HomeArchivePianissima: Poland’s Pinnacle of Perfection

Pianissima: Poland’s Pinnacle of Perfection

Pianissima: Poland’s Pinnacle of Perfection

Photography unless stated by Stuart Vesty www.vesty.com 

There are moments in time that define and inspire us, that move and alter us, that leave our world forever changed. For those of us privileged to be involved with the inimitable Arabian horse, those moments are more often than not defined by the equines that bless and enrich our lives. For so many of us around the world, there has been an extraordinary horse – an iconic Arabian mare – with whom we all share a special memory, a magnificent moment in time over the course of the twelve, far too short, years of her unforgettable and unparalleled life. This once in a lifetime mare – our beloved Pianissima – has left us all enriched and inspired beyond measure, still brightening our lives with hope and aspiration while we struggle to process the inconceivable sorrow of her premature loss.


In 2004 at the Polish National Show.

The world became a brighter and more hopeful place one crisp cold and clear winter morning –13 January 2003 – in Janów Podlaski with the arrival of the first foal in Poland for both her esteemed parents. To say that she was highly anticipated would be the understatement of the millennium, as the expectant foal represented not only the hope for her World Champion sire Gazal Al Shaqab (Anaza El Farid x Kajora) within the Polish breeding programme, but the preservation and continuing evolution of her dam family through her cherished dam Pianosa. As one of the youngest and most celebrated daughters of the legendary Eukaliptus, Pianosa was even more highly valued as the only daughter of Pinia (by Probat) at her maternal stud. From the most prized collection of ‘P’ aristocrats at Janów Podlaski, Pinia was just the second daughter of the immortal Pilarka (Palas x Pierzga), after the incomparable Pipi (by Banat), to survive into adulthood, only to be lost in the prime of her life two years after Pianosa was born, leaving the single daughter to extend her invaluable lineage.

Born a perfectly balanced solid bay without markings, this ethereal creature born that January day possessed an irresistible allure from the moment she arrived, captivating everyone who flocked to see Gazal Al Shaqab’s potential siring prowess in Poland, as well as Pianosa’s promise as a broodmatron of exceptional merit. Ingeniously endowed with the name Pianissima, this precious and perfect melody of a filly was on the cusp of announcing her presence to the world with soft, yet purposeful, eloquence.

By the end of her yearling year in December of 2004, her unassuming overture had become a resounding fanfare of global acclaim, elevating Pianissima to universally acknowledged icon status as the ideal Arabian filly. Shown just six times in her debut season, thrice in Poland and three times abroad, Pianissima shattered every show record in existence, finishing the season not only undefeated, but a unanimous champion on every single occasion. Her most poignant win was her first, as Polish Spring Show Champion Junior Filly and Best in Show, a repeat of the triumph of her dam Pianosa just five years prior. Her subsequent win a month later as Falborek Champion Junior Filly and Best in Show further substantiated her favourite status heading into the highlight of the annual show calendar in Poland: the National Championship Show in August. By this time, the word of ‘something special’ in Poland had gotten around the training and breeding barns of Europe, and the record international crowd attending the biannual WAHO conference hosted in Poland was eager with expectation. Ever the confident and consummate show-ring superstar, Pianissima was at her brilliant best to the delight of the prestigious guests, conquering the day with the highest score of the show, enhanced by a perfect and well deserved set of 20s for type, as well as head and neck, from respected judges and breeders Marianne Tengstedt, Dr Bruce McCrea and Dr Nasr Marei. She was unquestionably the unanimous choice as both Polish National Champion Junior Filly and Best in Show, an achievement made even more memorably moving as this was her final show-ring appearance in the hands of Jan Trela, Dr Trela’s eldest son and one of Poland’s most naturally gifted showmen. It was also, very sadly, the final show-ring appearance for Pianissima’s dam Pianosa, crowned Polish National Reserve Senior Champion Mare the same afternoon as her luminous daughter. Pianosa, like her dam Pinia before her, would be lost to colic just two years later, the life of one of Poland’s most prized and promising mares cut tragically short with only two daughters, Pianissima and her younger full sister Passionaria, as well as two sons, Polon (by Ekstern) and Paladid (Al Adeed Al Shaqab), left to continue her legacy.

