the CSIO Sopot Young Stars.” Perhaps one of Poland's finest riding talents is going to follow in Jan Kowalczyk's footsteps one day. The triple Olympic rider, who died on 24 February 2020, is so far the only rider to have won a gold medal for Poland at the Olympic Games. He won in Moscow in 1980 riding Artemor.

The Polish city of Gdansk

The Polish city of Gdansk

E.A. Mattes - Complete production in Poland

Peter Mattes' company, E.A. Mattes GmbH from Mühlheim on the Danube in Germany, which has been known for high quality lamb-skin products for a century and a half, has been producing entirely in Poland since 2007. The production is located at Myślenice in southern Poland, an area that is known as the tanner centre in Poland. The neighbouring district town of Nowy Targ has the most modern sewage treatment plant in the whole of Poland, specially equipped for tannery wastewater. “There are still a lot of family laundry businesses in the area,” says Peter Mattes. He estimates that there are probably considerably fewer than 100 equestrian retail stores in the whole country. One third of the shops are located in the Warsaw area. In addition to shops called Sklep Jeździecki Karina, Becker Sport and Stajnia Sklep, there is also “Pasi Konik” to be found in the capital. The business operates three branches in Warsaw plus an online shop.

“Na Koń” has three branches, as well – in Toruń, Milanowek (near Warsaw) and Gdańsk. However, there are no larger retail chains for equestrian sports equipment. The French company Decathlon has a strong position in Poland, though, operating 60 branches. The Decathlon sports shops sell clothing, equipment and accessories for horse and rider, among other things. In Poland, horse riding is a relatively elitist and expensive sport. And as is the case in other countries, most of the money is located in the big cities – Warsaw, Wrocław, and Poznań. “Many Poles are switching from one extreme to the other,” says Sury Katarzyna from the equestrian shop “Konio Mania” in Wroclaw. “We have people in the country who ride out of vanity. Others ride despite everything, even though it costs them a lot. They are mostly found on small farms.” The “largest and most modern equestrian shop in Poland” (according to its own account) is located in the centre of Katowice. “Equishop”, which offers goods in a 500 square metre shop, has also translated its website into German and English.

Apart from the big cities, the industry is mainly to be found at the intersections ofthe motorways. In contrast to Germany, there are fewer shops located at equestrian establishments. New business is created relatively quickly in Poland due to subsidies, but often the shops close again almost as quickly. “Poland is a territorial and agrarian state. This is one of the reasons why people buy more online, compared to Germany,” says Peter Mattes. Sury Katarzyna confirms this; from her point of view, this is a disadvantage, though: “Customers whine about discounts, take photos of the items and then search for them on the Internet, where they will always find some garage shops that offer the products cheaper.” Joanna Kubinska, who is Kavalkade's sales representative and responsible for Poland, among other countries, has identified two more differences. “In Poland, hardly anyone uses fly sheets. Here, equestrians swear by liquid insect repellents. Second, in Germany, functionality is decisive in the equestrian retail trade. In Poland, design and fashionable looks are much more important, they want more glitter, brighter colours, more opulence. That's the same with equestrian fashion as with real- life fashion.”

Author: Sebastian Reichert