Tuesday, January 23, 2018

The Carthusian Horse

The Carthusian Horse: Horse of Kings, Thief of Hearts
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They have such a heart and they are so generous. They will give you even what they don’t have, they will try give to you.” – Mercedes Gonzalez Cort
 
“When a man mounts a Carthusian Horse, he imagines himself in heaven, without leaving earth.”  – Juan Llamas Perdigo
 
From ancient times, the important role of horses in cultures has been demonstrated through numerous pictorial testimonies. In the Iberian Peninsula in particular, it is known that horses already formed part of the everyday life activities in the earliest civilizations.  These activities were to gain importance in parallel to the rise of the large cities that spread across the land and whose main writers were to praise the magnificence of the horse.
 
The Arabs organized their armies to include a light cavalry, which was almost exclusively formed by Andalusian horses. From their first contact with the breed, the invaders admired the virtues of the Andalusian horse and their great triumph lay in conserving and strengthening the characteristics of the Spanish race itself.  This led to the creation of several important breeding centres and horses were even sent as gifts to Constantinople, Baghdad and other major cities throughout the Islamic Empire.
 
The importance that Arabs gave to horses during their reign in Spain can be reflected in the Spanish words "caballero" (gentleman/knight/horseman) and "caballerosidad" (gentlemanliness/chivalry), which originated in the Middle Ages to classify with honor the owners of these prized animals and their virtues, respectively.
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The internal struggles of the Muslim rulers and the long years of reconquest decimated the horse population. The considerable increase in agriculture and farming activities from the end of the reconquest, in addition to the low demand for the use of horses for purposes of war, saw horses being replaced by mules, which were much more practical for hard work.  Horses had to be protected from undesirable crossbreeding through various government decrees, along with the intervention of Religious Orders, which protected horses within their monasteries, as was the case of the Carthusian monasteries.
 
From its foundation towards the end of the XV century, the Monastery of La Cartuja has been converted into the cornerstone of the Jerezano thoroughbred horses. In the mid 1400’s, the production of armor for horse and rider was mastered. This meant the addition of 350lbs to the weight carried into battle.  A decree was issued by the Spanish military authority, directing the Spanish breeders to blend their pure Andalusian mares with Neopolitan drafts. A small group of family breeders refused to do so, and selected their best horses and hid them away in the Carthusian monastery, donated by a wealthy patron, Don Alvaro Obertos de Valeto.
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For almost 400 years, which coincided with the centuries of greatest splendor of the kingdom of Spain, the Carthusian monks established a breeding stock (and kept detailed breeding records) which, through time, would be converted into one of the most celebrated and appreciated stocks in the world. Around the year 1835, the government dissolved the church’s ownership of lands, which led to horses being carefully passed on and treasured by a small handful of families beginning with Pedro José Zapata, who diligently preserved the original lines. He used the brand of the bit, called “Bocado.” Today we still refer to the horses as ‘Bocado’ or Cartujano. The Carthusian horse originated in Spain; it is also known as the Carthusian-Andalusian or Cartujano.
 
The Zamora brothers, who had mares of this breeding, purchased an old horse named El Soldado. They bred him to two mares. The resultant offspring were a colt and a filly; the former was Esclavo, the foundation sire of the Carthusian strain. Esclavo was dark gray, considered to be a perfect horse. He produced many outstanding offsprings, which were purchased by the breeders of Jerez. Esclavo produced a group of mares that about the year 1736 were sold to Don Pedro Picado, who gave some excellent specimens to the Carthusian monks to settle a debt he had incurred. The rest of the stock belonging to Don Pedro Picado went to Antonio Abad Romero and were eventually absorbed into the Andalusian breed. The Esclavo stock at the monastery was integrated into a special line and came to be known as Zamoranos.
 
