Wednesday, 13 July 2016

Dancing horses of Andalusia - visit to Royal Andalusian School ot Equestrian Arts in Jerez

Horses have long traditions in Andalusia. The most peculiar of these traditions is Andalusian dancing horses, the pride and joy of Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Arts in Jerez.

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Spain is home to many a wondeful animal. Such as Iberico pig. And octopus. But they do have a peculiar way of making their animals do the strangest things. 

Bullfight, a tradition that still enjoys an incomprehendible popularity is the most famous one (you can read more about my experiences here), but Andalusia is home to another specialty too : Andalusian dancing horses.

Located 30-minute train ride from Cadiz there's Jerez, home to sherry and Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Arts.

School's different programmes train a variety of equestrian professionals in dressage, horse breeding and saddle making. The thing it's world famous for, however, are those dancing horses. 

At the end of May Jerez even hosts a week-long festival dedicated to its horses called Feria del Caballo. 

There are 2-3 weekly shows (Tuesdays and Thursdays at noon, occasionally also on Saturdays), for more information please see here. Admission is rather pricey: depending on the row the adult tickets are €21-€27 and children (over 13) €13-€17. They are really popular though: the areena seats almost 1600 people and the shows are usually sold out. 

In case equestrian ballet is up your street, it is advisable to book the tickets in advance. 

Photography is forbidden unless you have a special permission granted for the members of the press. Luckily I did, so for video footage check out blog's Twitter feed  here and here.

Two-part show is about 90minutes and it offers an interesting glimpse into this unique tradition that is still taken very seriously around here. For instance local sherry bodegas showcase this art in their events. 

The way horses nonchalantly keep dropping their manure on the arena throughout the performance offers a comic contrast to the very serious and very dignified air of the riders. 

Owing to their noble character and vibrance, Iberian horses are considered particularly suitabe for this kind of performing arts. Each horse has gone through years of training, during which the horse and rider have perfected their collaboration. 

My sense of rhytm (or the lack of it) seldom gets showcased on the dancefloor, so I can guarantee it comes second to these creatures. The way riders and horses work so seamlessly and seemingly effortlessly together is fascinating.

In addition to the displays of single horses, the show also features the showmanship of traditional carriages.

Each performance draws heavily from traditions, down to the outfits which are based on 18th century uniforms.

I learned that initially this form of equestrian arts originated in Austrian court. Jerez school was opened in 1973 and its pride and joy are the thoroughbred Iberian horses, whose history in the peninsula is thought to go back a good 3000 years.

They have traditionally occupied a very special place in the Spanish Royal Family. Especially Phillip II (1556- 1598) dedicated a great deal of his life to horse breeding and the previous king Juan Carlos I is said to have handed horses out to dignitaries as presents. 

I was also given a tour behind the scenes. The school, known for its high standards, is in high demand and there's a huge competition to get in. Annually only a couple of percent of the applicants qualify. 

* The trip was organized in collaboration with Cadiz Tourism *





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