Sometimes the stars align and the most interesting combination of people and events come together in a small window of time. Such is the case at the small horse breeding farm of Kelly and Debra Itzen in Brookings.
Take a rare Kladruber stallion; a young woman who immigrated from the Czech Republic with a handful of these rare and beautiful horses; and Melissa Simms, former head rider and trainer for the famous Reitinstitut von Neindorff in Germany; and then consider how they all came together in a small coastal town in Oregon.
The young woman is Petra Beltran. Beltran rode and drove horses from childhood in the eastern Bohemian mountains of the Czech Republic. She studied at the National School of Agriculture, specializing in animal husbandry and horse breeding. It was in her position as stud manager at the National Stud at Kladruby, near Prague, that she consolidated this background. She was the first woman in the history of the Stud to hold this position.
The horse is Generale Ariosa XLVIII-4, hand picked for Beltran by Dr. Norbert Zalis, stud director, when she worked as stud manager at the National Stud. This extremely rare horse is the only Kladruber stallion in the U.S.
Kladruber horses are an ancient European breed, bred for centuries in the area now known as the Czech Republic, once part of the Austro-Hungarian empire. The stud farm has been mentioned in literature since 1552, and elevated to a court stud in 1579.
Kladruber horses were originally bred as elegant carriage horses for European emperors and kings. They are still used as carriage horses in modern Royal stables, as well as being used in international driving and dressage competitions.
Kladrubers are one of the foundation breeds for several European horse breeds including the Lipizzaner horse. It is a horse with a large, rectangular frame and a markedly noble head. Its movement is majestically elevated and is characterized by its high leg action.
The breed is either grey (white) or black, with four main breeding lines in each color. This stallion is from the Gererale line, considered one of the most ancient and important lines of grey Kladruber horses. Like all horses from the Stud, he carries a large brand on his left side where the saddle would sit.
The Stud has survived wars and political upheaval over the centuries. Since the most recent revolution in 1989, the Stud has been included among those strategic state organizations that may never be privatized. In 1995 the Stud and the horses bred there were declared a national cultural monument.
Currently there are only about 700 Kladruber horses in the world. The herd of greys is bred at Kladruby itself, while the blacks are bred at the daughter establishment at Slatinany, a little town on the edge of the picturesque Iron Hills.
In 2003 Beltran moved with Ariosa and five Kladruber mares to California, where she continued to study and compete in dressage while establishing her own riding and breeding center.
Several years ago she met Simms, of the famous German riding academy, and has been riding and training exclusively with her for the past few years. Simms, who still spends time in Germany (and has students all over the world) also has a home near Gold Beach.
Simms met Debra Itzen through horse-related events and mutual friends before moving to the area. Over the years, Simms and Itzen had discussed the possibility of Simms bringing up a client's horse on occasion for training and keeping it at the Itzens' barn. It just so happened that this was the time, Beltran was the client, and Ariosa was the horse.
Itzen was thrilled to have Ariosa here.
"He is a large stallion, well over 17 hands, but well-behaved, and incredibly beautiful in a masculine way," Itzen said. "It is a privilege to have such a rare and noble stallion in our barn. That I can touch him, brush him, and catering to him does not seem like work andndash; it's like having a living, breathing piece of artwork in front of my eyes."
Itzen added that "Melissa has been very gracious about letting us watch her ride the horse during his training sessions. For such a big horse you hardly feel or hear his feet hit the ground as he trots or canters by you. It is amazing."
Itzen was also thrilled that a student of Simms, Joerg Lederle, who was visiting from Germany, asked if he could ride one of Itzen's horses while he was here. Itzen let him ride her bay Lusitano stallion, Centenario.
"I don't think Centenario has ever worked so hard, but he enjoys working and it was great to see him progress in his work in the short time Joerg was here," Itzen said "It was an international experience with Melissa fluently teaching the lessons in English and German andndash; sometimes both languages all in one sentence."
Simms was a young woman when she left America to go to Germany to study classical riding with the late Egon von Neindorff. Over the years she worked her way up to head rider and trainer at the riding academy. After his death, Simms translated her mentor's work into a book that has been well-received and praised by her peers in the horse world.
Itzen communicates regularly with Beltran, sending updates on how the big stallion is doing at his temporary home away from home.
"Petra misses Ariosa a lot, so I try to give her lots of details on how he is doing and let her know how much we dote on him while he is here," Itzen said. "We even bought him his own 25-pound bag of carrots, which he loves and we generously dole out as snacks. We do evening bed checks, keep his mane braided and coat brushed, keep a nice deep bed for him to lay down in, and give him daily time out in the indoor arena to roll and admire himself in the arena mirrors."
The Itzens have bred several breeds of horses since establishing their horse farm in 1985. The first breed was the Peruvian Paso, followed by Friesian horses as well as other baroque breeds including Lipizzaners, Andalusians, Lusitanos, Aztecas and now Gypsy horses.
"We are expecting a Gypsy foal the end of April," Itzen said. "It will be the first foal born here since we stopped breeding Friesian horses several years ago. Next year I should have two foals coming, another Gypsy baby and a pure Andalusian foal if all goes as planned."
Ariosa is here until the end of March.
"We will miss his presence here when it is time for him to return home, but Ariosa, Petra, Melissa, or any of her students, will always be welcome to come back any time. It is fun for me and a privilege to have horses and riders of this caliber at our barn," Itzen said.