A love of horses (Spectacular Slovakia - travel guide)

At Muránska Planina horses are bred half-wild. (Source: Amanda Rivkin)

One of the most demanding races in the world, the 240-kilometre-long East European Endurance Ride, has its finish line in Šamorín, a town located less than 30 kilometres from Bratislava.

This article was published in the latest edition of travel guide Spectacular Slovakia.

UPDATE OF THE ARTICLE PUBLISHED ON AUGUST 17, 2015

The riders used to end at the premises of the local riding club JK Napoli, but the capacity became insufficient after some time. This is how the idea to create completely new premises in the nearby village of Čilistov originated, explains Mário Hoffmann, chair of the board of directors of Istrokapitál, which invested in building the complex, and member of the JK Napoli.

“It is one of the most modern and most comprehensive riding precincts in central Europe,” Hoffmann continued.

The place opened in May 2014 and since then has been used to hold various horse-racing competitions. As the idea was to “attract riders of world quality”, the owners invited Arno Gego, one of the most eminent figures in international course design, to the project to design the riding area.

“It is like Disneyland for horses and riders,” said Brazilian rider Carlos Ribas.

According to Július Nosko from a riding club in Mlynica, at the foot of the High Tatras, horses are part of a deeply rooted tradition in Slovakia.

“Slovaks, Hungarians and Moravians simply love horses and would die for them,” said Nosko, who has ridden in several countries, including Switzerland, Germany, France, Austria and Great Britain.

He comes from a family which has devoted its entire life to horses. His grandfather, General Július Nosko, was one of the chief representatives of the Slovak National Uprising (1944) and a very good rider.

Taking in the view during a horse ride. (Source: Courtesy of Ranč u Trapera)

Horses as part of the ecosystem

The Muránska Planina National Park offers a unique fusion of wilderness and human intervention via the breeding of half-wild horses, used mostly in the forestry industry. The local meadows are grazed by the Noriko Murano, a special horse whose breeding has been protected since 1997.

“The free range of horses in Muráň is a natural part of the local ecosystem and helps to keep the landscape in its current form,” said Vlastimil Rezek, spokesman for the Lesy SR state-run forestry company, which administers the breeding.

The origins of breeding the horses in Muráň date back to 1950, when a stud farm in Veľká Lúka, near Muráň, was established. It focused on mountainous breeds for use in forestry and the army. The very first horse bred in Veľká lúka was the Hucul, which was brought from eastern Slovakia, Rezek said. Later, based on the demands of forestry firms, which wanted stronger and heavier horses, the stud farm started crossbreeding the Hucul with other breeds, especially the Fjord horse, the Halflinger and the Noriko.“The aim of this crossbreeding, which began in the 1960s, was the [creation of] a new breed of Slovak mountain horse,” Rezek explained, adding that this horse was to have been bigger while retaining the qualities of the Hucul breed. Currently, there are some 300 horses in Muránska Planina.Tourists visiting the national park can find information about breeding in the tourist information centres, and on information boards in Veľká lúka. It is also possible to arrange a ride in a horse-drawn carriage. Currently, there are three routes, one of which leads to the Muráň Castle, Rezek said.

Restoring horse-breeding

The first major stud farm in the area of present-day Slovakia was established in 1736 in Kopčany by Francis Stephen of Lorraine, husband of Maria Theresa, when he moved the stud horses from Saaralbe. In 1765, Maria Theresa declared the site a royal stud farm. In the early 18th century, Kopčany began breeding English thoroughbreds with about 70 mares and three stallions. Breeding was abolished in 1828, however, and the farm has since closed.

Today’s national centre of breeding is in Topoľčianky, a town 128 kilometres outside Bratislava. It is a state-owned company with one branch of its huge operation based in a complex of stables and paddocks near the local manor house. The entire organisation has around 570 thoroughbred horses, with about 100 foals born every year. It is the only centre in Europe that focuses on four breeds: the Arabian, the Lipizzaner, the Hucul and the Slovak Warmblood.

After World War I, Czechoslovakia was in need of stud farms. With the collapse of the Austro-Hungarian Empire, most studhorses were moved to Hungary and only low-quality stallions remained in the territory of today’s Slovakia. Moreover, since the abolishment of the stud farm in Kopčany, there was no other such facility in Slovakia, said Emil Kovalčík of the Topoľčianky stud farm, founded in 1921.

