Southern Spain looks ever-so-much like Florida, Mexico and Southern California. No wonder those Spaniards of the 16th century colonized these areas of the Americas – they looked like their homelands. We were in Spain looking to buy
horses for carriage driving in the New World of Florida, where these horses’ ancestors set foot many, many years ago.
In the comfort of the Mercedes GL 350 BlueTech, we traveled through provinces with names like Valencia, Cordoba, Seville and Cadiz and saw mountains, olive trees, sand, and horses, horses, horses. The Spanish horse was an icon of the 16th century and remains so in the 21st century. I have never seen so many beautiful horses in such a short period of time – eight consecutive days. These animals are gifts to the peoples of cities like Jerez, Seville, and El Rocio where the culture is still built around their beloved Andalusians (or Pure Spanish Horses) with their Spanish walk and other high school dressage movements.
We traveled down back allies, through city parking lots, and to grand haciendas to inspect and evaluate horses for carriage driving. For years these horses have been prized for riding, but after owning a driving pair and then four in Europe in the early 2000s, I have thought of bringing some of these grand horses to the USA for driving. The economic crisis has reportedly brought the
prices of these horses down and beaconed me to again look for two to four pure Spanish horses for driving. The conformation of this Baroque type horse lends itself to the trot, the gait of the driving horse. Their necks are set high on their shoulders to be out of the way of the forearm as it moves forward for the trot.
Southern Spain was of great interest to Gene (sir name, Serra) since his ancestors came from the island of Majorca. His Spanish all came back as he read the signs along the way and menus from restaurants. (We experienced some of the greatest food in Europe on this trip. Regina, our tour guide, not only knows contacts in Spain and her horses, but took us to some of the greatest places to
eat.) Gene, as human medical doctor, is now picking up the language of us horse people and using his diagnostic tools on horses. He can even evaluate the stride of horses now, after listening to David and me talk about the confirmation and
movement of these grand horses.
Looking for big horses for coaching and the Florida heat is no easy task, but we kept coming back to the same place – Miguel A. de Cardenes’s stable in Ecija. His famous dressage horse, Fuego, was sire of one of our pics. This horse, Opalo, is eight. Two other nicely trained stallions, Rejoneo and Sacro, also seem to fit the bill – large, gray, trained under saddle and harness and uniform in
head carriage and stride. The superior characteristic of Miguel’s stable is vested in the skills of the trainers and head master, who we called lovingly Father Christmas for obvious reasons. Raffy as his friends call him, also spoke a bit of English and was obviously the right hand of the owner Miguel.
Miguel was a very handsome Spaniard of some age and looking as well groomed as his horses. He did not speak English but made us feel welcome. We were even beginning to think of his stable as our second home. A clean and tidy environment with offers of a comfortable chair and drink is all it takes.
If we were there late in the afternoon, we would be distracted from observing performance stallions by the thundering hooves of horses. When we turned around to look, we could see over one hundred mares racing from a covered loafing shed toward large round bails of hay in the center of a huge field with little grass.
The arid climate in Southern Spain does not produce good grass, so it appears that all horses are fed the best of hay from either irrigated fields or other regions of Spain. There were even additional mares with foals by their side in a front pasture. This was the first site when entering this grand facility down a lane lined with trees.
The stallions are the breeders’ prize. Almost never gelded, these are the performers that require special handling. The Spaniards are quick to correct a stallion for exhibiting aggressive behavior or calling out to mares. Having preferred and driven geldings for years, I was always startled and amazed at how quickly trainers and handlers correct these horses for the least little sign of
diverted attention. I tried to replicate their quick response and found myself much too slow to react.
The three lucky horses to come to America are considered by some to be unlucky because they will be gelded before leaving Europe. This procedure allows for a shorter time in quarantine, once in the USA. Since I will not be using them for breeding, this procedure will make the horses easier to handle, drive, stable
While in Europe before shipment, David Saunders will continue the horses’ training. David knows of my light hand and of my English voice commands, so his efforts will aid in their adjustment once in America.
The hot climate of these horses’ origin in Southern Spain should also help them adjust to Central Florida, their new home in the New World.