There’s nothing like the practical experience of travelling, visiting and talking with horsemen and women in different countries to learn how they work with horses and their land. This month, we visit several regions of Spain and the Pura Raza Española.

Andalucia (Spain)

My trip around Spain brought me to Sevilla, Jerez de la Frontera and Cadiz, where I visited mostly private and commercial horse properties that breed or train Pura Raza Española (PRE) horses and Lusitanos.

El Patio de Cuadras

One of the first things you appreciate when visiting traditional horse properties in Andalucia is the beautiful old Spanish architecture, with so called ‘patios de cuadras’ (stable courtyards). Typically, only PRE stallions are stabled and ridden, while mares and foals are managed at pasture or in large yards. Stallions, therefore, rely entirely upon humans for their daily exercise and food sources.

Most common conserved forages fed are cereal straw and lucerne hay. The arid climate and variation in quality means grass hay is less available. Most stables supplement with energy-dense concentrates – either a mix of grains (oats and wheat) and/or commercial horse feeds. Daily supplements, such as mineral and vitamin premix and oils, were sporadically used in the facilities I visited, and sporting horses or horses used for shows were fed electrolytes only during the hotter months of the year.

Nutritional Challenges

It is generally accepted for PRE stallions to have a high body condition score (BSC) between 6 (moderately fleshy) to 7.5 (fleshy/fat) (based on the Henneke scale). Amongst equine vets and nutritionists, a BSC of 7 is considered overweight and above 7.5 obese. Not surprisingly, sub clinical and chronic laminitis is relatively common in the facilities I visited. A local veterinarian explained stallions are shod very young and this may contribute to further issues. Interestingly, the only farrier school based in Soto del Real, Madrid, is now teaching up-to-date barefoot trimming techniques.

La Yeguada

Whilst used for riding internationally, mares are mainly used for breeding. They are typically housed in groups at pasture and supplemented with conserved forages and, depending on the facility, concentrates and supplements. You generally see large feeding stations for hay and concentrates in pastures or large yards. Mares may be stabled periodically if they are being showed or in preparation for classification.

Pastures and Maintenance

The grass cover and pasture availability at the facilities I visited was limited. Most pastures had trees and/or shrub vegetation, and it seems the horses browse these. Soils showed severe compaction and erosion problems. Soil or pasture improvement to support grass cover and biodiversity all year round was limited.

Typically, the land is ploughed and seeded each year with ‘improved’ pasture seeds for growth during Spring and the start of Summer. This is left to dry out in Summer and the land prepared again in Autumn/Winter for the Spring growth. Most agricultural practices are very traditional in the south of Spain and it seemed that newer or more sustainable farming methods were left unexplored.

It is clear tradition is still the way of life which is, in many ways, great to preserve. But, when it comes to horses and the land, there is room for improvement. While attempts have been made to modernise horse facilities, the older stable buildings would not always meet standards for aeration, height and/or surface space. This highlights the need for integration of traditional architecture with more up-to-date horse facility standards. Pasture systems could be improved by subdividing paddocks for rotational grazing to support grass recovery and soil development.

I was fortunate to present on soil health at a workshop on equine nutrition at one of the facilities. There was a lot of interest in keyline ploughing concepts! I’m working on my Spanish and hope to visit this region again in the near future.


Andalucia has the most varied terrain and vegetation in Spain. Striking contrasts exist between alpine mountains and pine forests at high elevations, arid and barren deserts, and fertile irrigated plains that support plantations of subtropical fruits. The topography of Andalucia is divided by mountain ranges into several distinct zones, each running southwest to northeast.

Andalucia has been, traditionally, an agricultural region, compared to the rest of Spain and Europe. But, the growth of the community, especially in the sectors of industry and services, is higher than many communities in the eurozone. Andalucia has a rich culture and a strong identity. Many cultural phenomena that are seen internationally as distinctively Spanish are, in essence, Andalucian. These include flamenco, bullfighting, the Spanish horse (PRE) and certain Moorish-influenced architectural styles.

The ‘Cobra’

The string of mares paraded in Spanish breed shows, the ‘cobra’, is referred to as a ‘lote de yeguas’ (a batch, or lot, of mares). In days gone by, mares were used for threshing grain. Linked together with neck collars, two or more mares were tied to a central pole, and made to walk or trot in circles, threshing the grain from the chaff. The tradition is kept alive in the show ring, where the studs compete for the best batch or group of broodmares.

The Spanish Horse – Pura Raza Española

The Andalusian, known as the Pure Spanish Horse or PRE (Pura Raza Española), is a horse breed from the Iberian Peninsula, where its ancestors have lived for thousands of years. It has been recognised as an individual breed since the 15th Century and the ideal conformation standard has changed very little over the centuries. Throughout its history, it has been prized by the nobility,  used as a tool of diplomacy by the Spanish. Kings across Europe rode and owned Spanish horses. During the 19th Century, warfare, disease and crossbreeding reduced herd numbers dramatically and, despite some recovery in the late 19th Century, the trend continued into the early 20th Century. The breed is now experiencing a strong revival that is largely driven by the success of some exceptional individuals at elite level dressage and carriage driving. In 2010, there were more than 185,000 registered PRE horses worldwide.[wpdm_package id=52374 template=”link-template-calltoaction3.php”]