Iberian Horses

By: Horse Deals


Iberian horses are becoming a main attraction in the show ring. Horse Deals finds out what’s involved and how their appeal is growing

Iberian Horses
Showing off - Iberian-style

Iberian horses are becoming a main attraction in the show ring. HORSE DEALS finds out what’s involved and how their appeal is growing


Over the past few years, Iberian horses have attracted an ever-increasing number of new devotees in the UK. At long last, they are being taken seriously as competition animals as well as being the ultimate pleasure horse — and for those who own and love them, the two often come together.
In the dressage arena, the purebred Spanish horse (Pura Raza Espanola, or PRE) and Lusitano are finding favour among riders and judges alike: British-based Finnish Olympic rider Kyra Kyrklund currently has a Lusitano stallion, PSL Rico, in training. Both breeds and their part-breds can also be found in show jumping, endurance and eventing.
Now they have moved into another mainstream arena: the show ring. At more than 20 shows this season, you could find in-hand and ridden classes for both breeds. Many offer riders the choice of competing either in English dress and attire or traditional Spanish or Portuguese tack and costume.
The latter proves a huge spectator draw and although some English showing riders at first dismissed the classes as "fancy dress", the message is getting through that traditional dress pays respect to the horses’ history and the way they are used.
After all, there’s no difference between a show hunter exhibitor wearing a tweed jacket and boots with garter straps and a PRE or Luso rider donning correct dress.
Although both English showing classes and those for Iberian breeds have the same aims, they are often organised along different lines and use different terms. For instance, while both assess horses’ conformation, in Iberian classes this will be referred to as "morphology". Similarly, while judges of English-style classes may talk of horses having a correct way of going, you will hear the term "functionality" used in relation to Iberians.
Although competing an Iberian horse in the show ring may seem like entering a new and bewildering world, there are plenty of people who will help you get it right. The two main societies, the British Association for the Purebred Spanish Horse (BAPSH) and the Lusitano Breed Society of Great Britain, have close connections and share some of the same members — when people fall in love with one breed, they are often also attracted to the other, and may end up owning both.
This is the case with Janine Pendlebury, whose family runs Pen Llyn Lusitano Stud in Gwynned. However, Janine tends to work mostly with Lusitanos and last year achieved a first when her spectacular Luso, Uivador da Bora, was the first British-owned stallion to be awarded a gold medal at a show Janine describes as "the Portuguese equivalent of the Horse of the Year Show". He was also champion male at the International Festival of the Lusitano Horse, in Lisbon.
"It’s always been my dream to send a horse to that show," says Janine, who bought the 17.1hh Uivador da Bora as a three-year-old. "Showing them in-hand is very different from the way it’s done here and you have to know what you’re doing. It takes months to teach them so that they show themselves off correctly and still stay in balance."
Both the format of in-hand classes and the way the horses are presented differ from those of English-style classes, though the aims are the same — to identify horses with good conformation, movement and star quality, which are true to type.
Anita Ashworth, membership secretary of the BAPSH, explains that Spanish horses are usually shown in a seretta, a headstall with a metal noseband that is also used in Portugal. Handlers use a long leadline attached to a ring on the centre of the noseband, allowing the horse to move freely; at the same time, it must be balanced.
Youngstock are shown in walk and trot and older horses show a few small circles of canter.
"You put them on the lunge circle in trot, then trot them out in the biggest extended trot possible, so you have to be able to run really fast!" explains Janine Pendlebury. "You don’t want to do too much with youngsters because you have to be careful not to put strain on their joints, so you just teach them a little bit and then teach them to extend."
To English eyes, the way the horses are trimmed may seem unusual, though perhaps the Spanish and Portuguese would say the same about our show cobs. While Iberian stallions have long manes, mares are hogged into a sharp-edged curve. Mares also have the top 6in of hair at the top of the tail clipped to the roots to show the conformation of the hindquarters and both colt and filly foals have their manes and tails clipped.
Yearlings are fully hogged and have clipped tails and when colts reach their second year, their tails are grown out. The bottom of the tail is left to grow naturally rather than being banged (cut straight across at the bottom) as is the case with British show horses. With two-year-old fillies, the top part of the tail is kept clipped.
"Although we ride mares here, in Spain their role is as a breeding animal," says Anita. "So in the in-hand classes, they’re assessed in terms of being a broodmare."
When the horses are inspected, they are stood four-square rather than with all four legs visible from the side, as in English-style classes. Judges give their assessments in a similar way to that used for UK gradings.
"There are often three judges and we use a points scoring system, with different aspects being marked out of 10," explains Anita.
Each judge is given a pre-printed sheet with a diagram of a horse divided into sections and marks each section according to the breed profile. Marks are also awarded for the quality of each pace and the overall winner is the one with the overall highest mark.
In ridden classes, you can choose to show your horse English-style, in English tack and dress, or follow the traditions of Spain or Portugal. If you follow the first option, think in terms of turning out your horse and yourself as for riding horse classes, though the ridden format differs slightly.
"Our ridden horses aren’t stripped for the judge," says Lorri Ould, a director of BAPSH. "They come into the arena and are ridden on both reins, then stood in line and asked to do individual displays. I like to suggest to judges that they look for walk, trot and canter with a simple or flying change, but competitors aren’t expected to do advanced movements."
Those captivated by the latter need to get expert advice, available from the BAPSH and the Lusitano Breed Society of Great Britain.
"A lot of people will stand outside the ring and see a Spanish horse and rider in costume and a Lusitano horse and rider in costume and think they look more or less the same," says Lorri. "But there are differences"

"The problem is that they don’t have show classes like we do. We need to formalise how showing should be done and we’re slowly getting there. The societies work closely together and next year, we’re organising a judges’ seminar where we’ll invite judges of English-style show horses to come along and meet leading judges of our breeds."
Proof that interest in the breeds is growing is the fact that at one time, you’d be lucky to find half a dozen shows where you could see or compete on them.
"This year, there were about 23," says Lorri. "We really want to be out there showing and we want to make the breeds accessible to everyone."
Advanced movements are kept for parade classes in costume.
"Although the training should be correct, it’s not necessarily about showing movements to the standard of advanced dressage, it’s about showing off your horse," said Lorri. "Think flashy and flamboyant!"
Finally, don’t miss out on the growing sport of working equitation, which has its origins in Portugal but is now a serious sport throughout Europe and attracting a growing number of enthusiasts in Britain.
In this country, it is open to all breeds but, because of its history, inevitably attracts those who ride and train Lusitanos and PRE horses.
A working equitation competition comprises three phases combining exercises on the flat and through obstacles. All are designed to show the correct training, athleticism and obedience of the horse and there are echoes of Western trail classes and barrel racing as well as conventional dressage. Several centres now offer lessons and courses, including Pine Lodge School of Equitation in Norfolk, Turville Valley Stud, Oxon, and Penn Llyn Classical Riding Centre, Gwynedd.
Devotees say that wherever your dreams lie, there is an Iberian horse that can make them come true. For pleasure or competition, they really do have a magic all of their own.
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