First published in 1967 by Little, Brown and Company, And Miles To Go was reprinted in 1986 by the Arabian Horse Trust during a time when the Arabian business was still flush with cash. After the crash of the Arabian market, the book was never reprinted. The Arabian Horse Trust closed its doors in 2000.
The Polish family portrayed in Witez’s early life is fictional, but the author stayed true to the events that were happening in Poland. Other key characters who interacted with Witez (pronounced vee-TEZH) during his journeys were real people.
Witez was a bay colt foaled on April 1, 1938, at Janów Podlaski (pronounced YAH-noff pod-LAH-skee), a state stud that bred horses for the Polish cavalry. He was the son of the great desertbred sire Ofir and out of Federacja, a mare with several generations of Polish and Hungarian breeding. He was given the name Witez, a word in old Polish meaning “chieftain, knight, prince, hero” as well as “honor, courage, and loyalty.” There had been a previous Witez registered in the Polish stud book, so the new colt was given the Roman numerals “II” after his name.
Shortly after Germany marched into Poland on September 1, 1939, Janów Podlaski was evacuated on foot (and on hoof) in the hope that the Nazis wouldn’t get their hands on Poland’s best horses. Within a short time the handlers had no choice but to return to Janów, where they experienced even more bad luck.
Just two weeks after the Nazi invasion, the Soviets invaded Poland from the east (under the guise that they were protecting the minority populations of eastern Poland from the Nazis) and moved through Janów before the Germans got there. They further weakened Poland’s military, leaving the Polish government to evacuate all troops to France to reorganize efforts.
Because of a secret non-aggression pact between Germany and the Soviet Union, Poland was partitioned by both nations. Germany took the land west of the River Bug, which included Janów, and the Soviets held the land east of the river. Soviet troops passed through Janów on their way back to the U.S.S.R., taking with them some of the most prized breeding stock: Witez’s sire and dam, Ofir and Federacja, along with about 100 others.
As much as I enjoyed War Horse, I think Steven Spielberg missed the boat by not making And Miles To Go into a movie instead. Most of the book is factual, which makes it even more amazing, and the fictional content is the kind that a filmmaker would add to give more depth to a movie “based on a true story.”
The fictional Kowalski family gives us insight into the Polish resistance fighters and their efforts to defend their homeland against two military Goliaths. The Poles didn’t stand much of a chance against the Germans and Soviets, and neither did the Kowalski family. But in the end Poland and its esteemed Arabian breeding program prevailed.
Because And Miles To Go is out of print, it can be hard to find at most libraries. You can buy a copy online, but it won’t be cheap. Most good condition copies go for $75 and up. You can save money by reading the one epub copy at Open Library.
The Germans took over management of Janów Podlaski after the Soviets left, but surprisingly things began to stabilize at the stud. The Nazi officer assigned to managing Janów was Major Hans Fellgiebel of the German Armed Forces (the Wehrmacht in German).
The new stud manager’s brother was General Erich Fellgiebel, one of the July 20th (1944) conspirators who attempted to assassinate Hitler at the Wolf’s Lair in East Prussia, made famous in the film Valkyrie. While at Janów, Hans Fellgiebel hosted meetings of the resistance in his home and was arrested along with his brother Erich immediately after Operation Valkyrie failed. Erich was hanged the day after the attempt, but Hans survived arrest and after the war took a position at a stud in Goslar, Germany.
Leaving the Homeland
In 1943 Witez was chosen to stand at the Nazi “super horse” stud at Hostouň, located in the present-day Czech Republic. He was among 1,500 horses of various breeds at the farm until it was liberated by American troops in April 1945. He would never return to Poland.
After the Germans surrendered, the U.S. Army ordered 200 of the breeding stock at Hostouň to be moved more than 200 miles to Mansbach in west-central Germany. Mares with foals were shipped by truck, but mature able-bodied horses, like Witez, were ridden the distance. Many arrived at Mansbach lame, but Witez, who was fortunate to be shod, stayed sound.