2006 US National Champion Junior Mare.

The next step on Pianissima’s rise to international superstardom in 2004 was on Europe’s grandest and most important stage, and the first contest of the European Triple Crown: the All Nations’ Cup in Aachen, Germany. Rather than subject her to the arduous journey back and forth from Poland to Western Europe for the three most important shows of the season, the decision was made to put Pianissima in training with Johanna Ullström in Belgium, strategically positioning her within a few hours travelling distance from the trio of major title shows. Battling against several seasoned show fillies who had dominated the elite events throughout Europe, the Middle East and the Arabian Gulf over the past two years, Pianissima scored a perfect set of five 20s for type and a most impressive quintet of 19s for body and topline, enough to give her the edge on Sunday afternoon to be named All Nations’ Cup Champion Junior Filly, in yet another astounding unanimous decision. The same universal appraisal was awarded a month later in Moorsele, as Pianissima again enchanted another six judge panel to be named European Champion Junior Filly, again by unanimous consent. This left only Paris to conquer, and the ultimate prize of World Champion Junior Filly at the Salon du Cheval. Rewarded with the highest total score among all the junior entries at the show, plus the award for Most Beautiful Head with a perfect set of five 20s, Pianissima completed a flawless season as the unanimous choice from seven distinguished judges, capturing the European Triple Crown and the title of World Champion Junior Filly in unprecedented style. Little did anyone realise at the time that winning unanimously was to become Pianissima’s signature triumph, a feat she would repeat on every occasion save three in her unparalleled journey into the record books.

 The Pianissima trademark – an unanimous set of 20s.

After a well-deserved break and a year of living as a real horse among her two-year old stablemates at Janów Podlaski, a lease was negotiated with Aria International to send Pianissima to the United States for twenty-four months. This turn of events brought Greg and Nancy Gallún into the life of Pianissima, both of whom were to become persons of significant importance to her success both as a show horse, and as a broodmare, over the next decade. Entrusted with Poland’s prize possession, Greg and Nancy began Pianissima’s preparation for her North American debut at Scottsdale 2006, an event renowned for its depth and breadth of world-class competition, and unrivalled as the largest single halter show on the planet. With Greg at the lead, Pianissima easily won her qualifying class for three-year old mares early in the week, yet for the first time in her life not by unanimous consent, with only two first place nods from the three judge panel. Overwhelmingly enchanting the American crowd with her unique and incomparable beauty, Pianissima expanded her legions of admirers exponentially, while at the same time confounding a small group of distractors, who were unfamiliar and uncomfortable with her distinctly non-American style and silhouette. Given Greg’s prior commitment to Michalow’s El Dorada (Sanadik El Shaklan x Emigrantka), who had unanimously won the class for Mares Eight and Older that same week, Pianissima was masterfully handled by Michael Byatt in the Senior Mare Championship on Sunday morning, in a uniquely North American situation that qualifies three year olds for the Senior, rather than the Junior, Championship. When the judges’ cards were handed in, Pianissima received only one vote for Champion Mare, and two votes as the third choice behind El Dorada, as the eventual unanimous Reserve Champion, and JJ Apharina (Magnum Psyche x JJ Afaryd), the first choice of the other two judges, as Champion Mare. This would be the only time in her storied career that Pianissima would not stand proudly in the winner’s circle, an event that I, as the lone judge that chose her as Scottsdale Champion Mare that morning, recall with great remorse.