The stallion Esclavo is said to have had warts under his tail, and his characteristics were passed on to his offspring. Some breeders felt that without the warts, a horse could not be of the Esclavo bloodline. Another characteristic sometimes seen in the Carthusian horse is the evidence of “horns”, actually frontal bosses thought to be inherited from Asian ancestors. Unlike the warts beneath the tail, the horns were not considered proof of Esclavo descent.
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Throughout the centuries that followed, the Carthusian monks guarded their bloodlines with fervor, even defying a royal order to introduce Neapolitan and central European blood into their stock.
 
Don Pedro and Juan Jose Zapata bought a good number of mares from the Carthusians. In 1854, Don Vincent Romero y Garcia, a Jerez landlord, purchased what he could of the excellent group of horses. Don Vincent lived to be ninety-two years old and because of his knowledge of breeding, greatly improved the quality of the horses without using any outside blood.

Without the dedication of the Carthusian monks, the Zapata family, and a few other breeders who refused to cross their horses with other breeds, the purest line of Andalusian blood would have been lost to the world.
 
Today Carthusian horses are raised in state-owned studs around Cordoba, Jerez de la Frontera, and Badajoz. The predominant color is gray, attributed to the important influence of two stallions of this color early in the twentieth century. Some Carthusian horses are chestnut or black. Nearly all of the modern Carthusian horses are descended from the stallion Esclavo.
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The Carthusian horse’s head is light and elegant with a slightly convex profile, broad forehead, small ears, and large, lively eyes. The neck is well proportioned and arched; the chest is broad and deep; the shoulder sloping; the back short and broad; the croup sloped; and the legs are sturdy with broad, clean joints.
 
What horse has such proud and lofty action? A showy and rhythmical walk? Or a high stepping trot full of impulsion? Where can you find a horse with a smooth rocking canter, natural balance, agility, and fire? Combine theses spectacular paces with a docile temperament and you have a breed of horse well suited for any horse owner.
 
The Carthusian horse is not a separate breed from the Andalusian, but rather a distinct side branch that is usually considered the purest remaining strain with one of the oldest studbooks in the world. Roughly 82% of the Pura Raza Espanola (PRE = Pure Spanish Breed) population in Spain contains Cartujano blood, but there are less than 3% pure Cartujano horses within the PRE population and only 500 pure Cartujanos in existence in Spain today.
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The French invasion and the subsequent War of Independence nearly devastated the breed as the monks were expelled more than once from their monastary. In 1810, the horses were saved when “Zapata, founder of the Hospital de Arcos de la Frontera, bought 60 mares and 3 stallions of the best calibre and hid them in ‘Breña del Agua,’ sending the Carthusian monks in Cluny the amount for the established price. From these horses was formed what is at present known as the Yeguada de la Cartuja - Hierro del Bocado.

For a horse to be considered “pure Cartujano” he must be validated by the Association of Cartujano Breeders in cooperation with the University of Cordoba. Horses receive a certificate such as the one pictured here which acknowledges their genetic purity.
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The Carthusian horse “is the most appropriate one for a king on his day of victory. … It is the aristocracy of horses of pure Spanish blood. … It is the noblest animal in the world.”
 
[The Carthusian horse] is a beautiful and loyal animal with a big heart … eyes that did not blink when the arrow grazed his neck and caught the ancient meaning in a fleeting, burning glance … ears that heard the cannons’ roar, the whispered words of love ... skin of shot silk that knew the summer’s heat, the winder’s frost … hooves that traced new paths to lands unknown to man … a heart whose beat would quicken keeping pace with the wishes of his master … tireless vigor, proving no demand for him so great … his spirit showed the cheers and hopes of Old Spain’s men of iron, while at his proud feet the conquered nations lay … he’ll forgive like no other your omissions, errors, thoughtless handling … his back, a throne of feathers, will bear you smoothly with the trot and gallop … he’ll go where others dare not … he’ll stand firm where others flee in terror … And at the last, you’ll understand why [the Carthusian horse] was the chosen one of kings.”

1 comment:

KSjödahl said...

Thanks for this lovely and interesting article. I'm going to send it to my god-daughter, who loves horses.