After their arrival by ship in Newport News, Virginia, the horses were transported by truck to the Pomona Quartermaster Remount Depot at Kellogg Ranch in California where they were used to breed horses for the U.S. Army. The Pomona Remount was closed in 1948 due to lack of funding and the changing technology of warfare, so many of the remount’s horses, including *Witez II, were shipped to another remount station in Fort Reno, Oklahoma.
"You got *Witez II!"
*Witez II arrived at his new home in Calabasas, California, owned by the Hurlbutts. Initially he was not shown because the Hurlbutts saw no reason to put their prized stallion through the rigors of showing for a blue ribbon. They felt he’d proven his remarkable abilities enough in his journeys from Poland to the U.S., so they kept him as a breeding stallion only.
The grand old stallion was retired from the show ring and continued breeding until his death at age 27 in 1965. He sired 223 foals in his lifetime.
One of *Witez II’s most famous daughters was Ronteza, who won the Open Reined Cow Horse Championship against all breeds at the Cow Palace in San Francisco, California, in 1961. Ronteza was the first Arabian to win the championship and her rider, Sheila Varian, was the first woman and amateur to win the title.
Hans Fellgiebel, the stud manager at Janów Podlaski during the war years, passed his love for horses to his daughter, Inge Theodorescu, and Inge’s daughter, Monica Theodorescu, who has won three Olympic team gold medals in dressage, eventing, and jumping.
Having seen your video concerning Witez II and the book, “And Miles To Go”: I was working for McGraw-Hill Publishers in 1967, and my boss was given the first publication of “And Miles To Go” for review.. I still have the note to The Literary Editor dated April 13, 1967 requesting that the book not be reviewed prior to the publication date.. The publisher was Little, Brown and Company, 34 Beacon Street, Boston 02106. Although the jacket of this book is a little tattered, I treasure the book because it was nearly 20 years when we purchased our first Polish Arabian, Limelite, that was 7 lines back to Witez II!
Thank you for sharing your personal experience with the book, Arlene! Hang on to your copy because it’s hard to find in print today 🙂 I hope that will change in the not-too-distant future though. I think today’s horse lovers would enjoy the story.
For eight years I was blessed to own a double bred grandson of WitezII. His name was Gymtez. Can’t remember his dam’s name but his sire was Yatez. He was a dapple grey and was not only the most beautiful but also the most athletic horse I.ever threw a leg over.
Riders would lope from hundreds of yards away just to see him.
Thank you for this story. BTW, I bought him in Salt Lake City in 1965, the year Witez died.
Thank you, Mark, for sharing your experience with one of *Witez’s descendants 🙂 They are often wonderfully athletic horses!
I read “And Miles to Go” shortly after its first publication. (I have always loved Arabian horses and continue to do so.) I was captivated by the story of *Witez II and , over the years, have tried to tell his story to anyone who would listen. I, too, would love to see a movie made telling of his ordeal. Maybe the Disney Studios would be interested as Walt Disney was the one who told the story of the mission to save the Lippizaners. It’s time for us to start reconsidering the types of movies coming out of Hollywood.
I agree 🙂 Thanks for your comment, Marti!
I read the book And Miles To Go thru your online library recommendation. A trainer, who is working with an unpapered rescue horse I have, recommended it because the rescue horse was born in Poland and imported here as a yearling. He has a mysterious past. Imagine my surprise when I saw his name in the book! Tarakus. He may be a Shagya Arabe from Poland. He is very typey and a dun, as their Hungarian duns can be. Thanks for the recommendation as to how to read the book!
Hi Lois! I’m so glad you were able to read And Miles To Go through my article 🙂 That’s a fascinating story about your horse! Thank you for sharing it.
I have a lost thread connection to the Witez II. My dad rented a stall on a small horse ranch back in late 60’s-early 70’s. Witez III, the spitting image of his grandfather Witez there along with his mother, an old chestnut mare was there. This was a place known then as canyon country, Saugus, CA. My mom and dad eventually rented the small place from Hurlbutt, one of the gripiest old man I ever met.
Thank you for sharing your connection to *Witez II, Ginny!