The noble purebred Spanish horses (PREs) have been beloved cultural icons in Spain for centuries. Their majestic allure dates back to the historical warhorses of kings, and they have been steeped in tradition since ancient times. Today, PREs are as revered by Spaniards as their country’s celebrity bullfighters and flamenco artists while they continue to capture the hearts of riders and nonriders throughout the world. (The United States is home to the second-largest PRE herd outside of Spain.)
At the forefront of promoting the breed domestically and abroad is the Salon International del Caballo (SICAB)—a weeklong international horse show and salute to PREs that has been held annually in the beautiful city of Seville, in the province of Andalusia, for the past 25 years. The world-class event has been produced by the Asociación Nacional de Criadores de Caballos de Pura Raza Española (the National Purebred Spanish Horse Breeders’ Association, ANCCE) at the Palacio de Exhibiciones y Congresos convention center since 1991. ANCCE was founded in 1972 and boasts a membership of more than 1,000 PRE breeders and numerous associations worldwide. Since its inception, the association has played a key role in preserving the purity of the ancient PRE bloodlines and was appointed by Spain’s Ministry of Agriculture to manage the official PRE studbook.
With a breathtaking city backdrop of orange-tree-lined streets, horse-drawn carriages, prominent horse statues, ancient cathedrals, palaces and other architectural works of art, SICAB has grown exponentially since its trade fair beginnings and is recognized as the premier Spanish horse event globally. With 1,109 horses representing 329 stud farms, 321 vendors, 223,675 visitors and a television audience reaching 83 countries in November 2015, its tremendous economic impact (an estimated 30 million euros annually) ranks it the third most important event in the city of Seville after Semana Santa (Easter holy week) and Feria de Abril (April Fair).
Each year PRE horse competitions culminate at SICAB for an impressive gathering of the best of the breed. The main event attractions for breeders and buyers are the Spanish National Championship finals for PRE stallions and mares (conformation classes for horses ages 2 to 7-plus and under-saddle performances by those horses who are 4 and older) and the World PRE Championship. To further promote the breed and its versatility in equine sports the ANCCE Cup finals for dressage, alta escuela (high school dressage), doma vaquera (Spanish cowboy), carriage driving and show jumping also are held throughout the week. Rounding out the schedule is a noncompetitive daily show called Espectaculo that is an exquisite display of PRE performances at liberty and in a variety of disciplines.
The History of SICAB
SICAB evolved from the Campeonato de España (Spanish National Championship) that began in 1980 at Real Club Pineda in Seville—a prestigious country club that was established more than 70 years ago with equestrian events at the core of its social activities. The Championship was held annually through 1986 until future events were abruptly cancelled when Spain’s equine world was devastated by an outbreak of African horse sickness (AHS), which is a viral disease commonly found in sub-Saharan Africa that is transmitted by insects and causes respiratory and circulatory impairment. The spread of the disease was linked to infected zebras that were imported to Spain from Namibia and was not fully eradicated from Spain, Portugal and Morocco until 1991. During the years that aggressive measures were taken to eliminate AHS, Spain’s borders were closed to equines. Equestrian events in Spain were banned until 1990 and all sales of PREs abroad were prohibited until 1992.
When the ban on horse competitions and gatherings was lifted, ANCCE organized a horse show at the convention center in Seville in 1990. It was called EXPOGAN and was open to PREs and other breeds. The following year, ANCCE entered a long-term agreement with the convention center and created a PRE-only trade fair, which was the beginning of SICAB in 1991. It was the organization’s mission to showcase the beauty and disposition of Spanish horses, preserve the breed by reviving the breeding industry in the aftermath of the AHS tragedy and shed the traditional “for aristocrats only” perception to make PREs more accessible to people domestically and internationally.
The inaugural SICAB event was a tremendous success with approximately 100,000 visitors, 500 horses and 20 vendors occupying two-thirds of the convention center. The event grew rapidly and in 1992 the entire convention center was needed to accommodate the participants and visitors. In 1993, SICAB was officially proclaimed an international event and by 1997 the ANCCE Cup competitions were added to the program to showcase the versatility of the breed in equestrian sports. ANCCE leadership sights remained steadfastly set on the future of SICAB as it continued to grow over the years. The event not only survived the latest global economic crisis—it thrived and attendance and entrants have more than doubled since the first event.
Excellence has been at the heart of SICAB since the very beginning. The bar was raised once again last year with the addition of the first annual PRE World Championship. “We strive to maintain the achievements of the past 25 years,” says Juan Tirado Agudo, president of ANCCE. “SICAB is where the most important awards are granted to the finest riders and horses. That is precisely why we launched the World PRE Championship in 2015, which, by the way, was won by a stallion [Romero de Trujillo] from a stud farm in the U.S. Both this competition and the ANCCE Cup Final for dressage are solely for the very best horses that have previously qualified at various lesser events held throughout the year.”
