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Spanish History
La Yequada Militar
By Maria Paz Murga Igual

Mares of La Yeguada Militar

     La Yeguada Militar, or la Yeguada for short.  To those who know Arab horses, these words represent over a hundred years of selective breeding from the best sources in the world.  In Spanish, “Yeguada” means “broodmare band,” or stud; and since it is a government-run department, one really should say “Jefatura de la Cria Caballar,” meaning Horse Breeding Headquarters.
     The Cria Caballar runs seven Stallion Depots in Spain, and owns several farms in different locations for raising several breeds of horses.  The Arabian Stud is in the heart of horse-breeding country, near Jerez de la Frontera, where the climate and terrain are most conducive to the breeding of horses.
     In Spain, horse breeding has always been in the hands of the State.  The first know laws about horses go as far back as 1347, under King Alfonso XI.  Before this, in 711, the Arabs invaded Spain and remained for eight hundred years.  But in spite of the beautiful and romantic idea of thousands of warriors conquering these lands mounted on splendid Arabian horses, history proves otherwise.  Most of the warriors came on foot – the Arabs were the chiefs, the leaders, those who possessed their spirit of conquest through their religion.  As all wars have their own “ultimate weapon,” the Moslems certainly had the astounding quality of their Arabian horses.  Selected through the centuries by hard work, scanty food and harsh climate, those horses were the deciding factor in the Moslem Wars of Conquest, and thus, the exceptional quality of the Arabian breed was well-known in Spain by the time the Royal Stud was founded in 1820.  Certainly Arabians must have been among those stabled there, but we known nothing for certain until the first Stud Book was published in 1847.
     The Stud Book is in the hands of the Ministry of War, as the horses were considered a war machine, and the State controlled everything related to war.  And although the first registration in the Stud Book is a horse named Abayoul, a dark bay, bred in the desert in 1849 by the tribe of Fedaan Anaze, and his papers say that he was imported from the desert by Her Majesty the Queen Isabella II, we cannot take this literally, as at that time the countries in Europe were undergoing changes in government, during which the State, as we know it, replaced those countries’ kings.  So the Royal Stud then was the same as the La Yeguada Militar.
     In 1849-50, General Marchesi, who was in charge of what is now the Cria Caballar, sent a Military Commission to the desert, from which they returned with 24 stallions, 12 mares, and 12 colts.  Unfortunately, the military had no intention of breeding any more purebreds, so these horses were allotted to the newly reorganized Stallion Depots, supposedly to upgrade the existing horse population.  However, by 1884, no trace of those early importations remained, and no thought had been given to whether or not more purebred Arabians would be needed in the future.
     The 1850 importation was made by order of the Ministry of Agriculture, although the Commission was composed of military men and veterinarians.  In 1864 the Cria Caballar came under the control of the War Office, and there it has remained except for a calamitous five-year lapse (1931-1936).
 In 1880, a great number of Arabians also began to be imported from France.  While the French breeder had bred excellent Arabian horses, they also virtually ignored several of their best, such as the Godolphin Arabian, one of the three founding sires of the Thoroughbred breed.  This stallion was found pulling a cart in the streets of Paris by an Englishman who realized how good he was, despite the circumstances that had made him a cart horse.  It wasn’t until later when the breeding of the Anglo-Arab became important in France, that horses were selected and imported for the purpose of producing this breed.
     When one looks at the old French pedigrees, one realizes how important and knowledgeable the French breeders were.  They imported from the desert continually, and they knew what to breed.  Their local stock – it was not until 1908 that the Cria Caballar decided not only to import a great number of horses and mares from the desert and Poland, but also that these would be the foundation stock for a herd of purebred Arabians.
     Twenty stallions and twenty mares came in this first importation in 1908.  These Arabians were all excellent, and were bred to mares from Syria that were imported in 1902.  Some of them still appear in pedigrees today, so they must have been good.  Among them were Bint, Ymm, Yamila and Ab (formerly Koheilan Krousch) – very far back, to be sure, but still there.
     It was in 1908 that two very important horses came to Spain:  Seanderich from the Orient and Nowik from Poland.  At that time there were 52 purebred Arab mares at the Yeguada Militar, which is quite a few, as the number is usually between 20 and 30 but rarely higher than that.  In Spain, the Arab competes with the Andalusian, and when the Yeguada was in Cordoba, a stronghold of the Andalusian horse, the Yeguada made it a point of honor to have a herd of over 100 Andalusian mares, and the Arab mares were very restricted in number.  Now that the Yeguada is again in Jerez, the number of Arab mares is around 30.
     The pedigrees from the desert give no description of the horses themselves.  They always begin with praises to God, the Almighty, the Merciful, then continue with a much longer description of the importance of the family who bred that particular horse, or even its dam or sire.  Sometimes at the end, as an afterthought, a reference is made about the horse, usually that the sire and dam of that horse, as well as all his forebears, have belonged to the tribe and the family “since the memory of man.”  This pedigree is added to the description in our own Stud Book, where the strain – Hamdani, Koheilan, Saglavy – is regarded as the names of the horses’ sire and dam.  We may assume, however, that these horses were of excellent quality because the people on the Commissions had a great deal of knowledge about Arabians and they would never return with horses that might make them look ridiculous.  Because the risks of traveling were so great young horses in good health were usually chosen.  Older horses that were chosen must have been of superior quality.  Despite the mistakes that have been made at one time or another with their matings or with the sale of horses that should have been kept, the Yeguada Militar has nevertheless bred an excellent group of Arabians.
