By Marta Lasota
Although Córdoba is well known for its famous Mezquita, the largest mosque in the entire world, this southern Spanish city holds unique traditions that many may not know about.
Over the weekend, I had the pleasure of learning about and experiencing one of these traditions: the Andalusian equestrian show.
Housed in the center of the city is The Royal Stables of Córdoba, founded in 1570 by a decree from King Felipe II. The King, whose goal was to breed horses that would be stronger and more intelligent than any other, ended up rearing the great Andalusian Horses, known officially as Pura Raza Española (Spanish purebreed horses). These horses became quite popular among the Spanish nobility and were often used during war. Once a symbol of the Spanish empire, today these horses represent the typical “Spanish horse” and have become a distinct part of Spanish culture.
Yet how these creatures went from animals of war to agile dancing performers is a quite peculiar story whose origins are actually very recent.
Following the founding in 1972 of the National Association of Spanish Horse Breeders (Asociación Nacional de Criadores de Caballos Españoles) in the Andalusian city of Seville, the government of Jerez de la Frontera, also in Andalusia, created the Caballo de Oro (Golden Horse) trophy and awared it to the aristocratic Andalusian don Álvaro Domecq in recognition of his lifetime work with Spanish horses. During that memorable award ceremony the equestrian show “Cómo bailan los caballos andaluces,” Domecq’s brainchild, premiered. Present during the ceremony was then the Prince of Spain, now Don Juan Carlos King of Spain who abdicated in favor of his son, the reigning Felipe VI.
Continuing Domecq’s vision, today the show is consistently performed within Córdoba. But the spectacle I witnessed last week surprised me because not only was it an exhibition of talented dancing horses, but also a flamenco performance. While the Andalusian horse is known to be an ancient breed and the tradition of flamenco has its own old folkloric origins, the combination of the two has become a modern tradition that celebrates longstanding Spanish culture, but with its own twist.
The show in the Royal Stables of Córdoba opened with a single flamenco dancer. Silently walking toward a platform placed in the middle of the arena, all eyes were on her. Suddenly, she burst into dance, rhythmically stomping on the boarded ground beneath her with a ferocious emotional intensity. From the energetic snaps of her fingers to the pounding of her heels, her movement expressed a relentless passion for which she need not utter a single word.
While exiting the arena, a horse and his rider trotted in to the sound of a Spanish guitar strumming in the background. Thus commenced the Andalusian horse show. Led by his rider, the horse pranced with elegance and poise, beast and man performing as one.
As the show continued, more horses and their riders entered the arena doing complex formations. At one point, the horses showed how they could jump into midair, stand on their hind legs, and even – believe it or not – dance flamenco.
Towards the end of the show, the adorable flamenco dancer once again walked into the arena, this time followed by a beautiful brown Andalusian horse and his rider. The dancer and the horse followed one another, dancing to the music, mirroring each other in an enthralling performance. When the last number was done, all in the audience cheered the magnificent display of Spanish culture.
Flamenco clubs may now be found across the globe, spreading this unique tradition throughout different cultures, but there are very few places that incorporate both Andalusian horses and flamenco dancers into one matchless performance.
If you ever have the chance to visit Córdoba, this is a marvel that you cannot afford to pass up, a spectacle that will stay in your memory forever as not only a celebration of Spanish art but of the passion of life.