Spain is an incredible destination to visit with its diverse and vibrant culture and landscape. With over 45 UNESCO World Heritage sites, 8000 kilometres of coastline, and some of Europe’s highest mountains, there are so many reasons to visit Spain. The history of this amazing country is tightly interwoven with horses, with cave paintings dating back 30,000 years depicting them in the landscape.
The Purebred Spanish Horse (or P.R.E – Pura Raza Española), also known as the Andalusian, has been a highly sought-after war horse since the 6th century BC and has been recognized as a distinct breed since the 15th century. Its conformation has changed very little over the centuries, and for the last 150 years, the purity of the breed has been safeguarded by Spanish law.
A noble and versatile horse, the breed was originally used for its prowess as a war horse, for classical dressage entertaining the nobility, driving, bullfighting and as stock horses. Modern Andalusians are used for many equestrian activities including dressage, show jumping and driving. The breed is also used extensively in the entertainment industry, especially in historical settings.
A thriving capital home to over eighty museums and more than 200 monuments. The Royal Palace is a highlight, along with the El Paseo del Arte, an Art Walk that encompasses the best of Madrid’s painting, sculpture, architecture and nature. The capital offers excellent restaurants and shopping opportunities, along with a vibrant nightlife.
The Madrid Royal Palace is well worth a visit and the armoury room is very interesting. Every Wednesday and Saturday the Changing of the Guard takes place at the Puerta del Príncipe gate where two-foot soldiers and two mounted soldiers are relieved of their duty. Every ten minutes, the mounted soldiers march past the front of the palace. Once a month the more spectacular Solemn Changing of the Guard takes place when a larger parade takes place and lasts for almost an hour and involves 400 people and 100 horses.
Within easy reach of Madrid are some fabulous historical towns and UNESCO World Heritage sites. Day tours to Avila, Toledo, or Segovia are easily arranged and all are well worth a visit.
Major Equestrian Competitions in Spain
One of the largest horse events in Spain is Madrid Horse Week, held over three days at IFEMA every November and is the most important competition held in Spain. The indoor event attracts over 300 horses and 45,000 visitors annually. Some of the highlights include the Final of the ‘Maestros de la Vaquera’ Cup, FEI World cup dressage and show jumping, western dressage demonstrations, vaulting demonstrations, natural dressage, and sessions on horse health and care. As with all these events, the shopping village is extensive!
If you love show jumping, Madrid also hosts the Longines Global Show Jumping Championships every May at the exclusive country club of the Club de Campo Villa de Madrid where the world’s best 5-star show jumping horses and riders compete.
Cosmopolitan & Trendy Barcelona
The FEI Nations Cup final is held each year in late September as part of the CSIO Barcelona Festival, which also includes the Polo Park, an area designed for family leisure activities and showcases their commitment to bringing the world of horses and a love of animals to society.
The cosmopolitan and trendy Barcelona always has plenty to see and do. Overlooking the Mediterranean, the city is famous for its colourful and quirky Gaudi and Art Nouveau architecture and never-ending nightlife.
Jerez the Horse Capital of Spain
Heading South to Andalucía, Jerez de la Frontera is considered the horse capital of Spain. Jerez is also home to one of the big four riding schools the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. It is on the grounds of a former Royal Palace and holds impressive ‘How the Andalusian Horses Dance’ shows every week. There is also the interesting Carriage Museum and the Museum of Equestrian Arts.
Jerez also hosts the spectacular Festival of the Horse (Feria del Caballo) every May, which takes over the whole town and lasts a week consisting of traditional Flamenco dance and costume, bullfights, and various equestrian competitions and parades. The festival dates back over 500 years and the highlight of the festival is the beautiful Andalusian horses and the traditional dress. Entry is free unless you want to view some of the equestrian events in the outer stadium.
The Yeguada de la Cartuja Stud Farm near Jerez offers tours and shows every Saturday between March and November and guests learn about the history of the Andalusian horses and their Carthusian lineage which includes a guided tour of the farm to see free running foals, mares and stallions and afterwards watch a dressage exhibition and see the current year’s foals.
The Andalucía Sunshine Tour is the biggest winter equestrian competition and is held each February so that the northern European riders can compete in the better weather conditions of southern Spain in preparation for the European summer season. Many of the top UK and European riders come to this event with their young horses to school them for the upcoming summer season. The competitions include driving, jumping, dressage and three-day eventing. Spectator entrance is free.
If you are a racing fan, the unique Sanlúcar Horse Races are held on the stunning beaches of the River Guadalquivir near the Spanish town of Sunlucar de Barrameda, just 52km north of Cadiz. Held in August every year since 1845, the race meetings start as the sun goes down over the river Guadalquivir and Doñana National Park at low tide. Massive crowds line the beach from 6 pm in the evening, and it is free to attend unless you want to sit in the grandstand opposite the finishing line.
Royal Stables at Cordoba
If you happen to be visiting Cordoba, the Royal Stables of Cordoba show an interesting history with an impressive Moorish design from the 17th century. Located next to the Castle of the Christian Monarchs (Alcaraz de los Reyes Cristianos), the stables also house the original 19th-century horse-drawn carriages that make up the Royal Stables collection. The Royal Stables is also the venue for the “Passion and Spirit of the Andalusian Horse” equestrian show, which is a combination of flamenco with elements of classical and Andalusian equestrianism and spun with the history and equestrian tradition of the city of Cordoba.
Spain has so many fantastic festivals where you can see riders in typical costumes and magnificent horses, such as the Pilgrimage of El Rocío in Huelva, the Caballada in Atienza, and the Sant Joan festivities in Menorca.
There are also many riding holidays available in Spain from rides in the stunning Sierra Nevada, Doñana National Park, and the Mediterranean Costa Brava, to the alpine mountain peaks of the Pyrenees. Or you might prefer a more relaxed riding school with a dressage lesson and/or combined with trails.
Spain has so much to offer, and I have only touched on a small part of this wonderful country and hope this whets your appetite to travel here.
Snaffle Travel offers riding tours to Spain and we can help with tours with other companies and also independent travel. Contact us at email@example.com
Written by Tania Huppatz (Snaffle Travel)