Allison Mathy on Lusitano Stallion Vaquarius (Cielo) and her mother Carolyn Carroll on Lusitano Stallion Andiamo from Flying Cloud Farm 2013 Christmas Show.
It's a great time to be an Iberian horse enthusiast. An influx of imports and domestic-breds have made these once hard-to-find horses easier to come by and new events and activities, like western dressage and working equitation, have given enthusiasts more showcases for these spectacular and versatile breeds.
The Andalusians of Spain and the Lusitanos of Portugal are the best known of the breeds that hail from Europe's Iberian peninsula and thus fall under that broad banner. By any name, these breeds are thriving in California and throughout the West.
To get an update on these trends, California Riding Magazine editor Kim F. Miller checked in with Allison Mathy, Region 1 chairperson for the International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association. Handily, Allison is also a US Dressage Federation gold medalist and an accomplished trainer, based at Flying Cloud Farm in Petaluma. Plus, she's the proud owner of the Lusitano stallion Vaquarius, who is on track to become one of the top FEI horses of his breed. In short, she's uniquely positioned to comment on how and why these beautiful and athletic horses are making their mark.
Kim: How are things going for these breeds?
Allison: Enthusiasm for these breeds is really growing in the U.S. Several breeders have imported good quality stock, from Spain, Portugal, Brazil and even Mexico. And US breeders are producing some really wonderful and successful stallions. My own stallion was bred in Oregon, for example. And because many of these programs have been around for several years, you can see offspring over several generations and find patterns of proven success.
There is also a strong market for crosses with these horses. IALHA has half-breed divisions in which they are showing very successfully and that is spurring growth, too.
Kim: Who's leading the way in this groundswell of enthusiasm?
Allison: A lot of adult amateurs are drawn to Spanish and Portuguese horses for their rideability, trainability and intelligence. I sense that some people are tired of the issues sometimes associated with Warmbloods. Lusitanos and Andalusians enjoy working and they enjoy dressage. It comes easily to them and they look forward to the work.
I hope that part of it is coming from IALHA's breed recognition program at open, rated dressage competitions. The program is now in its third year and it is offered at shows around the country.
Allison on Cielo and her mother
Carolyn Carroll on Quarteto do Top.
Mother-daughter, Father-son pas de deux.
Kim: It's been 18 years since Spain's Evento became the first Pura Raza Española to compete in Olympic dressage. How are these horses doing in open dressage competition now?
Allison: Internationally quite well. Here in the U.S. the national dressage judges are starting to recognize their talent. Things are getting much better on that front. Ten years ago, you'd be the only one riding a Spanish or Portuguese horse in an open dressage show and now there are typically 10 to 20. That's really exciting to see.
At the same time, I have a personal mission to see more of these horses in upper level dressage. I see really quality horses at breed shows, but the owners and trainers don't show them in dressage and a lot of them could be fabulous dressage horses. I hope to see more top-notch professional riders start showcasing these horses at the top levels of the sport. It's a matter of matching the right riders, horses and breeders. For a lot of our breeders, their priority is breeding and the IALHA and ANCCE shows are great for that. But it would help the breed if more of these spectacular horses were out campaigning on the open dressage circuit and CDI competitions as well.
Sabine Schut-Kery is someone who has done a wonderful job presenting Spanish horses to the dressage world. Kristina Harrison and Rociero were also great ambassadors for the breed. I hope we see more combinations like that.
Kim: What about disciplines beyond dressage?
Allison: Yes, that's part of their growing popularity. People are discovering that, because these horses are so versatile, they can excel in a variety of disciplines. That dovetails with the emergence of western and/or cowboy dressage and with working equitation, the ranchwork-based sport that's new to the U.S. but well-known in Portugal, where it originated. Naturally, Lusitanos, being from Portugal, are very good at that.
As Americans' interest in this breed grows, these horses are finding more places to flourish with these new and/or newly introduced disciplines.
Allison and Cielo competing in Dressage.
Kim: How accessible are Iberian horses in terms of their prices and how many there are to choose from? Hasn't that been issue in the past?