The stud farm in Topoľčianky also serves as a training centre for young people and university students in horse breeding and riding. In 2003 it opened an insemination-reproduction centre, offering professional services for the insemination and reproduction of horses. It also serves as a sperm bank for all of Slovakia, Kovalčík said.

Since 1993, Topoľčianky has also organised the international team racing including one, two and four-member teams. Topoľčianky hosted the 2013 World Championship in Pair-Horse, the first world championship in riding disciplines held in Slovakia, according to Kovalčík.

The Topoľčianky stud farm is visited by about 50,000 people every year, including official state visitors, foreign guests, and tourists. Visitors can see the horses, ride them, take rides in a horse-drawn carriage, and visit the hippology exposition, which contains more than 3,000 artefacts on Slovak horse breeding.

Kopčany has not entirely disappeared from the map of horse sites in Slovakia. The riding club from Holíč has started reconstructing the complex. While reconstruction is still underway, parts of the complex, as well as two recently opened museums, are open to the public.

Kopčany’s stud farm, however, still serves largely as a riding school and a stable, with a current capacity of 30 stalls. It is also used by tourists on riding trips who need a place to stay overnight.

Topoľčianky (Source: Amanda Rivkin)

Horse-racing makes its mark

The history of horse-racing in Slovakia dates to 1814, when the first competition of Arabian horses took place in Urmín (today’s Mojmírovce). Thanks to the initiative of politician and writer István Szechényi, the first horse race in Bratislava took place in 1826, near today’s Sad Janka Kráľa park. Currently, about 20 horse-racing events take place in Slovakia, about 15 of which are held at Závodisko (Turf Direktorium), in Bratislava’s Petržalka borough. The facility was established in 1974, though regular horse-racing started in 1979, Zuzana Rippová from Závodisko said.

The most prestigious horse-racing competitions are the Turf-Gala and the Derby, both held in Petržalka. Part of the former race consists of five horse-racing competitions organised since 1979 and it usually takes place in June. The Derby is the most important race, established in 1993. It takes place in mid-July and is for three-year-old horses, said Ján Valtýni, the racing secretary of Závodisko.

Also the riding area in Šamorín has already made it to the list as several competitions are held there during the season, including national championships in show jumping, endurance races and horse racing. Moreover, the World Championship of Young Horses in Endurance Racing was held here in 2014.

The site also offers two roofed halls for show jumping, exterior sand and grass show jumping, a race track, and nearly 650 summer and winter stables. The stands hold 2,500 people. Admission for the public to these events is free.

Slovakia also has its own polo team. Its origins go back to 2005 when the first Slovak Association of Polo Riding and Corporex Polo Club were established. One of its founders was riding club Corporex, based in Hrubá Borša, about 40 kilometres from Bratislava and led by Ladislav Agárdi. The club changed its name to Danube Polo Club in 2010.

“We are the only farm in Slovakia offering polo,” said Agárdi, an active polo player himself.

The riding club has a playground of necessary full size in Hrubá Borša, as well as two smaller training grounds. There are altogether 12 polo horses and also necessary equipment.

The trainings are open to beginners and also experienced players. The team of Slovak polo players also attends various competitions, including those abroad, Agárdi added.

In 2012 he was even awarded by the Argentinean embassy for developing polo in Slovakia.

article_photo(Source: )

Differences from the rest of Europe

Riders in western Europe have a slightly different status than riders in Slovakia, according to Nosko. While abroad, they only ride the horse and nothing else, in Slovakia riders also have to clean and take care of their horse and the stable. In the west, horses are considered more of a business, Nosko says. In Slovakia, a horse still has a kind of emotional value: “People here respect horses and invest love in them”.     

Horses in Slovakia

Stud farms in Slovakia
W Kopčany:
Baroque stud farm Štít, www.zrebcinkopcany.eu
W Topoľčianky: National Stud Farm, www.nztopolcianky.sk
C Muránska planina: Veľká Lúka Stud Farm, www.forestportal.sk 

Horse-racing
B Bratislava:
Závodisko Petržalka, www.zavodisko.sk
W Šamorín: x-bionic® sphere, www.x-bionicsphere.com