2006 US National Champion Mares Pianissima and El Dorada.

Pianissima’s fortunes in North America would improve by the time she boldly trotted into the ring at the US National Championships eight months later with a fully committed Greg at her side. Ironically, it was Michael Byatt that would give her the greatest challenge with the always glorious Abha Myra (Marwan Al Shaqab x ZT Ludjkalba), in both the qualifying class and the championship final on Friday night. Convincing two of the three judges of her uncompromising brilliance, despite her fanatically enthusiastic support, complete with standing ovation, as the overwhelming crowd favourite, Pianissima was justly named United States National Junior Champion Mare among one of the best collections of young mares ever assembled at this prestigious event. This historic win was, most interestingly, just the second US National Mare Championship for Janów Podlaski as breeder, the first earned 20 years earlier in 1986 with Polish Ovation record seller Penicylina (Palas x Pentoda by Bandos), yet another member of Poland’s peerless ‘P’ family of international champions. The multitude of admirers that made the pilgrimage back to her stall after the class to witness her magnificence up close and personal, many North America’s most successful long-term breeders, were overwhelmed by her utterly captivating presence, her exquisite feminine refinement and her commanding regal serenity. As only she was capable, Pianissima had effortlessly united an entire worldwide community of Arabian enthusiasts in support with her inherently irresistible charm and impeccably ideal Arabian silhouette.

Earning another well-deserved year of rest from the spotlight of the show-ring, Pianissima enjoyed her status as the “it girl” in residence at Gallún Farms throughout 2007, an honour she not so willingly shared with fellow US National Champion and stablemate El Dorada. Both mares were privileged in the spring of that same year to a Vesty photoshoot on the iconic beaches of Central California, a dramatic backdrop against which to capture an unprecedented photograph of both reigning US National Champion Mares in a single shot for the September cover of the Arabian Horse World. Energised by the pounding surf and salty sea spray in the air, both mares performed with characteristic confidence and courage, as well as pure Polish pluck, thriving on the novelty of the location and the chance to play in the rolling waves. Some of the most indelible images of a young Pianissima in her prime were captured that magical morning thanks to the innovative talents of Stuart Vesty and the respectful vision of Greg and Nancy Gallún.

Pianissima on the shores of the Pacific Ocean.
In 2007 on the central Californian coast.

As a mature mare of five, the decision was made to showcase Pianissima in the Middle East for the very first time at the inaugural Al Khalediah International Horse Show in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia. Making the long journey directly from California to Riyadh with Pianissima was Greg, with whom she had developed a great rapport of respect and trust during her tenure in the US. Up against the powerful sheiks of the Arabian Gulf on their home turf with a nervous but optimistic Greg at the lead, Pianissima handily won the second section of mares aged four-to-six years, with impressive scores awarded by some of her biggest fans, including respected breed authorities Peter Upton, Sylvie Eberhardt, Marianne Tengstedt and Dr Nasr Marei. Having matured into everything the judges expected she may become, Pianissima was bestowed her first title as Senior Champion Mare, another of her characteristic unanimous victories, this time under the patronage of His Majesty the King and the Saudi Royal Family. It was one of the most gratifying moments for her devoted breeder Marek Trela, emotionally moved with pride and joy standing at attention at Pianissima’s side, roses adorned, while the Polish National anthem echoed across the desert sands in the ancient homeland of the Arabian horse. Marek still counts this moment as one of his most rewarding, fulfilled with the knowledge of having played a small part in creating something so special as to unite the disparate worlds of Poland and the Arabian peninsula full circle, across centuries of tradition, turmoil and hard-fought exchange.

‘P’ Family Perfection: Pinga and Pianissima.

