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The true name of the "Caballo Espanol" - the Spanish Hors

March 5, 2000

by Sabina Holle and Julia Bischof

Rafael Soto, member of the Spanish dressage team on the purebred Spanish stallion Invasor at the CDI Aachen, Germany.
Rafael Soto, member of the Spanish dressage team on the purebred Spanish stallion Invasor at the CDI Aachen, Germany.


The name of the breed that is commonly referred to as "Andalusian" in countries such as New Zealand, Australia and North America, in Spain is officially and correctly "Pura Raza Espanola". This translates to horse "of pure Spanish race". Calling them Andalusian is not permitted by the Stud Book in Spain. Only partbreds or horses that are not registered as PRE horses can be referred to as Andalusians.

History of the Spanish Horse

Iberian and Barb horses are thought to be the ancestors of the Spanish Horse as we know it today. Since Roman times and probably earlier, the Spanish Horse has been the cavalry mount and war horse of choice for the great rulers of Europe. The Iberian horses are also the foundation stock for most American breeds, since they were transported to the New World for the first time with Christopher Columbus. In 1567 Phillip II of Spain founded the studbook for the Spanish horse at the Royal Stables in Cordoba. In the following centuries, these horses were in great demand as very prized gifts and possessions of the European Monarchs. They constituted part of the foundation stock for the Royal Stables in Denmark, the Spanish Riding School in Vienna and their Lipizzaner, and other Royal Stables around Europe with the famous Écuyers (Riding Masters) of those times.

The horses that today are the most desirable, are those within the lines of the Spanish Horse known as "Carthusian Horses" also called Bocado or Terry horses. Some historians report that these horses can be traced back to the 15th century, to a herd of animals that was saved from crossbreeding or extinction by Carthusian Monks through the 18th century, and today carry the famous brand called 'Bocado' or are direct descendants of 'Bocado' horses.

Spain's Pride in their National Horse

The Spanish Horse is a much-admired possession and the pride of the Spanish Caballero (a gentleman on horseback). A lot of culture and traditions surround the Spanish Horse, something we find difficult to appreciate unless we actually go and visit their country, their horse shows and equestrian events. Ridden horses are generally always kept as entires, stallions (sementales) are rarely gelded, and other than for perhaps a few Doma Vaquera horses(riding discipline based on work around cattle), mares are not normally ridden. The mares (yeguas) are traditionally used to thrash maize in the fields working as the traditional cobras (groups of mares linked together via leather neck collars). Sometimes they are broken to harness and used in driving teams.

In Spain, many horse shows are held all over the country throughout the year, and each year in December the best qualifying horses are entered to be selected for the "Champion of Spain". The shows run conformation classes, classes to assess movement, and specialty classes for 'Cobras' of mares. Cobras are a set of mares tied together at the neck with one handler who has control of one of the mares. Cobras are a spectacular site at the horse shows, they come in sets of 3, 5 and even 10. One very famous cobra comprised 21 mares! The idea is that a breeder can display his or her ability to breed a very consistent type of horse. The PRE horses are used in many disciplines. Dressage with High School movements is only one of them.

Royal School of Equestrian Art, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain
Royal School of Equestrian Art, Jerez de la Frontera, Spain.

Recent successes in international dressage were made possible following the foundation of the Real Escuela de Arte Ecuestre in Jerez in the 70s and the excellent training of the Spanish dressage team with their coach Jan Bemelsman.

The Royal Riding School is set up like the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, with their own palatial grounds and weekly performances. The riders and horses also tour Europe and deliver spectacular performances. Riders from this Royal Riding School have recently been very successful in international dressage competitions, competing in the world of the warmblood. At the World Championships in Aachen last year, the Spanish Team had a 4th place as a team, and Spanish Riders placed in the first 10 at the last two Olympic Games with their Spanish Horses. Most notable recent successes were achieved at the CDI Dressage in Aachen were the Spanish Team placed second only beaten by Germany. The horses used in Spanish Team include 3 purebred Spanish Stallions.

There is a great tradition of Driving (enganche) horses in Spain, and the bigger horse shows will have driving competitions where the most spectacular vehicles and combinations may be seen.

Other equestrian disciplines in Spain have their origins in the tradition of sheep and cattle herding and bullfighting. The Doma Vaquera is the discipline paying the utmost attention to tradition. Riders and horses have to follow a strict tradition in their outfit and grooming. The Doma Vaquera has only recently been 'standardised' to allow Doma Vaquera riders to compete and keep the traditions of cattle herding alive in a stylised form. Doma Vaquera enjoys great popularity in Spain today. Horses are ridden in a curb bit, all exercises are performed in either walk or canter, and the movements may remind us a little bit of the discipline of reining.

Accoso y Derribo is a discipline whereby a few riders have to chase a young bull and bring him to fall, with a wooden lance, the Garrocha. This is used to determine how brave the young bull will be once in the ring and whether it will be reared to become a fighting bull. The PRE horse is never really seen in the bullring, however, because they are just too pricey to risk in such a dangerous situation.

Grooming Traditions and Equipment

There is also a great tradition surrounding the grooming of Spanish Horses.

All foals have their manes and tail docks clipped very soon after they are born. Broodmares will have their manes and tails clipped twice a year in the traditional style, stallions are presented with natural hair. Feathers and muzzle hair are clipped too, when a horse is presented in a show. Coats of horses are never clipped.