Polo
B: Danube Polo Club, www.danubepolo.sk

Ranches in Slovakia
B Bratislava:
Ranč 4C, www.ranc4c.eu; Ranč Lieskovec www.ranc-lieskovec.sk
B Pezinok: Areál zdravia Rozálka, www.vip.sk/sk/rozalka
B Častá: Margitin dvor, www.margitindvor.sk
B Gajary: Raj koní, www.plenkall.com/rajkoni
B Vištuk: Rodinná farma Vištuk, www.farmavistuk.sk
B Blatné: Hotel u Wocha, www.arealuwocha.sk
W Kopčany: Cisársky a kráľovský žrebčín Kopčany, ckz.kopcany.sk 
W Trnava: Agro farma Dolina, www.lipican.sk
W Bojná: Ranč pod Babicou, www.babica-bojna.sk
W Nitra: Ranč DD, www.rancdd.com
W Galanta: Ranč na Striebornom jazere, www.rancgalanta.sk
W Papradno: Farma Papradno, penziongrunt.sk
W Kľačno: Osada Dallas, www.osadadallas.sk
W Nitrianske Pravno: Monty ranč, www.montyranc.sk
W Dubnica nad Váhom: Ranč Lhota, www.centrum-suchanek.sk 
W Nemšová: Gazdovstvo Uhliská, www.masivnemsova.sk 
W Zemianske Podhradie: Rogoňovský ranč, www.rogonovskyranc.sk
W Sobotište – Valcha: Middle farm, www.middlefarm.wbl.sk
W Veľké Kostoľany: Ranchroka, ranchroka.webnode.sk 
W Dunajský Klátov: Czajlik ranč, www.czajlikranch.sk
W Cabaj-Čápor: Ranč Nové sedlo, www.rancns.sk
W Podhorany: Peter Slovák, www.slovakhaflinger.com
W Beladice: Ranč Čakýň, www.ranc-cakyn.sk
W Nový Tekov: Ranč u Bobiho, www.bobiranc.sk
W Plášťovce: Oldo ranč, www.oldoranc.sk
W Čechy: Ranč Trilobit, www.ranctrilobit.sk
C Banská Bystrica: Pony Farma Suchý vrch
C Svätý Anton: Ranč Nádej, www.rancnadej.sk
C Zvolen: Lunterov ranč, www.lunterovranc.sk
C Šumiac - Červená Skala: Western ranč HP, www.ranchhp.sk
C Muráň: Jazdecký klub Pod planinou, www.jazdeckyklub.sk
C Horné Hámre: Jazdecký areál sv. Františka, www.farm.sk
C Banská Belá: Gazdáčik, www.gazdacik.sk
C Sása: Ranč Bezekov Laz
C Detvianska Huta: Ranč Haferník, www.ranc-hafernik.estranky.sk
C Poltár: Ranč Megi, www.rancmegi.sk
C Vyšné Valice: Farma u Kalaša, www.agroturistika.gemer.org
N Mengusovce: Mengusovské rodeo, mengusovce-mengusovske-rodeo.webnode.sk 
N Kežmarok: Ranč Čajka, www.ranc-cajka.sk
N Slovenský raj – Hrabušice: Ranč u Trapera, www.rancutrapera.sk; Kam Quarter Horses, www.kamquarterhorses.com
N Slovenský raj – Stratená: Ranč pod Ostrou skalou, www.ranc-ladova.sk
N Ružomberok: Western penzión, www.westernpenzion.sk
N Mlynica: Jazdecký klub PD Mlynica, www.kone-nosko.sk
N Brezovica: Oravský háj, www.oravskyhaj.sk 
N Námestovo: Ranč u Edyho, www.rancuedyho.sk
N Dlhá nad Oravou: Jazdecký areál Húšť, www.jazdeckyareal.sk
N Turany: Ranč Aljaška, www.rancaljaska.sk
N Kláštor pod Znievom: Ranč Amadeus, www.ranchamadeus.sk
N Predmier: Ranč Súľov
N Brodno: Ranč v Brodne pri Žiline, www.rancpriziline.sk
N Krásno nad Kysucou: Jazdecký dvor
E Košice: Zbor huculov pod Tatrami, www.hucultour.sk
E Vinné: Hipocentrum, www.hipocentrum.sk
E Zborov: Slnečný major, www.slnecnymajer.sk
E Brzotín: Konský dvor, www.konskydvor.sk
E Medzev – Šugovská dolina: Ranč Šugov, www.rancsugov.sk
E Hodkovce: Agrofarma Ranč F&A&H, www.ranch-fah.sk
E Blatná Polianka: Ranč Nová zem, www.rancnovazem.sk
E Komárany: Ranč Sahiba, www.western.wbl.sk
E Pavlovce: Ranč Breziny, www.rancbreziny.wbl.sk
E Stropkov: Hotel Ondava www.hotelondava.sk

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