Following her brief visit to the cradle of her ancestors, Pianissima was welcomed back home to Janów Podlaski with both great relief and celebration. Ready to prove to the world that her success in the Middle East was just a prelude to the more awe-inspiring achievements yet to come, Director Trela made the decision to campaign Pianissima as a senior mare once safely in foal for the first time. Having achieved her most arduously earned success with Greg Gallún at her side on two foreign continents, Pianissima would remain in his capable hands throughout the season, marking her return to the European ring, most appropriately, at the Polish National Show in August. One of her greatest admirers, Dr Nasr Marei of Albadeia Stud, Egypt, was once again fortunate enough to be a member of the judging panel, along with well respected breeders and judges Peter Gamlin from Wales, Titti Gagliani from Italy, and Ann Norden from Sweden. I shall never forget the look on Nasr’s face, nor his comments of praise, when he returned to the judges’ tent after judging her class. With the broadest smile of satisfaction and that trademark twinkle in his eye, he simply stated: “Unbelievable. She has to be the most beautiful Arabian mare in the world. She gets better every time I see her. What a privilege to stand in the ring next to her. I could do that all day, every day…” Nasr had the chance to stand alongside her twice more that same evening, as Pianissima was crowned Polish National Champion Senior Mare, and then Best in Show in the waning light of dusk, once again, by unanimous decision. In doing so, most befittingly, Pianissima would become the first horse in the history of the Polish National Show to be named both Polish National Junior and Senior Champion Mare, as well as twice Best in Show. Her closely related, and much beloved ‘cousins’ Palmeta (Ecaho x Pilica) and Pinga (Gazal Al Shaqab x Pilar), would follow suit with identical wins and dual Best in Show triumphs in the following decade, strengthening the legend and the trail blazing conquest of Janów Podlaski’s ‘P’ family, and the dynasty’s premier headliner Pianissima, along the way.

2008 World Champion Senior Mare.

To have been a senior mare contender in the fall of 2008 on the European show circuit was an unfortunate event, as no mare, no matter how beautiful or impressively titled, could stop the Pianissima express as it triumphantly roared into the winner’s circle and industry record books.

In an exact repeat of her success four years earlier, Pianissima was named Champion Senior Mare by the unanimous opinion of twenty of the world’s most credentialed and respected judges collectively, at the All Nations’ Cup in September, the European Championships in October, and the World Championships in December. Amassing high scores and perfect sets of 20s for type as well as head and neck was now her signature reward, on her way to becoming the first horse in the history of the Arabian breed to twice be decorated with the European Triple Crown, a monumental feat that can only be accomplished in the same calendar year. To have achieved this unparalleled success by unanimous decision on every single occasion is an accomplishment unlikely ever to be equalled. The new ‘Queen of the Arabian Breed’ had been crowned, her image emblazoned permanently in our minds as the feminine ideal, and her name now a household term of endearment for every Arabian lover and enthusiast around the world.

Pianissima with Pia at Gallun Farms.

Given the extraordinary worth of Pianissima to the Polish breeding programme, the decision was made to return her to the diligent care of Gallún Farms in California after the World Championships, where she would be within minutes of the finest veterinary care in the world, should any complications arise from her pending delivery mid-summer 2009. For her first foal that she would herself carry, Pianissima had been bred to the quintessentially Polish stallion Ganges (ex Garonna), one of the best sons of the legendary Monogramm, and a horse that fit perfectly with the Kuhailan type so prized at Janów Podlaski. On 1 July, Pianissima blessed the world with a delightful bay pixie of a filly called Pia, a namesake that would forever bind this special gift to her world-famous dam. Despite her pampered treatment as the most adored show mare on the planet, Pianissima took to motherhood with typical no-nonsense Polish mare fashion, nurturing Pia with attentive care and stern guidance.

With Greg Gallun and Dr Marek Trela as 2008 Polish National Champion Mare and Best in Show .

While once again in residence in the United States, it was decided to offer an embryo right to Pianissima as Lot 0 in the 2009 Pride of Poland. Yet another first for the Polish breeding programme and four-decade old annual auction, interest in this ‘unlimited possibilities’ offering created considerable excitement prior to and spirited bidding to kick off the sale. The lucky bidder at the sizeable sum of €175,000 was Royal Arabians from Scottsdale, Arizona, a record price for an embryo right sold at public auction for the Arabian breed. The stallion chosen by Mark Davis and Cindy McGown to consummate this breeding right was multiple-US National Champion Eden C (Enzo x Silken Sable), a cross that produced two 2011 foals: the chestnut colt Royal T Phorte for the Americans in June, and the bay filly Pianova for Janów Podlaski in July.

