I caught up with Laura from BaRock Andalusians to hear more about her PRE stallion Impacto and her work with horses.
If you ever find yourself scrolling through her Instagram, you’ll be awash in a sea of beautiful horses with long manes, arched necks and elevated movements prancing around like they’re parading in front of the king.
The mounted troops of the Spanish military have traditionally ridden stallions and this, coupled with machismo culture, has put a unique stamp on how horses are appreciated in Spain.
Laura is originally from Finland herself and I was curious to get her view on Spanish horse culture as an outsider. She has her own Andalusian stallion, Impacto, who is the first stallion she has ever owned.
Laura’s spark for horses was ignited when she saw them on TV and decided – like any true 6-year-old bitten by the horse bug – that she immediately needed to get one for herself.
The first few tries at pony riding quickly turned into a weekend summer camp and regular lessons followed to satisfy her budding enthusiasm for riding. Today Laura has a master’s degree in archaeology with extensive studies in criminology, forensics and psychology, and she currently works as an equine physiotherapist, trainer and agent in Granada, Spain.
She also did her master’s thesis on the PRE horse and is extremely familiar with the history and background of the breed itself – you can ask her almost anything, she’s like a walking, talking thesaurus on the subject!
Laura got into the horse business by chance
After buying her PRE stallion Impacto, he stayed on at the seller’s stable for a few months.
“During that time I helped to take videos and pictures of some of the horses for sale, just for fun,” Laura remembers. “Then I moved my horses (I had two already) to a smaller barn that was owned by the nephew of the man who sold me Impacto.”
With warm regard, she tells me how both men are veterans of the trade and have decades of experience with selling horses since they started in the business as mere teenagers.
While Laura was preparing to move to another city after finishing her studies at University, she sold one horse since it wasn’t easy finding enough time for two. However, things didn’t work out as she had planned and Antonio, the owner of the smaller barn, suggested she stay and help him.
Antonio, who’s now my good friend, suggested that I stay and help him prepare his horses for sale. He wanted to start selling horses online but many people here don’t speak English.
Laura set up a Facebook page for BaRock Andalusians and began showcasing the horses they had for sale on that page as well as on her Instagram account. With over 12,000 followers across both platforms, Laura has built a strong following for her gorgeous PRE horses online.
“We are working very locally and we know all the horse owners and sellers here. We also make it a point to see the horses personally as all the horses we sell are located in Granada,” Laura explains. “This is how we ensure that we have many, many horses to show our clients who come here to buy, rather than the clients having to drive long distances to see a few horses located in different parts of the country.”
The Andalusian horse has been recognised as a breed since the 15th century
The Andalusian, also know as the Purse Spanish Horse or Pura Raza Española (PRE), comes from the Iberian Peninsula, where its ancestors have lived for thousands of years.
Located in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada, Granada has been shaped much by the same forces the PRE horse has – their histories reflecting both Muslim and Christian rule.
Studies of the modern Andalusian horse and the North African Barb horse, suggest that both breeds crossed the Strait of Gibraltar and have influenced one another’s bloodlines.
This may make the Andalusian the very first European “warmblood” – a blend of heavy European horses and their lighter Oriental counterparts. The PRE has also been bred into many other breeds worldwide to improve conformation and performance.
Spain’s widespread military activities between the 14th and 17th centuries called for a large number of horses. Spanish stallions were crossed with local mares in many countries, adding Spanish bloodlines wherever they went, especially to other European breeds.
Prised as a warhorse because of its elevated movements and athleticism, the Andalusian horse was dubbed the “king of horses, thief of hearts” by Juan Llamas. During the 16th century, it was as known as the Royal Horse of Europe and found in many courts and riding academies.
The PRE has throughout history been loved by the nobility – and its conformation has changed very little over the centuries. These expensive horses were the sole province of those who could afford them. The Spanish government used the breed as a tool for diplomacy, and kings across Europe have ridden and owned Spanish horses.
The Spanish carried their horses with them when they crossed the Atlantic to the new world, and the free-roaming mustangs in the Western US today are the descendants of those Iberian horses.
The Andalusian breed has over the centuries been consistently selected for athleticism and has long been a staple in the Spanish military because they are suited to both riding and driving. They’re also easily trained, eager to jump, they’re nimble and capable of making tight turns.
Historically used as stock horses, Andalusians became the preferred horses for working with Iberian bulls, which are known for their aggressive temperaments, and require a horse that is both agile and calm and will remain under the control of the rider in front of a charging bull.
Andalusians, and more recently the Portuguese Lusitanos, are famous for their use in mounted bullfighting.
Laura’s love for the breed began with a ride on an Andalusian stallion
In 2008 Laura was visiting a friend in Fuengirola and asked if they could go and see some local horses, maybe even take a riding lesson.
She didn’t speak any Spanish at the time and her friend translated for her as she rode a grey stallion named Fabuloso.
“It was my first time trying piaffe and Spanish walk,” Laura recounts. “I’d only heard horror stories of crazy stallions that are dangerous and I was really surprised by the mellow character of this gorgeous stallion that didn’t whinny or even look at other horses!”
He was just a horse, very well behaved, absolutely gorgeous and not scary at all. It made a big impression on me and I knew that one day I’d like to have my own baroque horse.
Laura has had her own PRE stallion, Impacto, since 2015
Laura bought Impacto as a birthday gift to herself because she didn’t want to spend her birthday alone after moving to Spain.
