The Spanish horse

A short history of the spanish horse


The purebred spanish horse – better known as andalusian – is one of the oldest horse breeds, is actually more than 1000 years old. The breeding of the P.R.E. was also influenced by the activity of several foreign nations; the Phoenicians, the Greeks, the Carthagians, the Celts, the population of the Roman Empire, the Goths, the population of the Byzantine Empire and the Moors were all influential regarding everyday life on the peninsula. The iberian horses and the cavalry had a very important role in the history of the country. The first written document on the subject of horse riding stems from Xenophon from the timespan between 433-355 B.C.; the beginning of the history of spanish equestrian culture dates back to the same period.
The spanish horse breed has become popular all around the world, for example in Germany, Belgium, in Naples and in England; it was also used as the basis for establishing other horse breeds. These spanish horses played an important role in establishing the Kladruber, the Lipizza and the Frederiksborger breeds; moreover, they influenced the breeding of several horses in England, for example the Hackney, the Norfolk, the Cleveland bay and the Connemara. However, the spanish horse had a significant role in establishing the thoroughbred, too, because most of the Royal Mares stem from spanish ancestors.
At the end of the 15. century, following the discovery of the new continent of America, the spanish horses that were exported to the New World became the ancestors of many present-day american horse breeds (for example the mustang, the appaloosa, the criollo, the paso, the pinto, the quarter horse, the paso fino, the paso peruano, etc.). The spanish equestrian culture flourished during the reign of Philip II. At the beginning of the baroque period the entire european aristocracy used spanish horses for riding.
Spanish riding schools were established one after the other; the first spanish riding academy was created in Naples in 1532 by Frederico Grisone, then another one in Versailles in 1594 by Pluvinel, and in 1562 the Spanish Imperial Riding School in Vienna. In the year of 1579, on the territory of the present day Bohemia, the stud of Kladrub was founded, first of all with spanish horses used for establishing the basis of the breeding stock, and in 1580 the stud of Lipizza was created.
Because of the legends surrounding it, one of the most valuable and well-known bloodline is the Cartujano. This breed was established by the cartujano monks living close to the city of Jerez in the middle ages. Later on, during the reign of Napoleon, the French obtained and stole several outstanding mares and stallions used in breeding from the Spaniards, but the monks succeeded in hiding the Cartujanos. In 1834, during the time of the monopolization of the possesions of the church, the stud became the property of the Zapata family. Later on, the bloodline and the stock was supervised and controlled by famous, still existing studs like the stud of Romero Benitez, Terry, Robert Osborne, the Hierro del Bocado stud, etc. The spanish horse that was for more than 400 years the most noble horse breed, is recently becoming more and more forgotten outside its home country due to the development of the modern equestrian sport and due to the horseplague that reached the Iberian peninsula from the African continent between 1987 and 1992. The first studbook was created in 1913, however, a clear breeding standard was not established at that time.
The horses were named according to the province they were born and bred in: the Lusitano, the Galician, the Andalusian, the Levantinian, etc. In the year of 1967 the spanish and the lusitano studbook was separated due to differences regarding the breeeding activity.
From the 80s the P.R.E. is enjoying a renaissance. More and more horsemen get attracted to this special breed. The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art was established in 1973 in Jerez, and from then on, the number of private studs began to increase rapidly. The standard of the spanish horse became fixed due to the group of breeders who did not let themselves to be influenced by the changing tendencies and trends. Thanks to these breeders the P.R.E. still plays an important role in spanish life and culture.

Spanish equestrian culture


The spanish equestrian culture is not only one of the oldest cultures on earth, but also one of the richest cultures. The iberian horse and its culture always played an important role in the history of the world. In the course of history, the spanish horse reached almost every part of the world; it was used for establishing new horse breeds in Europe and in America. The iberian equestrian culture had a great influence everywhere in the world; this is the explanation for how the spanish vaquero style of riding became the basis of the American western riding style of the present day, and this is how the still existing spanish riding schools were established all over Europe.

