This post first appeared on July 21, 2011
My original purpose for the upcoming set of books was the explore the history of color in the different breeds. I did have another motive, though. It is impossible to tell the story of those colors without also telling the story of the breeds themselves, so in many ways the books are as much about breed history as they are about color. The idea of “breed” – and the related concept of “purity” – is often misunderstood. As anyone unfortunate enough to get me started on that topic is aware, I believe this situation harms animals. Purity of blood should never trump health.
That brings me to the horses pictured in this post. In writing the books, I have reached out to various registries and breeders for photographs. One of the most generous responses came from the Kladruber Stud in the Czech Republic. Countless pictures filled my inbox, many far more suited to a coffee table picture book than my more modest project.
Kladrubers are the last of a type of horse once known as galakarossiers, or ceremonial carriage horses. Kladruby nad Labem where they are bred is among the oldest of the European royal studs, having been established in 1560. The farm is currently on the Tenative List for UNESCO’s World Cultural Monuments.
Like most of the old European carriage breeds, the Kladruber is endangered. In writing the books, one of my hopes was to raise awareness of some of these little-known breeds. But in the case of the Kladruber, they also serve as a model for intelligent preservation of rare animals. There are two “breeds” of Kladruber, the Old White and the Old Black breed. This is in keeping with how color stood in for breed in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, by the way. The black variety was almost destroyed in the early twentieth century, with only one surviving stallion line and four purebred mares. Those directing the restoration made the decision to outcross to maintain the genetic health of the population, while still preserving the historical baroque type.
This wasn’t actually as radical as it might seem to those used to equating breed with purity. It was how Kladrubers were originally bred. It is how horses have historically been bred the world over. It is my hope that by telling the stories of these different breeds, more people realize that diversity and not absolute purity is really what is traditional.
And if that opens some minds to the less common colors out there, that wouldn’t hurt my feelings either!