By Alexandra Lotz
September 27, 2019
As of July 2019, the Czech National Stud has achieved recognition denied to many cultural or natural heritage sites despite outstanding beauty, historic significance, and enormous effort during a long nomination process. The stud, founded by the Habsburg Empire in order to breed and train noble carriage horses for the court, is now listed as UNESCO World Heritage.
Undoubtedly, Rudolf II did not foretell the future fame of the courtly stud he founded in 1579 in the Bohemian village Kladrub on the Elbe. For elaborate Hapsburg court ceremonies, he aimed to breed noble and powerful carriage horses with the strength necessary to pull heavy gala vehicles in style and with exalted movements. For this honorable task, only stallions were considered and they were supposed to have excellent manners.
These horses represented a type of horse that was fashionable at the time. Steep shoulders, high necks and roman noses are still trademarks of the Kladrubers. They have been bred for walking, since in important ceremonies the carriage passengers were driven up to eight-in-hand according to their rank. The horses used to be accompanied by grooms on foot through the crowds of spectators and had to remain calm. Furthermore, it was essential that the audience had enough time to see the passengers in the passing carriages. Today, horses bred at Kladruby can be found in the Royal Mews for Denmark and Sweden. They prove their ability not only to walk in an elaborate manner, but also to perform successfully in fast-paced modern driving competitions around the globe.
The spacious stud landscape—with its long tree lined avenues and its chessboardlike arrangement of pastures and woods used for the hunting pleasure of the court society— still provides conditions for horse breeding and training. The disasters of the 20th century, the end of the Habsburg monarchy, the first Czechoslovak Republic, and 40 years behind the Iron Curtain left their marks, but those circumstances could not destroy the dignity and the beauty of Kladruby. During the past years the stud premises underwent intensive renovation and today the dignified buildings appear in old brilliance.
In addition to the French Art of Riding as it is still practiced at Saumur, and the Spanish Riding School of Vienna in connection with the Austrian State Stud Piber, the Czech National Stud Kladruby nad Labem is the third equine institution that can be found on the list of intangible heritage. UNESCO has declared it a heritage for all mankind. Let’s hope that that the implementation of the World Heritage spirit succeeds and that the UNESCO title brings positive effects not only for Kladruby, but also for other significant sites that bear witness to the unique connection between horses and humans in history.
For further inquiries about Kladruby nad Labem, equestrian heritage or excursions to places of interest in Europe you are welcome to contact Alexandra Lotz (www.horses-and-heritage.net). Her article “Beauty in harness: the imperial coach horses of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, their decline and their renaissance” will soon appear in World on Wheels (Magazine of the American Carriage Association).