If we talk about Spain, the first thing that into our mind is the bullfighting, but only few people know that bullfigthing has a special variant when the bull is controlled and led from the horseback, and this is called rejoneo (not to confuse with the picador who accompanies the toreador on foot). In Spain bullfighting is not only a tradition that is kept by the inhabitants of the country, but it is very popular and requires a serious, wide-ranging economic activity. The bull, the so called „toro bravo” that is bred especially for this purpose, is raised on huge grasslands all over the country. The smaller villages that do not have an own „plaza” (the scene where the bullfight takes place) have the possibility to rent mobile plazas during the summer months, and these are almost always full at the time of the bullfight. The most famous toreros are as popular as the football stars of the country, and in high season, from May to October in Spain, there are numerous bullfights taking place, mainly within the frames of a fiesta of a city or a village. When the season ends, most toreros travel to Latin America to the season that’s beginning there.

In most bullfights the toreros appear on the scene on foot, however, the bullfights on horseback are getting more and more popular (in Spain there are more than a hundred of them). The difference between the two is that the matador on foot (torero) fights with the bull on the ground, and the so-called banderilleros help him with their special type of arms, the banderilla, while the picador (a rider with a long pike and with a horse in armour) also helps to defeat the bull. However, the rejoneador fights the bull on the horseback, and can only dismount if he cannot stab the bull after several attempts with the espada morte. In this case the fight has to be finished on the ground. Rejoneadors also have assisters who are there to help them, but they only participate in controlling the bull.

A bullfight is approximately 15 minuntes long, however, the rejoneador is allowed to change horses several times. The fight is evaluated by the audience and the judge, and according to their appreciation the rejoneador can either receive applause, or one ear of the bull, two ears, or after a spectacular, brave and elegant fight two ears and the tail of the bull. The award is demanded by the audience with the waving of handkerchiefs, and the judge takes that into account and decides accordingly. The meat of the bull is sold outside the arena right after the fight. One of the greatest honours in the life of a torero is fighting in the Las Ventas arena in Madrid and leave the arena through the porta grande, the big gate, that only opens up for the best toreros.

The horses are selected for this special purpose according to different aspects. The main requirements are turnability, speed, power and stamina, and above all, the horse and the rider needs to trust each other perfectly, and they require courage and nerve, for example in the crucial moments when the rejoneador is going round and round the bull with the banderilla in both of his hands.

