The Spanish horse world is mourning the loss of Miguel Ángel de Cárdenas—one of the most highly esteemed Pura Raza Española (PRE) breeders in the world. Señor Cárdenas passed away Feb. 6 in Spain at the age of 83. His beloved Fuego XII became his most notable Caballos de Cárdenas ambassador to the U.S. after the magnificent stallion and Olympic dressage rider Juan Manuel Muñoz brought the audience to its feet during their electrifying freestyle performance at the World Equestrian Games (WEG) in Kentucky in 2010.
Sometimes we experience magical moments that we cherish for a lifetime. Such was the case for me when I was fortunate enough to be in the grandstand at the WEG in Kentucky where I was captivated by Juan Manuel and his mount Fuego as they captured my heart along with the hearts of countless fans worldwide. Several years later, more such memories were made when my curiosity and passion for Spanish horses landed me at the Cárdenas farm in Andalusia during one of my annual equestrian trips to Spain. Not only did I enjoy meeting Fuego and spending time with Juan Manuel, Señor Cárdenas personally welcomed me and guided my tour, which was indeed an honor. His aristocratic grace, reverence for his exquisite PRE horses and gentle kindness that day will forever be emblazoned on my mind. After visiting the stables and walking the grounds, we sat in his office, where he shared photos, books and some of his accolades with me as his soft eyes glowed with pride. When I returned home, I pored over a special book that he gifted to me, Cárdenas—Horses and Home, and delved further into his life. From the beautiful photographs and storytelling, I caught a glimpse into his past, his journey with his horses and his accomplishments.
Señor Cárdenas had an immeasurable passion for Spanish horses as well as a deep appreciation for beauty, art and history, and he lived a life that was richly steeped in tradition and excellence. He grew up in the city of Écija in the province of Seville and loved horses since he was a young boy. His parents inherited farmland and livestock from their families and his father began breeding PREs in the 1940s, marking the beginning of the carefully established and exceptional Yeguada de Cárdenas bloodlines. (The Cárdenas PRE bloodlines are among the oldest found in the United States.) After the passing of both of their parents, he and his younger brother, Pedro, divided the family’s herd. In keeping with Andalusian customs, Pedro inherited their father’s brand. With his brother’s blessing, Señor Cárdenas later created his own brand by adding a “C” around the two yokes and anchor that was their father’s brand. (The anchor originated from their grandfather’s brand.)
With an unwavering commitment to perfection, Señor Cárdenas carried on his family’s PRE lineage and he and his horses won countless championships, honors and awards for decades. He was a founding member of the National Purebred Spanish Horse Breeders’ Association, or ANCCE, a member of the Spanish Academic Forum of Equestrian Studies and he garnered numerous awards and titles, including 12 Champion of Spain recognitions, which is the most coveted breeder honor in Spain. Of all his horses, it was Fuego XII who captivated him in a way that no other horse had. “In the old days, we bred for beauty. Now we breed for beauty and movement,” he once reflected when admiring the stallion. Much to Senor Cárdenas’ delight, Fuego XII represented Spain in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, the 2010 WEG and the 2012 London Olympics.
Juan Manuel recently reflected on his 16-year career as a rider with the Cárdenas stables with great fondness. “Miguel Ángel was very focused on the success of his stallions, especially Clásico, Ecuador, Vándalo, Genio Mac, Utrerano and, of course, Fuego. He would come to the riding arena to observe the daily work and he traveled with us to all the doma classica competitions. He was always the first one to get to the competition arena and the first one to applaud all the participants. He traveled with us around the world—Italy, France, Germany, Belgium, Austria, Hong Kong, England, Holland and the USA—and was very happy about the accomplishments of his PRE horses. I am deeply grateful for Miguel Ángel and his wife, Maria del Carmen, and for all that we experienced together.”
Gracing a page in the Cárdenas’ book that I now treasure, there is a phrase inscribed alongside a serene photo of mares that, though Señor Cárdenas did not coin it himself, seems fitting for his life and passing: “God forbid that I should go to any heaven in which there are no horses.”
May you live on in heaven surrounded by horses and in the hearts of PRE lovers throughout the world, Miguel Ángel de Cárdenas.