One final embryo for Janów Podlaski was created for the 2012 foaling season by FA El Shawan (Marwan Al Shaqab x Foxbriar Shakita), a stallion with whom Marek Trela had become enamoured after judging him at the Arabian Breeders’ World Cup in April 2011. This conclusion to Pianissima’s breeding career in the United States resulted in a promising bay colt born 2 September, imposingly named Prometeusz.

Prior to her return to Poland following her second North American sojourn, Marek and Greg consulted on the idea of showing Pianissima one final time at the Dubai International Arabian Horse Show, the only major title show in the Arabian Gulf and an important competition that uniquely brings together the best horses from both the past, post-Paris, and present, pre-European spring, show seasons. Having been out of the show-ring spotlight since her total global domination in 2008, Pianissima was again put back into training and conditioning in California to prepare for the rapidly changing competitive landscape of the international show scene, and entered for the March 2012 event. Arriving in the UAE just days before the show, Team Pianissima was surprised to find that she was the only horse required to be quarantined from the other equine competitors, and even more astonished to find her stable situated in the middle of an empty exhibition hall, with a single metre-wide carpet leading from the entrance to a pair of box stalls – one for her and one for her feed and equipment. Any other horse kept alone in complete isolation might have fared poorly, but the ever contented seasoned pro Pianissima never so much as snorted in disapproval, settling in happily and hungrily as if she would have expected nothing less than a grand hall all to her royal self. In turns of competition, many of the most highly credentialed mares, both young and old, proudly owned, powerfully backed and heavily promoted by the local royal families were in attendance, making this competition the most indeterminate of her career thus far. Despite the solitary confinement, the standard shenanigans of schedule shuffling to suit the Royal Family, and the not-so-subtle organised bias for the local show stars, Pianissima prevailed both in her class and in the championship, winning her second title in the Arabian homeland as Dubai International Gold Champion Senior Mare with the nod from five of the seven judges. Oblivious to the political drama playing out around her, Pianissima shone from the championship line-up in all her regal magnificence with the very relieved pair of handler and breeder at her side, proving once again that she was the undisputed Queen of the International Show-ring.

 The Late Great Grand Dames of Poland: Pianissima and Izabella Zawadzk.

Returning once again to her homeland post Dubai, Pianissima was prudently chosen by one of her most ardent admirers, Izabella Zawadzka, as 2012 WAHO Horse of the Year for Poland. Celebrated on the Sunday afternoon after the final championships of the Polish National Show and just prior to the Pride of Poland auction that August, the outpouring of affection for Pianissima as Ambassador Extraordinaire in what was announced as “her final public appearance” was unquestionably one the most jubilant and emotionally moving moments in the nearly half-century history of Polish Arabian Horse Days. Both handlers who had lead her to record-breaking titles as unanimous European Triple Crown Champion were asked to join her in the ring, as was Greg’s wife Nancy, and WAHO Vice-President Peter Pond, who was in attendance as one of the official judges for the National Show. There was not a dry eye among international as well as the local crowds as Marek took the lead and led Pianissima around one final lap of the show-ring, to a well deserved standing ovation of genuinely enthusiastic honour and respect.

