I remember trying to write the March magazine – and struggling. The news had broken that Marek Trela, Jerzy Białobok and Anna Stojanowska had been dismissed from their respective roles as Director of Janów Podlaski, Michalów State Stud and Chief Arabian Horse Specialist. As I finished my March edition, the future of the Polish Arabian was unclear – as was events such as Arabian Horse Days and Pride of Poland.
As we were about to print that same edition, news came from the United States that the great Sheila Varian had passed away. That same month, we also lost Liz Salmon. These were sad times for our Arabian horse community.
|Sheila Varian © Emma Maxwell
|Peter Sweet (left) with his daughters and wife, Marilyn.
The sad times, however, continued. We also lost Peter Sweet of Sweet Photography just as we went to print with the May edition. Artist Alexander Ponomarev also passed away. Meanwhile, events in Poland resulted in the tragic deaths of mares Preria (Ararat x Pipi) and Amra (Eukaliptus x Albigowa).
Now, as I sit and write June’s magazine, the community worldwide is still reeling. In just seven days we lost – Enzo (Padrons Psyche x RD Bey Shahmpane), Sigi Siller of Om El Arab International, Wendell Hansen – famed for being the breeder of WH Justice (Magnum Psyche x Vona Sher-Renea), Drug (Prizrak x Karinka), and then Arabian horse photographer and breeder of Egyptian Arabians, Erwin Escher. What a huge loss for the industry there is in just this one short, but heartbreaking, list.
I think, really, this pain and sense of loss began back in October when Pianissima (Gazal Al Shaqab x Pianosa) passed away suddenly at the age of 12. The sense of loss we all felt was palpable – Pianissima was the people’s horse, and she was universally loved by both those that experienced her presence in the flesh as well as those that saw her through the photographs in magazines and on the internet. Her passing hit many people very hard, myself included, and Scott Benjamin’s beautiful tribute to ‘Penny’ in our Paris edition was very special indeed.
Then, in February, I was there in Scottsdale when the news broke that ‘the three’ had been sacked from their posts in Poland. For Marek, Jerzy and Anna, this was devastating – and as one, the world reacted accordingly. Campaigns were set up with online petitions as well as public demonstrations in Warsaw, Poland’s capital. I spoke with Anna in Dubai, a tearful conversation where she thanked everyone for their support, and wondered what would happen next.
Meanwhile, two of Halsdon Arabians’ mares died at Janów – Preria, first, with colic. She died the day that the new director started and there were calls for him to be fired as it was partly for the loss of Pianissima that Marek was so arbitrarily sacked. But while death from colic is something that is unavoidable, Amra’s was very avoidable – it is well known by now that she was transported to Warsaw and back while heavily in foal, and then with her colt by her side, without knowledge or permission from Shirley Watts.
While we were reeling from this news, Irina Filsinger, renowned Arabian horse photographer, passed away on 28 April. Irina was a very familiar face on the Arabian showing circuit although she had not been seen for a few years now due to illness. Her passing represented the end of an era, not least through her FilcoArt online magazine, which was a great source of information from shows and farms, especially those across the Middle East.
And then, we had that awful week, beginning 6 May with the passing of Enzo, which we didn’t learn about until the Saturday morning. Sigi and Wendell passed the same day, and then Erwin.
I do not think that there are enough tears for the pain that so many of us feel, with such sadness around us.
Now, almost four months on after that day in February, it seems that life at the State Studs has carried on without Marek and Jerzy – but that doesn’t mean that we have given up hope. The list for Pride of Poland has just been published, and I do wonder just how many of those that vehemently stated they would not be attending the Arabian Horse Days in August will stay true to that.
|Erwin Escher ©Gudrun Waiditschka
Poland had a special connection that brought people together, and that connection has been broken. I made so many incredible friends there, shared so many amazing times with these friends watching some of the most beautiful horses in the world. And while things may have carried on at the State Studs, things will never be the same again. The hearts of many are broken that such a special place in our lives has gone.
As for the passing of the great breeders, the great photographers, the incredible horses… Life does go on. But that does not mean that the first time we go to a show and don’t see Peter, Erwin or Sigi, it will not hurt. It does not mean that we will ever forget the way that horses such as Amra, Drug and Enzo made us feel. And we most certainly will never forget the friendships that were spawned from a shared love of the Arabian horse.
|Wendel Hanson with WH Justice © Avalon Photography
I very much hope that now we will begin to be able to return to some kind of business as usual… I think that we have had enough deaths in our industry to last a year or more. Writing through such pain is such a hard thing to do, but we have to do it. And we will have further tributes to Peter and Sigi in future editions.
But for now, I believe that part of the fabric of life as we know it has changed irrevocably. So go and hug your four-legged family. Tell your friends that you love them. Light a candle in remembrance. And be thankful that for us, there will be a new tomorrow. As Erwin once said “always strive to improve on what we have done before”, and I think that is all that any of us can do, in whatever way – small or large – that we can.
Rest in peace, our dear friends. I hope you are having one amazing party wherever you are!