During the daily trainings, the horses have to get used to the bull, that is the reason why every rejoneador keeps a trained bull at home; this bull is trained to attack, but is capable of stopping the attack on time, in order for the horse to gather more confidence. On other occasions, the horsemen practice the manouvring and directing of the bull on an imitation. They practice with young bulls on the neighbouring farms without killing them. They place great emphasis on entertaining the audience and lending a great deal of colour to the fight with the elements of high school dressage, the performance of which is a great challenge for both rider and horse under such circumstances.
A few days before the fight the preparation already begins. The equipment is cleaned, banderillas are made, the daggers are sharpened, the horses are decorated (this happens right before the fight). Then the great day comes: the horses leave early in the morning (at 6-10 a.m.), with the riders and their companions. Some official documents have to be presented before the fight, because the toreador has to have three officially registered banderillero (assistant) at his hand. For one bullfight usually six bulls are bought from the breeders, and these are drawn between the invited matadors. Then the ritual begins, the paso doble can be heard, the audience celebrate the toreros and the bulls. Sometimes it happens that a bull is let out in a village for the sake of the amusement of the folk (usually in smaller villages). There are many forms of bullfighting: a less elegant way of fighting is criticised by lots of people; in this case the bull is let free in the streets of a city during the feast. The most well-known example for this is Pamplona.
However, bullfighting is regarded as a tradition not only in Spain, but also in the southern parts of France, in Latin America and in Portugal as well. In this latter country it is not allowed for the bullfighters to kill the bull. The vaqueros are in charge of the raising the bulls on the grassland, and the horse is their essential partner in this activity. Vaquero horses can either be selected from the purebred spanish horses, or the so-called cruzados, cross-breeds (nowadays the spanish horse is cross-bred with the arabian or the thouroughbred, and the quarter horse). The cruzados are usually geldings, the so-called jacas, and their distinctive feature - besides their slim conformation - is that their tails are cut.
The essential aid of the vaquero on the grassland is the garrocha, a long lance made of wood, with which he controls the bull. The vaqueros test their abilities and power on bull running. The vaquero style of riding is very popular in the whole country, not only on the stock farm where bulls are raised. Nowadays, competitions are held for riders preferring this riding style. In the competitions not only the performance and achievement is taken into consideration, but also the clothing of the riders and the equipment of the horse. The rider wears a sombrero and a so-called traje corto, and sits in the vaquero saddle (ancestor of the present-day western saddle) and controls the horse with only one hand, with the vaquero bridle (with a curb-bit). In the competition only two gaits are used: galopp and walk, the trot is only used during the training phase.
The concept of the spanish riding school, as its name suggests, has its origins on the Iberian peninsula. There are only few institutions now on earth where the traditions of the classical dressage, that developed from the ancient military tactics, are kept; the classical dressage is the ancestor of both the present-day dressage, the baroque style of riding and the high school. The oldest spanish riding school (dating back to 1562) is the Spanish Imperial Riding School in Vienna, however, the riding school of Saumur in France, in Lisbon of Portugal and in Jerez of Spain are also very famous. In these riding schools the ancient, centuries-old methods of classical dressage can be observed; these were mentioned by Xenophon and later Pluvinel, Guérenier and many other exceptional horsemen. The perfect school jumps, the highest level of dressage can also be observed in these riding schools: the levade, the pesade, the terre á terre, the courbette, the croupade, the ballotade and the capriole, and first of all the spanish walk, the name of which alludes to the nation itself.
The Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre (Royal Andalusian School of Eqestrian Art) of Jerez became the official Royal Andalusian Spanish Riding School in 1973; 20 masters are teaching here 5-5 spanish riders – selected from the most outstanding talents - in four grades. They have more than 160 selected spanish stallions at their disposal, kept in the beautiful baroque stables, that were built in the gardens of the former palace of Prince Abrantes.
The riders of the school are highly respected all over the world, and when they are not training the royal horses, they are training the young horses of the numerous spanish horse breeders.
The master-trainers of Jerez participate in competitions of the modern equestrian sport as well; in the Olympic Games of Athens the spanish dressage team, the two members of which (Rafale Soto and Ignacio Ramblas) were the riders of the Royal Riding School, won a silver medal, and Rafale Soto with his P.R.E. horse Invasor came 8th in the individual.

Besides the riders of the Royal Riding School there are numerous horsemen in Spain, whose family passes on this equestrian tradition from generation to generation. Also among the young people this traditional way of riding is very popular, it usually is part of the famous spanish ferias. Anyone who has once visited this famous event could witness the splendid parades, where the girls are dressed as flamencas and they are dancing on the streets to the guitarre music of the flamenco, next to the fiery andalusian stallions and its riders, in the company of the traditional, jingling equipages.
The breeding competitions are essential events for the breeders and the numerous horsemen in the country. The breeding of the P.R.E. is sustained with approximately 120 thousand mares, found not only in the territory of Andalusia, but in the whole country, so many breeding competitions are held in each region and province. On the competition the movement and the appearance of the mares are tested and examined as well. An important factor in judging the stallions - besides all the above mentioned criteria in the case of testing the mares - is the ridability.
On this great international breeding competition, foreign P.R.E. breeders are also allowed to participate. The biggest such event and exhibition is held every year in November in Sevilla, in the Palace of Congress.
The Sicab is the greatest meeting of the breeders of purebred spanish horses; the one-week long event is visited by P.R.E. breeders from all over the world, who also bring their horses here to compete. Besides the so-called morphological competitions (where the appearance of the horses is in the foreground) popular shows and performances take place, together with dressage and carriage competitions; the breeders usually gather information in the exhibition hall, or go shopping, because there is an abundant supply and a huge market of equestrian products.

