Int. Herald Tribune
Glory days over, lipizzaners survive - barely - in Bosnia

Paul Watson

Paris, Wednesday, August 17, 2000

LUZANI, Bosnia-Herzegovina - A Lipizzaner horse is born to be proud, to step smartly and hold its head high, which is not easy in this isolated bastion of hard-line Serbian nationalism.

A healthy Lipizzaner is such a mighty charger that when the breed faced extinction in World War II, General George Patton ordered the rescue of mares and foals that German troops had stolen.

Nearly five years after Bosnia's war ended in 1995, 50 Lipizzaners from bloodlines dating back 400 years are languishing on a stud farm with leaky roofs, water shortages, broken fences and a bleak future.

The state-owned Vucijak company, which manages the 400-hectare (1,000-acre) farm in nearby Prnjavor, says it can barely afford to feed the horses, let alone give them the veterinary care and training they need to thrive.

The Lipizzaners have the unfortunate fate of being stabled in territory governed by the Serbian Democratic Party, which is closely associated with the indicted war crimes suspect, Radovan Karadzic.

To punish people for electing Serb hard-liners, international aid is restricted to humanitarian needs such as medicine, leaving local officials with more to worry about than horses, said Lazar Lazic, Vucijak's director.

"Because of a very difficult economic and social situation, it's very hard for the municipality to put aside money for a purpose like this farm," Mr. Lazic said. "They have enough problems with humans."

Before Bosnia-Herzegovina's war began in 1992, the stud farm had more than 150 Lipizzaners from five of the breed's six bloodlines, which originated in Lipica, Slovenia. By the time the war ended, only 64 horses remained, along with a few stable hands who had done all they could to save the animals. Bosnian Serb soldiers had used a foaling barn on a hill for target practice, said Lucy Wykeham, a spokeswoman for the International League for the Protection of Horses in England. She visited the Bosnian farm twice in 1998.

"Wars are wars, and an army marches on its stomach," Ms. Wykeham said by telephone. "It's obvious what happened. When we asked them where all these horses had gone, they were a bit shifty.

"It's not a problem for us if people want to eat horses - fine, then eat horses - as long as they're humanely destroyed."

Mr. Lazic said the number of horses dropped sharply because many were sold off to local farmers to improve the breeding stock.

The farm is in a zone patrolled by British troops in the peacekeeping force led by the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Johnny Irish, a British Army veterinarian who provides care for the troops' dogs, brought the sorry state of the Lipizzaners to the attention of Ms. Wykeham's group two years ago. The league immediately began a public appeal for donations to help the Lipizzaners and raised about $105,000, Ms. Wykeham said.

All of that has been spent on equipment, staff training and supplies for the farm.

"The problem that all these studs have is that they just have no reason to be anymore," she said. "They used to be the showpiece for the government. They were used for processions and dignitaries and things like this. The stories we were told of past glory were really quite impressive and very sad."

Mr. Lazic and Ms. Wykeham agree that charity is not what the Lipizzaners really need. The farm has to find a buyer who can make it profitable in a country that has yet to prove that it can survive on its own.

A German horse lover signed a contract to buy the farm for $2.2 million, but Mr. Lazic says that the deal fell through.

The oldest animal in the stable is also one of the rarest, a retired stud named Sitnica, whose black coat and powerful chest made him the local champion for 20 of his 28 years.

Without the ability to sire anymore, he spends his time in a corner stall waiting for the end - and the odd visitor with an apple or some sugar.

No matter what happens to the farm, the stable hands who treat Sitnica like a noble patriarch will not let anyone take him out back and shoot him, Mr. Lazic said.

"He earned his pension," Mr. Lazic added. "He deserves to end his life naturally."

Original article