A Tale of Two Horses in Pardubice:
While City of Pardubice heraldry depicts a loyal horse from an ancient tale, equine life in the City today offers two markedly different courses, each in their own right a major attraction. On my recent short visit, I was lucky enough to get a taste of both, and a couple of rides in a carriage too.
The first is horse racing. Pardubice is famous for an annual steeplechase which takes place every year on the second Sunday in October. In the lead-up, there is a qualifying race day – and it was to that I was invited. In the VIP hospitality box, it was evident that horse racing here is closer to the Epsom Derby than to Ascot in atmosphere.
It’s smart informal dress rather than top hats and tails, a family-friendly event that just doesn’t seem as frenetic as the English versions I’ve been to. And, the course is remarkably chaotic. Perhaps my impression was was due to the large quantities of Sekt I consumed, but even after 4 races, I had no idea what direction the horses would take after each jump. Once the racing was over, we were taken on a carriage ride around the course – but I left none the wiser!
Later I discovered a little more about the history of the Velká Pardubická, which is known as the toughest steeplechase in continental Europe. First run in 1874 the Velká Pardubická is around 6900 metres, while the flat racing and hurdles course is over 2200 metres.
For the race itself, there are 31 obstacles, one of which, the Taxis Ditch is only jumped for this particular race (so I wouldn’t have seen it). The race snakes around the course over jumps with wonderful names – the Big English Fence, the Irish Bank and the Snake Ditch are just a few!
There’s still just time if you want to make next Saturday’s big event…otherwise, you’ll just have to wait till next year.
If horse racing is a popular local passion, the National Stud at Kladruby offers a fascinating insight into the lives of nobility over the last 300 years.
The tradition of horse breeding in Kladruby nad Labem stretches back to at least the mid 14th century and the Old Kladruber horse is the cousin of the Lipizzaner.
The Imperial Stud (now the National Stud) is the oldest in the world and for over 300 years, from 1579 to 1918, it was the Imperial Court Stud that provided horses for the courts of the Austrian Empire in both Prague and Vienna. The stud now has around 500 horses, a mixture of the grey Old Kladrubers and black Old Kladrubers which are bred on a separate stud some 40km away.
Originally part of the Pernstein family’s Pardubice estate in 1491, Kladruby park was gifted to Maximilian II in 1560 and in 1562 he founded a Spanish horse stud there. It was given Imperial Court status in 1579 by Rudolf II but sadly burnt down in 1757.
Rebuilt by Joseph II in 1770 it remained an Imperial stud until the foundation of the new nation of Czechoslovakia who took over state governance of the stud. Some 80 years later after the Velvet Revolution in 1989, the stud and the grey Kladruby horses were awarded status as one of the most important cultural monuments of the Czech Republic.
There’s something quite mesmerising about watching the horses. Even if they are just standing still, they are stunningly beautiful with long necks and roman noses. And, when they move, they have a natural grace and elegance which makes them the perfect choice to pull a Royal Carriage. They are still used by the Danish Queen, by the Swedish Mounted Royal Guards and taking part in celebrations at Prague Castle.
Apart from visiting the stables (where you can see the only remaining open stables in Europe), you can also take a tour of the Imperial Palace, which was built in Renaissance style and extended over the centuries in Baroque and Pseudo-Renaissance style.
It was largely a holiday Palace for visiting dignitaries rather than a residence – but the interior is much as it would have been before the building was taken over into state ownership.
And, you should book a carriage tour of the park.
Just for a few minutes, you can imagine yourself as royalty, driving along the stunning 2-mile long lime tree avenue and surveying your estate!
For more information, check the website.
And, if you are thinking of going yourself, why not pin this for later
Ryanair flies direct 3x a week from London Stansted to Pardubice
České dráhy (Czech Railways) or Regiojet take under an hour to Prague and cost approx. 3 pounds.
Where to stay:
I stayed at Hotel 100 in the centre of Pardubice
I also checked out the golf resort and spa hotel on the outskirts of Pardubice at Kunětická Hora which is worth considering if you are looking for an out of town base.