As you already know, Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Equestre is more than just a horse riding school. In fact, it’s a big museum where everything tangible and intangible is part of its unique collection. Horses and the ancient art of riding, stables and 4-year-long equitation program for apprentices, baroque architecture and exotic gardens, rare carriages and international awards are all parts of the exhibition. Everybody is welcome to see and experience the gems of this collection, which was started 40 years ago by Álvaro Domecq Romero with the support of the King and Queen of Spain
Nowadays, it is home to over 130 horses and a work place for more than a hundred people.
But let’s get started. Imagine yourself on the Duque de Abrantes avenue in Jerez de la Frontera. You enter the main gate and find yourself in the Botanical gardens, where native plants coexist with rare trees and flowers imported from all corners of the world.
Then you can follow one of the guides to the main stables.
The excursion will normally start in the famous tack room – genuine pride of the school. Here they introduce new students to instructors and award certificates after the training’s completion. The room is climate-controlled to preserve the flexibility of the tack leather.
Then you’ll be led to 5 main stables, consisting of 12 boxes each. They are set around the tack-room, forming a star-shape. The stables are named after the 5 most famous horses in the School’s history: Ruiseñor, Vendaval, Garboso, Valeroso and Jerezano.
Walk out to the left and you will get to the School’s Clinic, one of the best-equipped veterinary clinics in Spain.
But it’s time to go to the main arena to watch the world famous show “Cómo bailan los caballos Andaluces”. Despite looking authentically old, the Arena was built only in 1980, and now it can accommodate about 1,600 spectators simultaneously.
As visiting students of the school we were invited to watch the show from the VIP box, directly facing the arched door through which the riders enter the arena. There are 3 pairs of flags right above the main entrance: red and yellow for Spain, green and white for Andalusia and blue and white for Jerez de la Frontera.
The show starts with the demonstration of doma Vaquero. (It was great to see Joaquine wearing 19th century vaqueros clothes, riding one of the school’s grey stallions and smiling to us when he passed by in collected canter).
Usually the show, or the horse ballet as they call it sometimes, consists of six to eight different choreographies, so every time you visit you may see something new: “Horses of the Countryside” or fascinating carriage driving, “In the Sun of la Garrocha” or “Fair of Jerez”, “Elevated Airs” or “Domino on Horse”. The spectacle ends with “Sounds and Rhythm”, an intricate carousel formed by 8 riders on 8 grey stallions, with their mains pleated and wearing tassels, performing movements typical to the 18th century.
After the show you can go to the small gift shop, packed with other excited show visitors. It’s literally impossible to leave this place without buying some presents for your friends and relatives, and… (who are we kidding?) …mostly for yourself. :-) You can buy books and videos, standard souvenirs, like magnets and key-rings with Real Escuela logo, and something very unique to Spain – hand fans (it’s the first time I’ve seen that many fans used in real life, not in costume dramas or historical movies). But probably the best souvenirs you can find here are various leather goods made just meters away in the school’s saddlery room.
On the way to the saddlery room we see more stables with stunning Andalusian horses and a tiny zoo with two Przwalsky’s stallions. They are extremely friendly and will let you pat them for a handful of grass.
The Saddlery and Harness room. Not unlike taking Equitation course in the school, becoming a tack master will require you to study for 4 years. The saddlery building is divided into 2 large rooms: one is the saddlery workshop itself and the other contains an exhibition of the different saddle and harness types produced here. Also, you can see vaquero saddles in different stages of completion, used to demonstrate the steps of the process.
After saying good-bye to tack masters and taking a picture of a perfectly set tools-board (to remind ourselves that any process can be kept perfectly ordered) on the way to Equitation museum we pass by the outdoor training ring. This is exactly the place where two Olympic riders were practicing their Gran Prix moves.
And the second to last stop of our excursion – The Equestrian Art Museum set in the Recreo de las Cadenas, Palace, designed in 19th century by Charles Garnier, the same architect who designed the Paris opera house. Now the building is used as a museum and as a conference center.
The museum, opened in 2005, walks visitors through the over 6500-year history of equitation. You can see 27-century-old fragments of tack, excavated from the bottom of Guadalquivir river; and Punic coins depicting horses and riders; ceramic tiles from Carthusian Monastery of Jerez with pictures of horses performing airs and school’s awards; models of the Palace with holographic simulations and a diagram of equine evolution, surprisingly including some mythical horses. :-)
Dreaming about Olympic medals? This is probably the closest you can get to them. The Olympic medals of Ignacio Rambla and Rafael Soto (both born and raised in Jerez de la Frontera) are on constant exhibition there.
And our journey finishes in the Carriage museum. There are a lot of carriage museums in the world, but none are composed of vehicles, horses and harnesses at the same time. Interesting detail: the museum is set in the building previously occupied by Pemartin winery.
Take room cellar: Since 1986 the Fundacion Real Escuela has been acquiring carriages with their respective harnesses and tacks from a wide range of private collections. Here you can find various vehicles: Phaeton Guide and Landau, Cab and Spider, Duke and Dog carts.
But the gem of this collection is the carriage which was used for Infanta Elena, the King of Spain’s elder sister’s wedding. Yep… This one
Stables: We were told that riding horses and horses used for the carriage driving are essentially the same breed. But early in their life, based on their individual characteristics, they will be selected either for riding or for carriage driving.
It’s kind of a cliché to say that horses are noble creatures, but horses in these stables just fall short of being mistaken for kings, as their names are often followed by Latin numbers: Gremio XXVII, Primaroso III, and so on. :-)
Costume room: here you can take a close look at different equestrian outfits.
Whew! Now you’ve seen everything. And I, despite just coming back from there already, cannot wait for my next visit to this ultimate university for riders.