Foals from Francisco Lazo Díaz ranch

PRE mare, champion at Equitauro 2005

Purebred Spanish Horses dazzle the world

Courage, fortitude, pride, harmony, intelligence, endurance… These are some of the nouns that Purebred Spanish Horses are associated with. They are one of the oldest and most highly valued horse breeds in the world, and they have been a symbol of Spanish culture for centuries. And now, in the near future, they could become part of the Intangible Cultural Heritage of Humanity.

A jockey mounting a Purebred Spanish Horse, or Pura Raza Española (PRE, also known as Andalusian horse), is an image that is bound to stick in your memory. Purebred Spanish Horses embody the beauty of nature – a beauty that is the result of genetic improvement over the centuries and which makes them a versatile, much appreciated horse breed worldwide.

Thick mane and tail, elegant movements, rounded shapes, strength for hard work, obedience… Their extraordinary features have helped Purebred Spanish Horses survive and get ready for the world of elite equestrian competition, especially of classical dressage. But they can also be trained for cowboy dressage, haute école, show jumping, harnessing, all-around and even Olympic sports.

Currently, Purebred Spanish Horses are bred not only in Spain but in about 70 countries around the world.

The National Purebred Spanish Horse Breeders’ Association (ANCCE) has more than 1000 member breeders and 41 association partners, including those in USA, Germany, UK and Australia. Spain is both a pioneer and a leader in equestrianism. And now the administrative procedures have begun for Purebred Spanish Horse breeding to be added to the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage List.

A little history

Roman authors like Plutarch, Pliny the Elder or Seneca already referred to PRE as Hispania’s horse. In the sixteenth century, King Philip II established the Royal Stables in Córdoba, gathering the finest stallions and mares, and branding them with an iron mark to identify the breed. Over 30 years, improvements were made in order to get closer to the ‘perfect horse’ – a horse to be used by the members of the Royal House only. The project was a forerunner of what we can call a genetic experiment.

The newly developed specimens replaced the typical medieval horses, whose main features were associated with fighting. The new horses were elegant, agile, beautiful – perfect for equestrianism, which was gaining popularity with European noblemen. The horses bred in Spain were sought after by kings and nobles across Europe. In addition, they were the first horses to be shipped to the Americas. PRE specimens were used to create or improve 140 different breeds. Even traditional equestrian institutions like the Spanish Riding School of Vienna have their origin in the development of Purebred Spanish Horses.

In their 500-year history, Purebred Spanish Horses have had their ups and downs. In the days of the Peninsular War or the Industrial Revolution (nineteenth century), it was feared that they might go extinct.

On the contrary, the twentieth century witnessed a revival with several milestones: the creation of the Spanish Horse Registry in 1912, the establishment of ANCCE in 1972, and so on. At present, ANCCE is in charge of editing the Purebred Spanish Horse Stud Book and representing PRE at the World Breeding Federation for Sport Horses (WBFSH).

SICAB: International event for horse lovers

In 1991, ANCCE launched the International Spanish Horse Show (SICAB). Held in Seville, SICAB is a major equestrian event at the international level, gathering PRE breeders from all over the world and hosting the World Competition of PRE Horses and Mares.

Córdoba and Jerez: Iconic locations for Spanish equestrian traditions

If there is an iconic site in the history of the Purebred Spanish Horse, that is the Royal Stables in Córdoba, birthplace of this horse breed. Nowadays, it is an exhibition centre where visitors can enjoy the show, Pasión y duende del caballo andaluz (Passion and Soul of the Andalusian Horse).

The city of Jerez is a key for Spanish horse lovers, home to the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art and its horse shows, Yeguada de la Cartuja-Hierro del Bocado (the world’s most important Carthusian horse reserve) and a major Horse Fair. There is even a Horse Tour taking visitors to the must-see equestrian sites and offering horse riding sessions.

Tradition and future

Despite being a centuries-old tradition, Purebred Spanish Horse breeding is alive and kicking. Exhibitions, competitions and shows are held throughout the year. Moreover, PRE is the star at the Seville and Ronda Royal Orders of Chivalry, making its way to the bullring, and in festivals like El Rocío, the Seville Fair or the Holy Week in Lorca.

PRE breeding is a rich and complex world, involving oral traditions, crafting techniques, jockey costumes and even a branch of tourism. Furthermore, figures show that it is a growing sector, from 185,928 specimens in 2010 to 223,534 in 2017. Masters like Velázquez knew how to convey the beauty and strength of the Purebred Spanish Horse. Likewise, contemporary filmmakers and advertisers have included this horse in their films and ads. It has even found its way beyond Spanish borders. No wonder it has become an icon of Marca España, our country brand.