2012 WAHO Horse of the Year.
2013 World Platinum Champion Mare.

But as fate would have it, a new category of achievement was added to the World Championships that same season – the Platinum Championship for senior horses already titled as Gold Champion – expanding the limited options still available to the most impressively titled and universally admired Arabian mare on the planet. Happy and content in her permanent retirement as a breed legend and hard-working Janów Podlaski broodmatron, the decision was made to forgo the competition in Paris in 2012. Much to the surprise of the international community, there were no entries for World Platinum Champion in the mare division that same year, making 2013 an attractive possibility for any former World Gold Champion Mares eager to claim the inaugural title. Since the majority of the mares still young and agile enough to compete for this title were owned and/or bred by the Polish State Studs, it was no surprise that Pianissima remained unchallenged when she was brought out of retirement for one final moment in the spotlight. With a new handler at her side, Janów’s brilliantly capable Pawel Kozikowski, Pianissima arguably gave the most electrifying performance of her career, outshining every single horse at the show while incontrovertibly proving that she is without rival as the definitive world-class show horse of the modern era. As the record crowd stood in support and respect during the Polish National Anthem, playing one final time to honour Poland’s priceless treasure, I reflected on how fitting it was that Pianissima, as only she deserved to be, was honoured as the original World Platinum Champion Mare and the first-ever three-time World Champion Mare, considering all she had accomplished around the globe, effortlessly raising and uncompromisingly establishing the international standard of the ideal Arabian mare. Once again, a pilgrimage of admirers from all corners of the globe intent on basking in her surreal perfection made their way back to her stable following the last award of the evening to find her in the attentive care of Joanna Wojtecka, Pawel’s partner and one of Pianissima’s most devoted caretakers. Each and every fan was greeted with an effervescent and eagerly available mare, happy to oblige her adoring masses with pats and hugs of heartfelt appreciation.

 © Anette Mattsson

In 2015, Pianissima blessed the world with Pamina, her final filly by North American Triple Crown Champion, and fellow ‘P’ family member, Pogrom (QR Marc x Petla). Tall, elegant and superbly conformed, Pamina continues to show promise as a worthy successor to her unparalleled dam. I will forever treasure the opportunity to have witnessed Pianissima this past June at the annual Spring Inspection Tour with Pamina at her side, fulfilling her ultimate purpose of passing on her exceptional genetics to the next generation of excellence at Janów Podlaski. As a special treat, Pianissima was presented in conjunction with two of her daughters in residence – AJ Penelope (by El Nabila B) and Pia (by Ganges) – both of whom also had Pogrom fillies at side, Penologia and Pimenta, respectively. With her Eden C daughter Pianova also in residence and safely in foal to Pogrom for 2016, it was reassuring to know that Pianissima’s legacy is safe and secure in hands of the masterful breeding genius of Marek Trela, to whom we all owe an incredible debt for creating Pianissima in the first place, and for so generously sharing her with the world both in exhibitions abroad and especially at home, in the intimacy of her own space among the people who loved and cared for her with the greatest respect and dignity.

At home in Janów Podlaski.

On 19 October, our Arabian horse world was forever changed with the news of the tragic loss of Pianissima. She was, without question, the most popular and beloved Arabian mare on the planet, a diva, both commanding and demanding unequivocal respect and admiration, and a mare that singularly defined the enigmatic ‘presence’ found only in the immortals of the Arabian breed. She embodied everything we all envision as perfection in the Arabian horse, and always lived up to everyone’s image once they had the chance to see and spend time with her up close and personal.

I have never known any horse to inspire such fanatic devotion among horse enthusiasts as Pianissima. I loved her most, happy at home in Janów, when she would bounce out with all her exuberance for an impromptu presentation for a group of breeders. She never failed to take your breath away, even without all the fanfare of the show-ring, moving everyone to leave their seats to grab the chance to pat her, stand with her for a photo, and just bask in all her otherworldly gloriousness. For all who have known Pianissima in any capacity, we should rightly consider ourselves eternally fortunate to have shared these brief moments, so illuminatingly lived, with her. Having had the honour of knowing and sharing in her life, in her success, and her joy in simply being for twelve extraordinary years is a privilege I will hold most dear, and treasure until my memory, too passes into history.

Our world is infinitely a better place because Pianissima brightened every corner fortunate enough to have known her presence. May she forever serve as our inspiration for everything the Arabian horse can and should be. Rest in peace, Pianissima. Your love and your light linger on in our lives in immeasurable abundance… 


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