SICAB is a celebration of PREs that is a sophisticated merging of history, competition, showmanship, breeders, horse buyers, equestrian professionals, horse enthusiasts, equine-related shopping and entertainment. Since its inception, the event has been endorsed by Spanish royalty (King Felipe VI is the current honorary president) and regularly attracts political figures as well as celebrities from the music, film and sports worlds. It occupies 246,062 square feet of space with most of the activities taking place in three indoor exhibition pavillions. One pavillon is dedicated to beautifully appointed breeder hospitality booths for meetings and socializing, breeder-related vendors, a PRE genealogy/studbook booth, the ANCCE office and the arena where the preliminary conformation competitions take place. The second pavillion houses equine commercial displays and vendors and also includes an arena for doma vaquera, alta escuela and other exhibitions. The main arena with an adjacent warm-up arena is located in the third pavillion, where the entertainment performances, dressage, conformation finals, show-jumping and carriage-driving competitions are held. Temporary horse stalls for stallions and a practice arena are located outdoors near the main arena pavilion with the mares housed in temporary stalls away from the stallions alongside the breeders pavillion.
SICAB is a must-attend event for PRE breeders, owners and enthusiasts. According to Maria O’Brien, a California breeder who is the vice president of international relations for the Albuquerque-based Foundation of the Pure Spanish Horse, “SICAB is magical. I love the genealogy and have gone every year since 1999. It makes me a better breeder to see the results of the breeding and to see the best horses. I also go to see friends who I have made there over the years. I think it is an amazing opportunity for anyone who loves PREs to see them competing and to see how versatile they are in so many disciplines.”
Competitions commence on Tuesday with finals on Saturday and Sunday. The emotionally moving and often adrenaline filled Espectaculo kicks off the week in grand style. It is performed each evening and Saturday afternoon to the delight of horse lovers of all ages and is the final act of SICAB. Performances include dressage, airs above the ground, doma vaquera, carriage driving, military-mounted and in-hand presentations and more. In 2015, the Spanish military opened the event with a salute to the French flag and a moment of silence for the victims of the terrorist tragedy in Paris that happened just days before.
Throughout the week, presentations of horses for sale take place at the end of each day (Wednesday through Saturday) and are highly anticipated by interested buyers and breeders. It is estimated that roughly 50 percent of international PRE horse sales occur during SICAB and the weeks preceding and following the event. For those shoppers not in the market for a horse, there is an abundance of equestrian-related goods and services available for purchase at the 300-plus vendor booths. From exercise walkers, trailers and beautifully appointed coaches to arena footing, saddles, tack, boots, apparel and jewelry, there is something for everyone to take home from SICAB. International visitors especially covet the handmade leather goods that Spain is famous for, and there is plenty of Spanish beer, wine, sherry and traditional food on hand to enhance everyone’s shopping and entertainment experiences.
Dressage at SICAB 2015
In addition to the tremendous promotional success of SICAB, international Spanish dressage competitors (most notably Rafael Soto, Ignacio Rambla, Ignacio Lopez, Juan Matute, Juan Manuel Munoz and José Antonio García Mena) have also elevated awareness of PREs in recent years. Riders from the Spanish national dressage team (past and present), the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez and other Spanish dressage competitors were seen throughout the week in support of the 2015 event.
“Visitors from all over the world get a unique opportunity to observe these magnificent animals altogether under one roof for one week of the year to gain insight into what they should be striving for in breeding, purchasing or training of their own PRE,” says Soto. “For me, it is a chance to meet with many friends and acquaintances to discuss the tendencies in breeding and in the various disciplines and to see the prospects of up-and-coming horses.”
Preliminary dressage classes for young horses (ages 4 to 7) took place on Tuesday with finals on Wednesday and Thursday. Prix St. Georges and kür competitions were on the Wednesday and Thursday competition rosters and the dressage Grand Prix and alta escuela competitions were schedule highlights on Friday. Dressage competitions concluded with the kür and alta escuela finals on Saturday and Sunday. A special retirement ceremony was held Saturday evening for José Antonio García Mena’s Spanish national dressage team partner, PRE stallion Norte Lovera. Before the curtain closed on another successful SICAB event, Soto and Jose Maria Sanchez brilliantly entertained the audience with their final pas de deux performance of the week during the show Sunday night.
“On a personal note, I have very fond memories of SICAB, which is where the idea of forming a Spanish Olympic dressage team with Spanish horses started to take shape,” says Soto. “When Ignacio Rambla rode Evento in a demonstration Grand Prix test many years ago, the judges realized that the PRE could certainly perform at international and Olympic level dressage. I was chosen to be part of that first Olympic team in Atlanta, Georgia, in 1996 with a very young Invasor. Ignacio and Evento finished in a very meritorious individual 11th place.” (Soto and Rambla brought home silver medals eight years later from the 2004 summer Olympic Games in Athens, Greece.)
A simple photo caption on the ANCCE website “pura raza, puro corazon” (purebred, pure heart), succinctly speaks to the magnificence of PREs and the passionate admiration of those who celebrate them. Given their widespread appeal and the unwavering dedication of ANCCE to preserve and promote the breed, it is not surprising that an estimated 4 million visitors have attended SICAB over the past 25 years. Plans for the November 2016 event are currently underway.
Diane Barber lives in Los Angeles and is a freelance lifestyle writer and interior designer. She is a dressage enthusiast with an affinity for Spain and a passion for Spanish horses. She travels to Spain frequently to train with Rafael Soto and his protégé, Vivi Garcia.
For more information, visit ancce.es, sicab.org and visitasevilla.es.