The Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art Foundation, based in Jerez de la Frontera is famous worldwide for its show entitled ‘Como bailan los caballos andaluces’, ‘How the Andalucian Horses Dance’. The equine ballet, first presented in 1973, is unique, as is the Andalucian horse.
It is only fair to start with the horse. Myth and legend surround the story of the origin of the Andalucian horse breed. The traditional story proceeds along the lines of: an animal native to Spain, proud and noble of course, remaining pure in breed through the centuries from the mists of time.
Recent DNA studies indicate that the breed has been in Iberia far longer than mankind, that much is true to the legend, and that there is a component of Barb horse, brought over by the Moors in the 8th century AD, in the mix, definitely not part of the myth. The truth of the breed is even more remarkable. It is a man-made creation, produced by selective breeding since the 16th century.
That story really does start in the mists of time. About 400 BC. Simon of Athens, Xenophon, and later in the 1st century AD, Columella and Saint Isodore of Seville in about 610 AD, defined the perfect horse. Collectively they described the ‘classical horse’. It should have a small head, black eyes, tiny, straight ears, a flexible, thick and not too long neck, a thick mane, wide chest, round belly, elevated movements, a long, silky, wavy tail and a round coup. From then onwards this model of a horse, that did not exist in reality, was represented in drawings, paintings, engravings and sculptures.
In 1567, King Phillip II (the Prudent) of Spain ruled one of the world’s largest empires. His reign began the ‘Golden Age’ in Spain, a period during which there was a great outpouring of literature, music and the visual arts. Phillip allowed this blossoming of the arts to go to his head and he decided that Spain would be the country to produce what had, until then, been a fantasy - the ‘Classical horse’. He charged the royal horse master, Diego Lopez de Haro, to purchase 1,200 mares and stallions necessary to create a new breed of horse that would match the perfect vision. Diego bought a selection of the different types of horses then in Andalucia that already had one or more of the features desired in the ideal horse. The eventual result was the Andalucian breed. Phillip decided the horse was so extraordinary that it would be for the exclusive use of the Royal household and for gifts to foreign monarchs, nobles and clergy. By the 18th century, the Andalucian was famous as a breed throughout the world.
Apart from being a beautiful horse, the Andalucian also turned out to be intelligent and athletic.
In 1973, King Juan Carlos I, then Crown Prince of Spain, awarded Don Alvaro Domecq Romero the ‘Caballo de Oro’ (Golden Horse) trophy in Jerez de la Frontera in recognition of his work with Andalucian horses. It was on this occasion that the horses from the Andalucian School of Equestrian Art first performed their ballet. The performance is accompanied by traditional Spanish music and the riders wear 18th century costumes.
In 1987, Carlos, by now King, received the Governing Body of the school at the Zarzuela Palace and accepted the post of honorary President of the school. He conferred the tile of ‘Royal School’ to the Foundation.
Although the dancing horses performance is the public’s perception of the work done at the school, there are other aspects equally as important. The school is still responsible for the selection of the horses to maintain the breed. It trains Haute École riders, and is responsible for the preservation of Classical and Country Dressage. Every year the school embark on tours to different countries, acting as ambassadors for the Province of Cadiz.
Performances take place on different days throughout the year. It is best to check the website if you intend to see a show.
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Nick has lived and worked in Andalucia for over 20 years. He and his partner, Julie Evans, have travelled extensively and dug deep into the history and culture, producing authoritative articles on all aspects of the region. Nick has written four books about Andalucia and writes articles for other websites and blogs.
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