The living leyend



Spanish / English




Throughout the centuries, the possession of a horse was a sign of both social and economic status of its owner. However, with the arrival of the 20th century, it ceased to be the prerogative of the upper classes. At the same time, there was a new element coming into being, prompting its decline, and it was the car. This new emblem of distinction was not to last for as long as the horse did because Henry Ford and his mass production system greatly reduced the cost of manufacture thus making the car available to other social classes and become popularized. In 1905, at all European courts, the horse carriages were replaced by cars, save the court of king Francisco José de Habsburgo-Lorena (1830-1916) where they were maintained until the First World War. With the death of the emperor, the fleet of court carriages became the part of a History Museum that was established the Schönbrunn Palace (Vienna), and at present provides space for over 170 vehicles. If the invention of gun powder diminished the importance of cavalry at the battlefield, so the use of internal combustion engine in warfare would gradually eradicate it, just as it made the horse disappear from the means of transport and facilitated the farm work through its application in combine harvesters. The incipient international trade, based on the revolution in transport, the extension of railway, the improvement of roads and the communication system with the installation of telegraph simplified the transport and reduced its costs, thus leaving no room for horses that already had suffered a severe decline. The replacement of the saddle by the wheel, widely spread during the 20th century, took place at the time of economic growth and popularization of customs, until then reserved for the nobility, in the atmosphere of arms race and gradual abandonment of great part of agriculture in favor of industry.

Meanwhile, in Spain, the most notable sign of the beginning of the 20th century was the poverty and the economic stagnation. The severe crisis the nation was living through came to light on February the 4th, 1906, when 21 andalusian workers were detained while trying to emigrate to America stowed away on a ship, in their attempt to escape from the mysery1. These years were just a preamble to what was to be a century of wars: on the national front - the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939), and on the international - the two world wars 1914-1918 and 1939-1945.

Meanwhile, until the total mechanization of agriculture took place with the appearance of combine harvesters and tractors, the Spanish mares were accompanying the farm workers threshing for long and arduous hours under the Andalusian sun, enduring poor nutrition including during the gestation period. As time went by, due to their reproductive capacity and the growth in demand following the increase of the number of breeders, as we shall see, they began to reach a higher social and economic value, superior even to that achieved by the majority of horses in the past. However, before that happened, the value of horses, that were also supplanted from the industry following the creation of new technologies, had gradually diminished in the first half of the 20th century. At that time, the majority of Purebred Spanish horses, except for the specimens of the Military Stud Farm2, were left in the hands of some horse breeders, predominantly Andalusians, who, more than seeking profit, as until then was the case when it came to horse breeding, were treating it as a form of pleasure directly related to certain features of the Andalusian culture. Following the civil war, and due to shortage of petrol, gas-oil began to be used in vehicles as fuel. In parallel, a new important market was created for mules as a substitute due to the lack of mechanical means of drive and locomotion. Outside Andalusia, starting in the middle of the 19th century, horse breeders became specialized in the production of draught horses in response to the necessities of the army to carry military equipment. It was so important to obtain horses for the army that on June the 12th, 1918, José María González de Echavarri y Vivanco at the Senat expressed his dismay at the fact that the Swiss horse commission was buying horses and mules offering even higher prices than the Remonta, while the army saw itself unable to obtain horses in order to cover its own needs3.

With the increase of income per capita that was produced in Europe after the Second World War, and with the initiation of equestrian games in the middle of the 20th century, it was beginning to shape out what would be the hope for the future of horse breeds. In Spain, towards the end of the 70s, when the pandemic horse plague that broke out in Andalusia finally ended, the export of Purebred Spanish horses restarted. The political and commercial opening to the outside following the dictatorship of general Franco, marked the beginning of one of the most important periods in history of our horse. The countries on all the continents wanted to obtain it and make it the main figure of the new and promising industry - the leisure.

Amongst the vicissitudes of the Purebred Spanish Horse during the 20th century, we should emphasize its evolution in the province of Cadiz that started to gather fruit of a process initiated in the first half of the 18th century. The proliferation of horse breeding in that province, especially in the localities of Arcos, Jerez de la Frontera and the neighboring towns, was produced not only due to the grand demand for horses to do farm work, but, moreover, as a part of a process that can be defined as the rebirth of the Purebred Spanish Horse4. Because of the international renown the horse breeding had obtained thanks to the work of the Zapata family of Arcos de la Frontera ; Vicente Romero, Fernando A. de Terry, Isabel Merello, Vda. De Terry; Francisco Chica, and, later, the Bocado Stud Farm, this area during many years was considered the cradle of our horse. And although the place of origin of the Purebred Spanish Horse was not Jerez de la Frontera but Cordoba5, it must be emphasized what an important work had been done there in terms of its recovery, improvement and maintenance since the War of Independence at the beginning of the 19th century. In view of this fact, it has been justly acclaimed the world's most important zone of equestrian sport. Without a doubt, it is an example to follow by other regions that could, and even possessed better means to do so, but did nothing for the benefit of an autochthonous breed such as the Purebred Spanish Horse, of such vital cultural and economic importance.

Amongst the most notable state decisions of the 20th century related to the Spanish horse breeding there are undoubtedly the creation of the Stud Book (1911) for stallions and mares of Purebred Spanish Horse, the definition of the breed standard (1970) and the creation of the Valuation Commission, a system which had been applied since centuries before, and which played a decisive role in the improvement of the breed. Before long, the result of those decisions could be seen very clearly in how the sector, until then practically forgotten, rapidly began showing signs of what was perceived as a great success. As for the work of the private sector, apart from maintaining the stud farms, we should point out the creation of the Purebred Spanish Horse Breeders Association (ACCE) in 1973 (in Seville), later known as the Purebred Spanish Horse Breeders National Association (ANCCE), which in parallel started to bear fruit in the sector. The fusion of both public and private work marked the beginning of a new period of expansion experienced by the Spanish breed at the international level.

We should also emphasize the work realized in that period by the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art since its foundation in 1973, as much for the performances given, of undoubtedly tourist interest and cultural value, as for the achievements in sport with horses such as Evento, Invasor, Distinguido and Oleaje, amongst others. The success gained at the Olimpic games in Atlanta and in Athens, at the World's Equestrian Games in Jerez de la Frontera , with the winning of the Silver Medal, re-launched the Purebred Spanish Horse in sport, for which in some people's minds it was not suited, and indicated the way in which to select the specimens more efficiently. Before long, the good fruit of the work could also be gathered in the private sector with obtaining horses of such quality as Fuego XII, property of the Cardenas Stud Farm, specimen ranked the fifth best horse in the world at the World's Equestrian Games in Kentucky 2010 (USA). It only confirms, emphasizes and combines the all-time high qualities of the Spanish breed, the same that were sought, and were obtained, at the time of its origin in the 16th century. We must not forget that the Purebred Spanish Horse came into being because the world's equitation needed a type of horse which could perform the airs of academic equitation with beauty, perfection, and grace required at that time in history.

Following the appearance of the Purebred Spanish Horse, other countries also wanted to obtain some specimens, and, later, through crossbreeding, in some cases similar breeds were created such as the Kladruber (Czechoslovakia) and the Lippizzaner (Austria)6. Later, through the same process, the Purebred Lusitano7 appeared in Portugal, and, more recently, in the second half of the 20th century, the Azteca horse in Mexico.

The contents of this book develops chronologically in order to help the reader travel through the last century of the Purebred Spanish Horse's history. Together with "The History and Origin of the Spanish Horse: the Royal Stables of Cordoba" (1998)8 and "The Spanish Horse under the Bourbon Kings" (2004)9 it completes the history of one of the great living legends.