Wednesday, November 4, 2009

The Horses of Spain

My first husband was posted to the Air Force base in Madrid, Spain and the nearly five years I lived there were incredible. I loved Spain ... the country, the people and the horses!

Oh, the HORSES!

Having grown up on the little Quarter Horse type working cow horses of the west, the Andalusians put stars in my eyes from the first day I saw one. They were my introduction to a different way to ride.
Unfortunately, nearly all of the photos taken in Spain were lost and I have not found any of the incredible gray gelding I owned while I was there. By a strange quirk, recently found two slides that were taken of me on my instructor's "school horse", and got photos made from those slides. Not great detail, but will at least suggest the general type of horse and the type of equipment.
The bridle is a straight shanked curb, with a "moscera" on the browband, something I had never seen before, a double row of long leather strands which, when a horse was walking properly, would brush back and forth across the face. This served two purposes, brushing the flies from the horse's face, plus it provided the rider/trainer with an indication of correct gait. If the animal was not walking with the proper cadence the moscera would not flick back and forth and the rider would not see the ends as they swept back and forth.
The basic saddle most reminded me of the Austrailian saddles, they had a squared pommel, with no horn and a curved cantle, also squared at the top. This was covered by a heavy sheepskin pad over the seat, which came down along the sides of the horse to about the rider's knee level. The metal stirrups were on a English style stirrup leather, but the stirrup itself was very different, a solid side, triangular, down to the foot plate, which was solid and roughly 6" long. You can see the crupper which helped hold the saddle in place as well as a clearer view of the sheepskin pad in the this photo.
My first instructor was Spanish and my first lessons were in the traditional Spanish style, primarily developed for work on the fighting bull ranches and in the bull rings themselves. The rejoneadors of Spain are the mounted bull fighters and their only partner in the ring is the horse on which they are mounted. I never developed a fondness for the usual bullfights, where the actual work with the bull is done on foot, but the ballet of the rejoneadors never ceased to thrill me. The horses were incredible, the rejoneadors themselves skilled and daring and the choreagraphy of the duel between the bull and the horse and rider was never dull. The photo below will give you an idea of how closely both rider and horse are to the bull during the passes. It looks as if they cannot possibly avoid injury, but I never saw more than minor scratches in any of the fights I saw personally.
I was once priviledged to see Angel Peralta, then in his 20s, who became one of the premiere rejoneadors of his generation. It was a display of horsemanship I will never forget. Several horses are used during a fight and on one, a black mare, he made his first passes, then removed the bridle. The next series of passes were made with the mare working only from weight and leg cues.

Not content with that, he then moved the mare to the center of the ring, broke the last pair of banderillas in half, leaving him with 18" banderillas, which he then proceeded to plant on the next pass across the bull's charge. A truly incredible demonstration of communication between horse and rider which brought many of the spectators to their feet with cheers.

I will always have a deep love and respect for the incredible Andalusian horses I was so priviledged to see and to ride during my years in Spain.

1 comment:

Shari said...

I am glad you found at least a couple of photos! It is something to really treasure.
When I was working the Andy's.. .Everyone was either very busy or no one had a camera about.
Is a great loss, not to have photos of that time.
So I am very glad to see yours!