Allison: They are definitely more accessible in the States than they were 20 years ago. The fact that good horses are being bred domestically means you can buy a very nice horse without the import expenses associated with purchasing a horse in Europe.
As with any horse, you always have to pay for talent and training. If you can handle a younger horse, you can save money there, but then spend it on training over time.
Kim: As the name, International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association, conveys, these two are the main Iberian breeds. As a generality, how do they differ?
Allison: I think of the Portuguese horse, the Lusitano, as more of a sports model and the Spanish horse, the Andalusian, as the more glamorous. That's not to say the Spanish horses are not athletic. They are. But the Lusitanos were always bred for sport, and when the Spanish stopped breeding for sport, meaning bull fighting, the style shifted.
As with any breed, different lines will have different characteristics and strengths. However it is important to look at each horse individually. The beloved Grand Prix dressage star Fuego de Cardenas, for example, is considered a Spanish horse, but if you look at his lines going back there is a lot of Portuguese blood in there.
Cielo, Western Pleasure Champion
at Fiesta of the Spanish Horse 2012.
Kim: What events do you recommend for people who want to learn more about these breeds?
Allison: The association's website, www.IALHA.org, has a calendar of shows that is a good place to start. Our regional championships come up in August and our national competition takes place in October in Ft. Worth, TX. This is a big, fun event that is important for breeders and competitors. Even if you don't plan to compete, it's a great opportunity to see what's out there, to meet people and gain insights. IALHA's board of directors has a meeting in July in Sacramento to which all members are invited.
The Fiesta of the Spanish Horse (May 1-4 at the Los Angeles Equestrian Center) is an IALHA sanctioned show and there will be many members there and plenty of information.
Kim: Tell us about your own stallion, Vaquarius, or Cielo…
Allison: I knew his father Quarteto do Top (who Allison's mother later purchased) from having seen him compete when I was younger. I had always wanted to own a Lusitano and when I had the chance to work with and train several, that affirmed the desire. When I got into a position to buy a horse of my own, I sought out one of Quarteto's offspring and found Cielo. That was November of 2009, when he was 7.
When I first bought him everybody at my barn then thought I was crazy. He'd been started under saddle at 4, but had just had 30 days of training and then was mostly left alone as a young stallion. Thanks to his wonderful temperament, he was always easy to work with, but he was a bit of a challenge when it came to riding him and that's why some people questioned me.
I knew his father and have always thought Cielo was almost a clone of him, so I knew his "stuff" was a matter of not having had the training and I worked through it. He is available for breeding now, but I am not pushing that very hard because I want to wait until we are competing at the FEI level. As a breeder, I feel it's important to establish the talent and trainability, along with the beauty – to show that it's not just a pretty picture.
Kim: What's going on at your training business, Lyric Dressage?
Allison: It has really taken off. We are completely full with a waiting list and I am very happy with that. About 60 percent of my clients are riding Spanish and Portuguese horses and the other 40 percent have Warmbloods and other breeds. Several people have come with a Warmblood, or an intent to buy one, then have switched over to an Iberian horse.
I have a great group of clients and I'm very lucky to come to work at a beautiful facility at Flying Cloud, with great stable owners, Jim and Jeannette Bell.
Kim: I hear that your annual Christmas show has become quite spectacular.
Allison: Yes! We've had about 200 people attend in the last few years. It's an exhibition in which all of my students perform for family and friends. We do quadrilles, pas de deux, and pas de trois (routines performed by two or three horse/rider pairs) and musical freestyles. Flying Cloud is a full event center and the arena has a great viewing area attached, so the audience enjoys the show in a comfortable, gracious setting. When I first suggested the idea, the Bells were very supportive and it's just kept growing.
Lyric Dressage student, Katy Sommers on her P.R.E. Stallion Garabato, Flying Cloud Farm Christmas Show 2013.
Kim: So that must involve the gorgeous costumes that seem to be part of the Spanish horse experience.
Allison: There are very traditional costumes that are part of the pomp and circumstance that goes along with these horses. The outfits and the tack are also a point of pride in that they reflect how the horses would be showcased in their native country.
Kim: Thank you Allison and continued success to you.
Allison: You're welcome.
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