A Spanish Fiesta in Guatemala

These thoroughbreds are not just another pretty rump and a well-formed fetlock. The breed of horses known as Lusitanos or the ‘Spanish Horse’ is noted as existing before Rome, and the historians in the early Roman eras, such as Plutarch, Plini and Seneca the Elder, remarked that the ‘˜breed was an example of beauty, docile, arrogant, valiant and ideal for war or sports.’

War is definitely not cost-effective for these shiny, glossy and multi-hued works of equine art: when they travel it is by air-conditioned tractor-trailers or on 747’s. They, just as their polo-playing counterparts around the world of the rich and famous, are treated to the best of the best. Latin America and the Mother Country, Spain, are the last bastions of dedicated horse lovers. From Peru, with its famed Pasos, to Nicaragua, these symbols serve as reminders and memories of the glory days of the Spanish Empire..Cortez, with thirteen horses, toppled the kingdom of Montezuma. Pizarro, with thirty horses (the original Pasos) conquered the mighty Incan Empire. Pedro de Alvarado, one of Cortez’ more bloody lieutenants, cleaned out and conquered what was left of the Mayan Empire, with some three hundred caballeros. The horse and the gun conquered more territory for Spain than she could absorb or minister. The horse, gun and the spur are still potent symbols of Latin machismo: Guatemalans are known as ‘˜chapines’ or ‘˜chapinas’ — .the Spanish word for the wearer of spurs is gachupine, which also meant “Spanish born’ as opposed to the more lowly ‘˜off shore’ natives.

Authenticity, blood and history are the very core of Latin society and nowhere else was that more apparent than at a three day fest of flesh, flash and finery that took place near the picturesque and international tourist city known as Antigua.

For a complete Spanish Horse Show to be authentic, only the authentic will do, and such was the case in Guatemala not long ago. Set outside the one-time colonial capital of everything between Mexico City and Peru known as La Antigua, is a sprawling some-times hotel that happens to have a nice-sized exercise field, stables and a large dark sand covered arena with bleachers, room for pavilions, impromptu lounges, an announcer’s stand and the occasional awning covered BMW or Land Rover for sale. To this venue came the 11th Central America Fiesta of the Horse, ‘˜de pura raza Espanola’.

One by one the magnificent beasts are led by their trainers to the open grass-covered field in the early morning, wearing light jockey-type saddles, to which the riders alight. The movements are slow at first, making wide circles and arabesque glides. First a walk and then a trot and then a canter, and their hooves begin prancing in a high stepping and perfect rhythm. Some of the riders are dressed as if they were in 18th Century Spain: highwaisted pants, a short vest over a long sleeved white shirt, a colorful sash and a flat-crowned wide brim sombrero of the same color as the ensemble. Add the high glossy boots of the finest leather, gloves, spurs and a long coachman’s style whip, plus an aristocratic profile and you have a rider as perfect as the horse. One by one, more horses are led into the paddy. Some are dark shiny ebony in color, others are dappled grey and a few are pure white: The Lusitano breed ages in the same fashion as their riders. When young, they’re brown and with the passing of the years, they gradually turn grey and then white. The dappled in-between stage is a glorious pastel of white and brown parchment-like patterns, with usually only the legs and nose retaining the darkness of youth.

The voice over the loudspeaker in the stadium begins to announce the last of the competition events: form, color and then equipage. The contestants, man and horse, plus handler or two line up for the opening gate. An older white mare, with her gawky dark colt by her side awaits. The youngster wants breakfast but this will have to wait. It’s show time in Guatemala, for the best of the best, the high stepping and prancing beautiful horses known as Lusitanos. The hundred thousand dollar cars? The parking lot was full of new Porsches, BMWs and Land Rovers: this wasn’t a Volkswagen event or crowd.

Sources: Asociacion Nacional de Criadores de Caballos de
Pura Raza Espanola (ANCCE) “Conquistadors’, Michael Wood