     Another important fact for those who are interested in the roots of the Spanish Arabian is that since the Stud Book belongs to a government department, all original papers are inspected, approved of, and kept by the department.  This makes the Spanish Stud Book one of the most interesting, and authentic stud books in the world.  Even when the Stud Book gives only a slight description of the names or strain of a particular horse, one can always go to the archives, dig out the original language and the translation, every detail that is known about the horse.
     The annual breeding program begins when a commission from the Yeguada Militar travels to the Stallion Depot, located in Jerez on the outskirts of town.  The Yeguada is several kilometers away, at a farm called Cortijo de Vicos.  There at the Depot the best stallions are paraded before the officers, who choose the ones they want for the stud that year.  The rest are leased to private breeders, and those not requested are sent to the villages around Andalucia, where people owning one or two mares are able to breed them to a Government-owned stallion that not only has full papers but also has been bred and selected for his breeding duties by careful and knowledgeable breeders.
     In the Stud Book of 1908 and 1909 there is ample proof that Arabian stallions were used to improve the local horse population, as 65 stallions are listed, while only 52 mares belonged to the Yeguada.  Of these 65 stallions, 26 were imported from the desert, 16 from Poland, 15 from France, and eight were offspring of the imported stock at the Yeguada Militar – quite a novelty!
     By the year 1915, the Yeguada Militar had its own home-bred stallions, as well as imports from Poland, the desert and Egypt.  From Egypt came Korosko, a “most important horse” according to those who remember him, and also Sabat El Heir and another horse named Saglaoui, which clearly tells us his strain.  Korosoko was entirely a Hamdani Simry, and Sabat El Heir was of Saglavy descent, bred by the Ruelli tribe.
     Sdrak-Habery was another Egyptian import, but as he is nowhere to be found in pedigrees, which is the same fate that befell Saglaoui, they are scarcely of interest now.  One cannot help wondering at the senseless waste of all these imports.  There were outstanding horses, and undoubtedly a lot of trouble and expense to bring to Spain, only to read later that the horse was used “as a mount for the Colonel.”  Most of the stallions were bred only to common mares and remained unknown.  Even such well-known horses as Seanderich and Ursus owe their fame to the luck of being seen one day by a private Arabian breeder.  But I shall speak of this later.
     Certainly, the beginning of this century was the heyday of breeding Polish Arabs, and Spain imported the best stallions and mares that could be bought.  By the 1920s the Yeguada could boast of a superior class of Arab horse.
     The Yeguada began selling Arabians to several private breeders – the Marquis of Domecq and Don Jose Maria Ybarra.  Other breeders imported directly from England or Egypt through France.  However, whenever those mares were to be used for breeding, they were bred to stallions of the Yeguada or the Cria Caballar.  Until 1931, with the advent of the Republic, we can be certain that Spain had the best bloodlines to be found anywhere, mostly at the National Stud, but also in the hands of private breeders.
     During the Republic, the administration of the Yeguada Militar was under the direction of the Department of Agriculture, who, unfortunately, had revolutionary ideas about horse breeding, resulting in the sale or disappearance of most of those precious imports, even those that had arrived as recently as 1927.  Our Civil War (1936-1939), with all the resultant ruin to our country, interrupted the Arabian breeding program, and until the 1960s the Arab horses suffered from a lapse of interest in the breed.  But a seed of interest still remained, and as soon as this was revived, we turned to the Yeguada for the excellent bloodlines in their stallions and mares.
     Perhaps I should add that in the 1940s new bloodlines were added to the Yeguada.  During our Civil War, the Duke of Veragua was assassinated – the prinicple motive for his murder being that he was the last direct male descendant of Christopher Columbus.  This man was a great landowner and had dedicated his life to breeding Arabian horses.  He had some of the best bloodlines in the world, having brought all the stock from the Marquis of Domecq in Spain and 17 mares and two stallions from England.  Among these mares were five Skowronek daughters.  Despite the Duke of Veragua’s tragic death, his horses had already be requisitioned, if robbery can be so described, by the Republican Government.  The Nationalist troops controlling the part of the province of Toledo where the stud farm was located were Calvary troops, and they realized immediately the importance of the horses they had just found.  Although many mares and foals had already died, the rest were taken to the Yeguada Militar in Cordoba.  Later, the Yeguada bought them from the Duke’s heirs for the National Stud.  Thus, another important addition was made to the bloodlines already there.
     All through the years there was one disquieting factor in the breeding of Arabians at the Yeguada: no one seems to have done any linebreeding.  I think that the men in charge of the Yeguada wanted an Arab horse that would be “Spanish,” so instead of breeding the mares from the desert to the stallions from the desert, they were almost always bred to Polish stallions.  The Yeguada also seemed to prefer using the stallions that were born from these matings.  Not that the results were anything by excellent, but it does seem a pity.  Incauta, bred by the Marquis of Domecq and born in 1923, is an example.  Her sire was Seanderich, and her dam was Baraja.  Baraja was by Van Dyck, a Polish stallion; her dam Pelotera was born at the Yeguada Militar from entirely Polish sources (Jeliotrop and Kebrebassa).  The results of this outcrossing were very good, and this must be why they continue with it.  Those of you who have met Don Luis Domecq might recognize him as the young man in Incauta’s side in the photograph.
     Today the mares at the Yeguada live the quiet, unadorned, simple life of the herd.  They are cared for by soldiers who take them out to graze and bring them back to the water trough in the afternoon.  And this, indeed, is a beautiful sight.  The Arabs race in with their tails in the air and their manes floating in the wind.  One can imagine the romance of the desert and the Wind of the South because there are few sights as wonderful in this world as watching Arab horses galloping in liberty!

Copyright 2004 by the Spanish Arabian Horse Society. 
All rights reserved.  No part of this article may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted, in any form, or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording or otherwise, without prior written permission of the author. 

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