In Jerez de la Frontera, in Spain’s south, things are like the Sherry wines which this city concocts: made potent. And here things follow flamenco: they are done with art, with individuality, style, and with emotion. Here in the city of the horse, equitation is no different, becoming, like any other skill, an art, leaving behind the original utilitarian purpose to create something both aesthetic – as with, say, literature, pottery – and communicative – like, for example, dance or song. Wanting to understand the role of horse riding in jerezano culture, Lives and Times visited the Andalusian Royal School of Equestrian Art, and there talked to veteran rider Juan Rubio Martínez about the art of horsemanship.

Real Escuela Arte Equestre-15

The Andalusian Royal School of Equestrian Art occupies a palatial estate in the heart of the city, where for four decades trainers and riders have learnt, perfected, and protected the arts of Classical and “Airs Above the Ground” dressage. The public face of the school is in the exhibition ground where a twice-weekly dressage show is held. Here the visitor can see the riders and their horses perform the steps and jumps of the art: the Spanish Walk with the horse strutting out its forelegs, the floating Passage trot, the dramatic Capriola jump and kick, the still standing Pinffer trot, and the impressive Posada and Corveta, in which the horse, standing on his hind legs, hops forward.

The lands, the lands of Spain, the great, lonely, desert plains.
Gallop! Four-hoofed horse, rider of the people, under sun and moon.
Gallop! Gallop! Till you’re thrust into the sea.
Gallop! Gallop! Till you’re thrust into the sea.
They sound like the heart, they echo, echo in the horse’s clop…”

«Las tierras, las tierras, las tierras de España, las grandes, las solas, desiertas llanuras.
Galopa, caballo cuatralbo, jinete del pueblo, al sol y a la luna.
¡A galopar, a galopar, hasta enterrarlos en el mar!
¡A galopar, a galopar, hasta enterrarlos en el mar!
A corazón suenan, resuenan, resuenan las tierras de España, en las herraduras»

Rafael Alberti

Mounted atop one of these Carthusians is Juan Rubio Martínez, veteran rider of the school and teacher of new-comers. Juan Rubio came to the school some twenty five years ago, when he was a seventeen year old boy “just beginning to live”. “I came alone” he recounts, “with a lot of hope and so keen to learn”. He was just a country boy from Seville’s provinces, and he came to Jerez, to the city, and there discovered “a world, a world of experiences”. Twenty five years on, Juan Rubio still radiates – in his voice and in his face – something which in Spanish they call ilusion, or what in English we might describe as a wide-eyed curiosity, a keenness, an excitement to learn and to experience, and in this case, to teach.

Real Escuela Arte Equestre-12
Juan Rubio Martínez, Andalusian Royal School of Equestrian Art Rider

He arrived not knowing anything about horse riding, but within a short year he was already out in front of the public gaze performing the basic tricks of the trade. But what is difficult, what is interesting, is not so much the basic steps and jumps, but the communication, the horsemanship, and the art.

You can learn mechanics, photography, or cooking say, but then you have your own self, your personality, and you give it your own mark – Juan Rubio Martínez

Riding” he explains, “means sitting yourself on top of a horse”. Simple, but “you might ride very well, with a nice posture, nice position of the legs and nice positioning of your hands, but you’re a rock, an inert being: you’re hard as a rock and you can see that reflected in the horse”. For Juan, “a good rider is someone who is able to communicate with their horse in a way that’s not only physical, but which is also psychological”.

This physiological connection with the horse, he goes on, can reach a level where “the horse is yours and you are the horse’s: you’re both one another’s”. The point, he emphasises, isn’t the objective – to make the horse do this or that step – but the manner in which you achieve that objective. That manner involves your own interpretation, as “you can learn mechanics, photography, or cooking say, but then you have your own self, your personality, and you give it your own mark”. For Juan, his mark is a fluid horse: “the horse, in its body movements, has to be elastic, loose, permeable and keen.” Searching for an analogy, Juan takes that of dance: “It’s not the same for a girl to dance Classical dance than to dance for the sake of dancing… The movement is fluid, elastic, and requires preparation and warming up”.

Real Escuela Arte Equestre-2

How do you see this in a rider, I ask him, how does someone ignorant to the techniques of riding see this looseness, this connection, this fluidity? It is difficult, he tells me, but you must look at the horse: “it’s said that the horse transmits the character of the person” – if the horse is stressed, uncomfortable, then his rider is not communicating with the animal, but dominating it. “It’s there where the depth and the difficulty come from” – from the role and response of the horse – because it’s there where “there’s something deeper than the order (of the steps).. It’s very complex..” he concludes before getting dressed to go out into the public arena.

Real Escuela Arte Equestre

Horse-riding, then, is like any other art. It is more than mere mechanics, more than mathematics, more than skill and technique. It is communication between to conscious beings, a relationship, and it is a form of individual expression, a means which takes tried and tested techniques and forms to say something of the person performing it. Like dance or in dress, like in photography or writing, in pottery, gardening, cooking and conversation, like any skill whatsoever, this has the capability of transcending the utilitarian and even the aesthetic, and achieving the status of art. In Jerez de la Frontera, art abounds.

Lives and Times needs your help…

If you like what you see on Lives and Times, then please share this article with your friends.

Lives and Times has many more articles on Jerez de la Frontera. Why not start here, with this article on Jerez’s annual horse fair, or here, with an article about Jerez’s eternal allure.

Enter your email address to follow this blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.