Characteristics of the spanish horse


The height of the purebred spanish horse (P. R. E.) is generally between 1,54 cm and 1,65 cm. Spanish horses are ususally quadratic with a high-positioned, broad and muscular, bent neck. Their back is short, more or less straight and muscular. Their croup is long, round and muscular with a deep and embedded, low-set tail. The head is usually straight, sometimes subconvex, with a light bow between the forehead and the nose, and with big, lively, and expressive eyes. A special characteristic of these horses is the thick, wavy or straight mane and tail. The most common colour is grey, but in the last few years the bay, black and chestnut (from 2001 on) colours are also accepted – and what is even more, these colours are getting more and more popular and fashionable nowadays – with the least natural marks on the body as possible.
Due to its constitution the horse is easy to turn, and performs with the greatest ease all the difficult exercises requiring a high degree of collection. The horse learns everything easily, is adaptable, and easy to handle and at the same time temperamental. Because of its balanced temper, its behaviour is free from the negative features characteristic of stallions; that is the reason why there are seldom any gelding andalusian horses.
Besides the above mentioned characteristics, due to its abilities, talent, eagerness to work, heart and courage, and its toughness, the spanish horse is used for several purposes. It is an ideal partner for free-time riders, and performs well in dressage and carriage driving competitions as well.
The Spaniards have an extremely rich equestrian culture; their horses are also ridden in the vaquero style, in the so called rejoneo-events (bullfights on horseback), where the horse and its rider are controlling the bull or performing difficult excersises of the High School.
This horse is undoubtedly a treasure of the whole nation in Spain, the home of purebred spanish horses.

Breeding of spanish horses today


The breeding activity in Spain is controlled by the Ministry of Defence, within the frames of the organization Cría Caballar. The centre of the state-run breeding activity is the Yeguada Militar of Jerez. Besides these breeding stations eight other stallion depots were created in the territory of Spain, where the breeders have altogether 100 stallions available.
Besides the breeding stock of the state there are approximately 500 registered private breeders in the country. Outside the country of Spain the major breeding stocks are found in South America and in the southern part of the U.S. However, the number of spanish horse breeders in Europe is also increasing.
In 1972 the private breeders established the national federation of the ANCCE to protect their economic rights and trade interests. There is a global federation incorporating and uniting all the breeders outside and inside the territory of Spain; this is called the FICCE. The ANCCE and Cría Caballar define together the standard and the breeding criteria of the spanish horse.
The P.R.E. does not have a single, unified marking, every modern breeder has his own special type of marking (stallions have hot marks on their left thighs and the mares have one on the right side). Besides the hot marks a microchip in the neck of the horses helps the identification. The horses prove their aptitude for breeding at the age of three within the frames of a test in front of a committee.
In the recent years, horse breeders consistently aim at both keeping the characteristics of modern sporthorses and preserving the traditional values and importance of the spanish horse. The evidence of their successfull work is the constantly increasing number of young spanish horses appearing at the so called morphological competitions and the achievements of spanish horses in the competitions of many equestrian disciplines. At the Athens 2004 Olympic Games, the spanish dressage team won a silver medal, and in the individual Rafael Soto achieved 8th place with his P.R.E. stallion, Invasor.

Spanish horses in Hungary


Our company was the first in Hungary to import purebred spanish stallions in the year of 2000. From then on we have bought 12 more stallions and we assisted many Hungarian horsemen with the buying and transporting of andalusian mares and stallions.
In 2005, the first Hungarian purebred spanish horse stud, the basis of which was formed by four old-fashioned, athletic mares of excellent quality and with good movement, was established with our contribution. The first purebred spanish foals of the stud were born in the spring of 2006.
In 2008 we significantly extended our stock. We bought 9 well trained stallions and 12 brood mares from the stable of Alvaro Domecq. The Domecq family is recognised worldwide – not only for the Sherry production; it rears for generations famous rejoneo riders. It was Alvaro Domecq who established the Royal Riding School of Jerez. The horses from his stud show exceptional talent not only in the arenas and in the high school, but also in sport. It’s a unique achievement that several Domecq horses took part in the Olympic Games with the members of the spanish national team (the most famous horse was Invasor, who came 6. in the individual and won team bronze).
Our stallions and mares represent a successful genetic background, and under these conditions breeding is kept on the highest possible level in Hungary due to the different bloodlines represented by our stallions.
Epona currently possesses 15 mares, 20 well trained stallions and 14 colts.
The baroque style of riding and baroque horses are becoming popular again all around Europe. The number of spanish horses in Hungary is continuously increasing due to the initial breeding activity and the imported stallions.

The recently established spanish crossbreds are also getting more and more popular in our country. According to this, not only the P.R.E. but also the hispano-arabe and the azteca (crossbred of the spanish horse and the quarterhorse) are present among the registered breeds in Hungary. 

Links | Contact | Copyright | © Epona