Especially the Doma Vaquera and the traditions that go along with it influence the equipment used to present horses in shows or contests. The Serreta is traditionally used to present horses in shows. It is a halter resembling a cavesson, with a leather covered metal noseband and metal ring coming out of the noseband. If used with knowledge and caution it educates stallions to answer their handler. Serretas are also used with 2 rings on either side, which the reins are clipped into when first breaking in a young horse, so as to avoid having to use a bit in the delicate mouth of a young horse in its early stages of training. Later on, the horse is accustomed to the curb bit, always in black iron. The Doma Vaquera rider then rides with the curb bit and reins in one hand (left), in a Doma Vaquera saddle with big triangular stirrup irons, and himself wears the traditional costume of the cattle worker in the field. The same "traje corto" costumes are used by grooms when showing horses in the ring, and the horses are shown unembelished in any way; merely clean and shining in good health.

Cobra of mares at the Cardenas stud in Spain.
Cobra of mares at the Cardenas stud in Spain.

Studbook Rules and Organisation

The international administration of the Studbook of PURA RAZA ESPAÑOLA today lies with the Ministerio de Defensa, and the Servicio de Cria Caballar y Remonta (Cavalry & Remount), Madrid. The studbook is a closed studbook since 2001, and only animals with both parents registered as breeding stock therein, are eligible to be registered.

The process of registering a Spanish horse has two stages. After a foal is born, a Classification Commission visit, the foal is identified physically, in detail, DNA tested with parent verification, microchipped, its brands noted and then it is inscribed into the studbook. When the horse is at least 3 years of age, the Commission will assess its suitability for breeding. A horse has to obtain 70 out of 100 points in the classification scheme to be admitted to the studbook or approved (APTO) as qualified to perpetuate the PRE breed. The chestnut color as an adult coat is excluded at this stage, unless a horse greys out (historically, there have been claims that with the chestnut coat color come other traits which are not desirable in the Spanish Horse). PRE Horses born from Artificial Insemination (or any other artificial means)are not eligible for registration at this stage.

The military authorities also support breeders by providing several stallion stations throughout the country. For a small fee Spanish breeders can get their mares covered at the stallion station with a choice of stallions, or they can take a stallion to their farm during any specified breeding season, if they have a sufficient number of mares. This generally means that a lot of breeders do not keep stallions, and use a different stallion over all their mares in the one year, which allows for selection of broodmares that throw very consistent type in the offspring if put to the same stallion.

The State-owned research stud, Yeguada de la Cartuja-Hierro del Bocado in Jerez, has many Carthusian horses in its possession, and owns the famous 'Bocado' brand. This facility aims to perpetuate the Carthusian lineage of horse to improve the rest of the breed and supply breeding stallions to the rest of the country.

Purebred mares at the Military Stud in Vicos, Spain.
Purebred mares at the Military Stud in Vicos, Spain.

What do we look for in breed type?

At first sight the Spanish horse impresses with its sculptural beauty, proud bearing, natural high action and friendly, docile temperament. The horse is strongly built and yet extremely elegant: naturally high-stepping and yet has catlike agility; and while he presents a picture of spirited animation under saddle or led in hand, he is at all times perfectly amenable to the will of the person controlling him.

The Spanish horse's beauty is a balanced symmetry of noble proportions that was the model for the great sculptors of Europe during the centuries. The head is majestic, with large, kind, well-set eyes, a broad forehead and well placed ears. The neck is reasonably long, broad yet elegant, and well crested in the stallions. Well-defined withers precede a short back, which links to broad, strong quarters. Both tail and mane are luxuriant and silky and worn long.

The Spanish horse's temperament is something very special; he is one of the most naturally friendly and docile breeds, if not the most, in the world.

The coat colours are mostly grey, but also bay and black. Chestnut horses are not currently registered in the Spanish Studbook, unless a chestnut born horse turns grey. Minimum height is 150cm for mares and 152cm for stallions.

In addition, breeders look for that very special attribute of the breed, the most superb calm but willing temperament of the Spanish Horse and the stallions in particular. Although there is a trend to try and breed horses taller and suitable for competition dressage, we can not afford to compromise Spanish Breed Type in the process. If we do not maintain breed purity, we risk losing forever this valuable foundation stock, which is now becoming so popular worldwide.

In Germany, a lot of breeders now cover their best warmblood mares with Spanish Stallions.

The Spanish Horse in New Zealand and Australia

The first Spanish horses arrived in Australia in the early 70s, thanks to Mr. Ray Williams who imported Bodeguero and several mares in foal and/or with foals at foot.

In New Zealand, the first horses were imported in 1980 to the South Island and in 1986 the fist purebred stallions arrived in the North Island. None of these were direct imports from Spain, but purebred horses bred in Australia. When the original imports left Spain, their ties with the Stud Book in Spain ended and no future registrations were lodged by breeders in Australia, NZ and USA.

Initially, most breeders were looking for a type of horse which, when bred to the Australian stock, would produce superior riding horses. Some of the imported horses were 'Bocado' horses, but unfortunately those lines were not kept pure and we have no pure Bocados available to us today. The Australian and New Zealand based breed registers maintain information for purebreds and partbreds plus those containing 25% Andalusian/Spanish blood. The numbers registered in the Australian purebred register have now reached the lower 1000s, with many more partbreds of varying % of Andalusian blood registered. In New Zealand there are approximately 70 purebred horses registered.

Inn 1998 a 'purpose built' association (ACPRE-Australia Inc.) in Australia and soon after in New Zealand (ACPRE- New Zealand Inc.), initiating the process of Revision for horses bred here and in NZ. This development followed the desire of many breeders in both countries to re-establish the previously lost connection with the international studbook of origin of the breed in Spain and to have their youngstock join the Spanish Studbook again.

ACPRE-Australia and New Zealand Inc. are officially recognised by Jefatura de Cria Caballar to represent "El Caballo Pura Raza Española" in their respective countries. In October 2001 the Classification Commission for the PRE breed finally visited Australia and New Zealand and has admitted 350+ horses into the Spanish Studbook, that are currently awaiting their international papers.



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