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Historic Stud Farms in Prussia & London

Stud farms in Prussia: History site section Logo of ancient snaffle bit. By Joan Gilbert (Horse History article copyrighted by Saddle & Bridle Magazine)

Oh, the rigors of writing for horse magazines in the early 1900s! What juicy assignments one might hope for! In 1912 issues, Bit and Spur and Saddle and Show Horse Chronicle, respectively, offered in-the-flesh looks at the Trakehnen Stud in Prussia and at legendary Rotten Row in London.

Anne Topham began with a grim picture of flat, almost treeless terrain, part of a 10,855 acre tract, on the border of Eastern Prussia, but she beautified this bleak scene for us by describing the herds of horses grazing free there. These were divided by color, and lived fenceless and gateless, attended by mounted soldiers. Here hundreds of colts were produced each year and hundreds of adults were developed for military use. Forty of the most striking blacks Rappen, to the Germans were reserved to be mounts and harness horses for use by the royal family, or for use by government officials, and at vehicles of state.

Topham commented that by being allowed to live as naturally as possible, the Trakehnen gained their fabled ability to maintain easily and to work well in any weather. She emphasized that all buildings there were utilitarian, with no attempt at ornamentation or ostentation, but they were light and airy, just as horses need their shelters to be.

She did not give the total number or buildings or the exact use of all, but said that some contained rather intricate wooden mazes. Through these, in bad weather, the young horses were herded at a trot, learning to make quick turns to either side, to take low jumps and meet small obstacles, to work very close to others and to accept, without alarm, all sorts of new sights and sounds. The same principles were applied in their outdoor work, where driven together at a brisk pace, the colts were obliged to jump ditches and fallen trees, to accept the unexpected in many ways. Obstacles and new objects they had to encounter were changed every few days, so they would never be quite certain what was ahead.

Ms. Topham commented that this training was a great revealer of temperament. Most pupils took it all as a delightful game, to be embellished with playful bites and kicks. Some individuals, however, proceeded with solemnity and care, as if already pitching for the most important equine careers. Ms. Topham described the scenes, indoors and out, as a rare treat, the animated young animals, tails and manes flying, showing all the joy and grace inherent in their species. She said that in the paddocks too, they pranced and attitudinized and were veritable poetry in motion, reminding her of Job s war horses quoted in the Bible as seeming to say Ha Ha to the sounds of warfare.

In the barns, aisles were wide enough to accommodate the wheels and teams of the empress s carriage. Thus when she came to see the colts; she could observe them to her heart s content with no tiresome necessity for clambering in and out of her vehicle; she didn t have to stand about or sit on a hay bale while waiting for those who caught her fancy to be readied and brought to perform for her. No doubt the stud was visited often in this same way by officials interested in getting dibs in on some of the most appealing animals.

It is interesting to note that Ms. Topham s visit was reported while tensions were building in Europe that would very soon result in WWI. No doubt many of the animals Topham saw that day were involved, if not killed, in the huge conflict which is said to have taken the lives of eight million horses.

The fate of this particular stud? Established in 1732, it had already survived many changes of German fortunes, boundaries and titles. The only reference I could find was dispersed after WWII. But whether or not it still goes on in some form, we all are aware of the horses bred there in their descendants highly prized today as sport horses. One in particular, Horalas, is known to most horse people for winning, with Hap Hansen, the million dollar CN International. Hansen is quoted on the Internet as saying that the horse is: very intelligent very scopey brave and levelheaded. I feel honored to continue to compete with Horalas.

Now on to Rotten Row. Who can tell us why an idyllic British bridle path has a name suggesting slaughterhouses, fish canneries and public dump sites? We re told that the name is a corruption of French words meaning The King s Road . Actually, it was set up in the late 1600s for the convenience of a king who frequently had to travel between two castles. It soon became a favorite riding spot for royals and for centuries remained so. Its countrified lanes wind alluringly through grassy and tree-rich Hyde and Kensington Parks.

When Jack Whitson visited Rotten Row for the Chronicle, the custom was for royal riders to be out at 6:00 a.m. With them, no doubt at a discreet distance, was everyone who was anyone and so had permission to ride at that time. Whitson commented that it must have been a pricey privilege to those accustomed to late night feasting and drinking. The royals and other privileged riders had the path to themselves for about two hours, after which it was open to the public. All day it was utilized as a stage for showing off ones animals, vehicles and best clothing.

Gustave Dore has immortalized Rotten Row for us in a woodcut in which riders of all ages and sizes, on every kind of mount, are crushed together as if to present a condensation of all that could have been seen there in Victorian times. His riders have rather zombie-like detached gazes; sometimes looking a little mad, actually. They could easily be imagined as horse-loving ghosts reunited with cherished mounts for a bittersweet reenactment.

Whitson described some of the types and attires of riders, but took the most pleasure in children who he said galloped merrily about, taxing the guarding abilities of parents or servants delegated to preserve them. Whitson said that due to children s gender-free riding attire he was not always aware that two sexes existed, little girls being as bold and joyous as boys. He could locate girls only if their hair was loosened and flowing freely from under their hats. This latter, he said, he found one of the most delightful sights on Rotten Row, flying manes of child and horse sometimes mingled.

Whitson touched here, on the controversy then raging, about whether women should ride astride. It apparently was no issue where children were concerned, safety being the main consideration. He did not comment that a British prince had struck a death blow to the whole controversy by declaring that his own daughters, whatever their age, would ride astride. It took a few more years for the matter to be resolved, but that action would have a great impact.

People who want to know more about Rotten Row can find it, all too briefly, in a scene from the movie, The Perfect Husband. Or one can go to Google and learn, among other things, that Rotten Row is still maintained for exercising the Household Cavalry, but used for little else, there being so few places nearby where horses are kept. Actually there is one nearby riding school, Hyde Park, whose patrons surely use the famous path. It is fun to visit, Hyde Park, via Google, its fees and regulations being cozily similar to our own. There is no indication of whether any horses might be available for rental to visiting Yanks who covet saying I rode on Rotten Row.

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