Although it is surrounded by high-rise buildings, tram tracks and city traffic – and yet it is a truly beautiful green patch of earth: the National Horse Center in Bern. As soon as you enter the premises, you immediately leave the hustle and bustle of the city behind. And a gateway to history, to the Swiss army and to the development of the horse in our society opens up. In this series of articles, the “Bulletin” presents three national horse centers in Switzerland: Avenches, Bern and Eastern Switzerland. Immerse yourself in the world of NPZ Bern in this issue.
Today, the National Horse Center (NPZ) Bern is a modern and broad-based service company that focuses on horses, equestrian sports, army horses and training in various horse professions. In 1997, the NPZ Bern was founded in its current form as a cooperative. At that time, however, it already had a history of more than a hundred years, which you can literally feel when you walk around. A short review:
Training of military horses
The Kavallerie-Remonten-Depot (KRD) was founded in 1890 with the main task of training newly purchased remonten, i.e. young horses, for the military. The cavalry horse sanatorium, which consisted of sick stables, a pharmacy and an official apartment for the veterinarian, had already been built a year earlier. For more than 50 years, the KRD remained an important base for the cavalry. 1952 was the year the Federal Military Horse Institute (EMPFA) was born. The federal horse control center in Thun was dissolved and the Bern location became the sole horse station for the army. More than 500 employees and up to 1200 horses were stationed in Bern at the time. The EMPFA riders celebrated great national and international successes, as can be read in the book “120 Years of Equestrian Sport Switzerland” by the SVPS.
Abolition of cavalry
In 1972 the cavalry was abolished in Switzerland, which had an impact on the EMPFA a year later. During the reorganization, not only was the number of horses massively reduced, but large parts of the facility also had to give way. A riding hall and six stable buildings were demolished. 25 years later, in 1997, the EMPFA was closed and the NPZ was founded. The NPZ cooperative came into being on the initiative of the citizens of the city of Bern and various associations and organizations from the horse industry. Since then, it has been offering horse-related services for the benefit of the Swiss horse industry and successfully combining tradition and modernity. Nevertheless, the NPZ Bern remains true to its roots and still provides various services for the Federal Department of Defence, Civil Protection and Sport (DDPS) relating to horses in the army.
Home of the Army Horses
Every year, the NPZ Bern selects and buys riding horses for the Swiss Army – exclusively Swiss warmblood geldings aged two and a half years. In spring they move into the NPZ as three-year-old horses, are broken in and broken in and complete the field test. They are then allowed to spend the summer in the herd on the pasture. In the fall, she continues with a very broad and solid basic training that prepares her for her life as a military horse: dressage, jumping, cross-country training and driving. At the age of five, after passing a final exam, they are drafted into the military for the first time.
The riding horses that were purchased and trained at the Bern NPZ are still at home in the NPZ after their militarization. Unless they are purchased by an officer, they return to the NPZ after each military deployment. The NPZ team cares for the horses and prepares them for their next assignment. They are exercised, ridden or driven daily and receive in-depth riding training. Depending on their suitability, the horses are also used by the mounted Bern police, in the riding school, in apprenticeship training or in vaulting. The army horses serve in the military until the age of 16.
Veterinarians and blacksmiths on site
When army horses become ill or injured while on duty, they are taken to the NPZ’s so-called sanatorium. There they are treated by veterinarians and cared for by the NPZ team. The Freibergers and the mules, which do their duty as pack animals, return home after their recovery, and the saddle horses receive careful rehabilitation training from the trainers until they can be used again in the military. The NPZ blacksmith team also takes care of the hooves of riding horses in the army.
Impressive visiting days
In addition to the activities at the National Horse Center in Bern, the employees of the NPZ are also deployed abroad for the army, for example in “Sand”, the competence center for veterinary services and army animals in Sand-Schönbühl. You can get an extremely exciting insight into the sand on the respective visiting days in spring and autumn. In addition to the army’s riding horses, the so-called “bundlers” are also trained at the NPZ. The Freiberger horses and the mules that are used in the train are called Bundlers – the “train federal horses”.
Learn horse-related jobs
In the NPZ not only the four-legged friends are trained and prepared for their tasks. Because the NPZ also trains apprentices in various horse trades. The following training courses can be completed at this historic facility in the heart of the Swiss capital:
- Federal Certificate of Competence EFZ Equine Specialist
- Federal professional certificate EBA horse warden
- Scholarship “Young talent for the Swiss horse world”
- Veterinary practice assistant TPA
- Apprenticeships for young people with learning disabilities – in cooperation with Bildungswege Steinholzli
Best conditions for SVPS squads
The NPZ is also actively used by various cadres of the Swiss Equestrian Federation for official training and gatherings. In addition to the excellent infrastructure, the geographical location in the Mittelland also plays an important role. Last but not least, management training at the NPZ can be supported with money from a special federal fund. This is the national sports facility concept, or NASAK for short. The aim of this planning and coordination instrument for sports facilities of national importance is to maintain or create good training and competition conditions for the national sports associations in the infrastructure sector and thereby strengthen Switzerland’s competitiveness in sports and in the organization of important international sports events.
In addition, the SVPS is an official cooperative member of the NPZ – together with Bernexpo AG, the canton of Bern, the city of Bern, the breeding association CH-Sportpferde (ZVCH), the Central Swiss Cavalry and Equestrian Sports Association (ZKV), the AM Suisse (formerly Swiss Metal Union) and the Swiss Train Company (STG).
A lot of further interesting information as well as the entire range of the NPZ – training, online allocation plans, events and training opportunities – can be found on the website: www.npz.ch
If you have never been there, then it is always worth visiting this green horse oasis in the middle of the capital, to sniff a bit of history and let your soul dangle.
The historic crockery and wagon collection in the NPZ Bern | © NPZ Bern
Crockery and trolley collection from the former EMPFA
The harness and carriage collection of the former Federal Military Horse Institute (EMPFA) is part of the national heritage of the Confederation and houses contemporary witnesses from the last and penultimate centuries. The Swiss Equestrian Directorate in Thun (1850-1950) was considered a world-renowned institute in its day. The Kavallerie-Remonten-Depot (KRD) in Bern and later the EMPFA inherited it in 1950. All three institutes are already history themselves.
The tableware and trolley collection of the EMPFA was supplemented in 2016 with further exhibits from the golden days of the EMPFA. Among other things, there are trophies, photos, Olympic medals from internationally successful EMPFA riders (e.g. Henri Chammartin, Gottfried Trachsel, Gustav Fischer) in the exhibition. The collection is owned by the federal government and is managed by the Central Office for Historical Army Material (ZSHAM). The NPZ offers guided tours.