From shtetl to stable

The family-owned King David Stables near Jerusalem has its origins in 19th-century Lithuania.

The family-owned King David Stables near Jerusalem (photo credit: Courtesy)
The family-owned King David Stables near Jerusalem
(photo credit: Courtesy)

HORSES HAVE been a part of the Lipschitz family for generations. From Lithuania to South Africa to Israel, the horse passion is something that Anthony Lipschitz and his children continue. Though horse trading is not usually thought of as a Jewish occupation, in the 19th century Jews dominated the field in some parts of Ukraine and Russia, though it was unusual in Lithuania.

Family tradition tells of Lipschitz’s maternal grandfather owning a beautiful white stallion in a Lithuanian shtetl in the late 19th century. He’d ride his horse into Cossack villages in order to steal food to bring back to the shtetl desperate for food.
Grandfather had a special relationship with his horse, but learning that the Cossacks were after him, he fled, eventually finding his way to South Africa where many Lithuanian Jews had already settled.
“Everyone has always owned horses in our family,” relates Lipschitz, the owner, together with his son Arik, of the King David Stables in Moshav Yad Ha’shmona, near Jerusalem. Lipschitz’s father owned racehorses in Johannesburg in partnership with his grandfather, who also had race horses in Australia, which he brought to South Africa.
“We grew up with horses and all four of my children sat on horses before they could walk,” says Lipschitz. In 1972, the entire family moved to Israel: Anthony and his parents and three siblings, Stanley, Howard (an Olympic archer) and the late Jenni.
“Jenni had been the youngest competitor in the annual Rand Easter agricultural horse show in Johannesburg,” recalls Lipschitz.
“We had a very nice life in South Africa,” he states. “We had an empire there, think of the TV show ‘Dallas’ – and we gave it all up to come here. We were all Zionists.”
AT FIRST, Anthony ran a garage in Jerusalem, which he then sold in 1985 to follow his long-standing dream to open the riding stables. But it has been a tortuous road. “We've moved five times, probably the only stables in Israel that have survived more than two moves; we just hung on.”
The stables first home was in Moshav Beit Zayit in the Jerusalem Corridor, but when forced to moved, they relocated to Moshav Neve Ilan across highway No. 1.
They were able stay there for 17 years, but when the moshav sold the grounds to a hotel, they moved to a nearby wadi. “There were horrendous conditions there,” recalls Anthony. “We carried out all the ground and tractor work, brought over special stable housing from Canada, but then we were evicted because we couldn’t get permits.”
The next stop was back across the highway to Moshav Shoresh, where “another fortune” was spent setting up again.
After seven years they were forced to move yet again when the moshav wanted to introduce a winery. So it was back again across the highway, this time to Yad Hashmona, the picturesque moshav of a community of Finnish Christians and Messianic Israeli Jews. In deference to the community, the stables are closed on Shabbat.
“Any sane person would have given up a long time ago,” jokes Lipschitz. “Thanks to my kids we could keep going; they've worked here throughout the years.” His four children Shoshi, Arik, Yaffa and Gila, have all worked at the family business. Golani Brigade veteran Arik has run the stables for the last few years.
THE KING David Stables is entirely Western in style, approach and training – a mini ranch in a serene setting surrounded by woods. You won’t find any English saddles in their tack rooms. Most of the equipment has been imported from Texas, where father and son go at least once a year for workshops.
They brought over their first seven horses from Scotland, an Anglo-Arabian breed called Crabbets, a heftier strain of Arabian.
Today they have 20 horses, a mixture of breeds including quarter horses, ponies, and a sturdy pony/horse combination.
“We have a different mindset here which we call ‘natural horsemanship,’ which is more relaxed,” says Lipschitz. “You want the horse to do something because he wants it; you’re not forcing him.”
The stables also offer lessons in archery – on and off a horse – and good old Western-style lassoing. During school holidays King David organizes day camps, which are attended by youngsters from abroad as well as Israel.
Horse-riding stables are a tough and expensive business anywhere. This is especially true in Israel where available land, feed, equipment and insurance are very costly. Veterinary costs alone can be astronomic.
Israel has a world-class equine hospital as part of the Hebrew University Veterinary School in Beit Dagan.
Nevertheless, there are scores of riding stables throughout the country –half a dozen in the Jerusalem area alone. Possibly the most veteran riding stables, still in business, is Vered Hagalil overlooking Lake Kinneret, established in 1961 by the late Yehuda Avni. The stables are part of a restaurant-hotel complex.
Other well-known riding stables include Ramot Ranch in the Golan Heights, Dubi’s Ranch and Dor Ranch in the Haifa area, Dvash stables on Moshav Batzra near Ra’anana, Havat Haro’im in the south and Kalia Stables at the Dead Sea. The largest teaching stable in the country is the Equestrian Riding Sport Center in Ramat Gan.
And then there’s the posh Jockey Club in Rishpon, where the rich and famous board their horses and send their children for competitive horseback riding. The club specializes in training for Olympic riding, which includes dressage and show jumping.
What keeps most stables going financially are classes in therapeutic riding – a growing specialty in the country. Therapeutic riding is defined as “an equine-assisted activity for the purpose of contributing positively to the cognitive, physical, emotional and social well-being of individuals with special needs.” At least four colleges in Israel, including the famous Wingate Institute, offer certification courses in therapeutic riding, which also cover teaching the disabled. Therapeutic lessons are often paid for by Israeli health funds.
The King David Stables also runs special therapeutic classes and employs three teachers. Anthony’s daughter Shoshana, an occupational therapist, is in charge of therapeutic riding programs in Israel.
While the students in therapeutic classes have all been designated officially as having special needs, Anthony and Arik say that many youngsters coming for regular lessons appear to have some sort of social or learning challenges. “Some kids are terribly uncoordinated, or have memory and concentration problems,” explains Arik.
“We find that learning how to lasso or shoot a bow and arrow is really significant. It’s fun, but you need to find your balance, concentrate on what you do, exercising your muscles and your mind. For us, it’s a major part of our program.”
The view of the richly forested Judean Mountains is stunning. It doesn’t look much like Texas, but, insists Lipschitz, “this little piece of paradise is as close to a Texas ranch as anywhere you’ll find in Israel.
I’m very lucky. I get up in the morning and know I'm going to work I passionately love,” he adds.