“Oh boy, he had been ridden soooo little when I got him! He was turning seven later that year and he could do walk, trot and canter for just one lap in the arena. Oh, and stop at the gate.”
Impacto is the first stallion Laura has owned and her second horse overall. She previously had a Hanoverian mare that she trained up to Grand Prix level by herself.
“He was a super nervous stallion,” she recalls Impacto’s early days in the stable. “He’d just been covering mares in liberty and had really gotten into the taste of that type of life before he moved to the stable where I bought him. He was yelling in his box, sweating with nerves just from seeing horses come and go.
“When riding, he was very hot some days and perfectly calm and sweet on other days. It took some time for him to settle down, connect with me and understand what his new life was about.”
Today Impacto is this confident, noble, calm but still fiery and very expressive stallion, who loves to work, work, work! He’s doubled in size due to correct nutrition and exercise. He’s a completely different horse inside and out!
Since Impacto is the kind of horse that is extremely eager to work, Laura balances his schedule with a variety of activities.
“Usually, I don’t do the same thing two days in a row. To keep him fresh and not over-work him, I do one day of hacking (sometimes two) for every two days of hard work,” she explains. “This means we hack out every third day as well as typically warm up with walks in the countryside before working in the field or the arena.”
Impacto’s more demanding work consists of a variety of dressage exercises and interval training
On day one, Laura will work on things like stretching, lateral movements and collections. On day two, she’ll move on to transitions as well as flying and tempi changes. And on the third day, she’ll take Impacto out for a hack in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada.
“Sometimes I have to change the rhythm a bit; let the horse loose in the arena or just let him have a day off. In Spain, we don’t really have the option to keep stallions in paddocks, so I prefer to move my horse every day, even a little so that he can stretch his legs and body.”
I asked her what she felt she had learned from working with Impacto and she said he’d taught her it’s okay to relax a little and that it’s okay to go with the flow.
“With Impacto, I’ve learnt that it’s ok not to obsess about riding every day with only a snaffle bit or double bridle. He loves his alta escuela curb bit the best, so I choose the tack depending on what we are going to do that day and how Impacto’s feeling,” Laura explains.
“We’ve drifted a bit from classical dressage to more academic riding, with bits of alta escuela, as well as some tricks. At the moment we have been working on levade from school halt, sitting down and bowing. These are definitely not part of normal dressage riding, but I like to keep an open mind when training my horse and sometimes really work that brain of his too.”
Laura dreams of one day competing in Grand Prix dessage, but is in no hurry. Impacto has had a minor injury to his front leg and the healing process from that will determine what is possible in the future.
“Impacto is a big showoff. He loves attention and knows he’s a handsome boy. He loves to do Spanish walk and sometimes gets really carried away with terre à terre.”
“Impacto is my firecracker, I love his expressiveness and hot temper! But he still has that very sensitive side of him that he doesn’t show to everyone. There isn’t just one thing I could say I like about him best because, in many ways, he’s my perfect horse through and through.”
The Andalusian horse is in demand today – both for competing and as a leisure horse
Laura knows this well, as they sell horses to many different countries. “You don’t have to come personally to see the horse if you can’t. We’ve sold many horses successfully with only videos and pictures.”
BaRock Andalusians work closely with independent licenced veterinarians who come and do pre-purchase exams on the buyer’s behalf and send the papers directly to the buyers.
Laura says that when a buyer knows what they want, they often don’t need to come and see the horse in person, so long as the purchase process is transparent and the buyer can work with trusted sellers, like BaRock Andalusians, who scrutinise the horses they sell closely.
“Sometimes the buyer doesn’t have a very clear idea of what they want or aren’t sure what they’re seeing in the videos. Then it’s easier for them to come here, see the horses in person and ride different horses to see which one suits them best.”
According to Laura, anyone who likes intelligent, hardworking horses with flashy movements and an obedient nature will love Andalusians.
“They have a spark in them but are very noble and kind horses,” she describes. “They’ll do just about anything for you! They work with a big heart. Once you’ve got their respect and you treat them right, they’ll stay loyal to you forever. They’re sensitive, learn quickly and are really artistic and showy horses.
Laura loves the way Spaniards take pride in their horses
“I love how horses are integrated into all festivities!! All ferias, romerias and processions have horses in them,” she explains. “Horses and riders are seen riding in towns – in the middle of the street or in traffic – and you can see horses parked in front of terraces where the riders are taking refreshments. To have a horse is a thing of pride for Spanish people.”
Laura loves to participate in ferias (Spanish festivals) with horses from her barn and often does horse shows whenever she can. In 2019 Laura and Impacto won the exhibition competition at CONCAB Granada. They did a classical dressage show with a fantasy twist and Laura rode in a flowing blue gown with Impacto in matching tack.
“Impacto was extraordinary and behaved so well in a new situation (plus many mares and stallions backstage warming up at the same time),” Laura gushed on Instagram after the win. “My fabulous stallion was 100% with me with no fuss!! Love him! We even stopped to admire a mare [from a distance of a] few meters away and Impacto didn’t whinny or anything. I’m so proud of him!”
Laura sometimes talks about the horse culture in Spain and highlights the differences to Anglosaxon equestrianism. I asked her if there’s something she’d like to change about Spanish horse culture.
“Oh yes. First, we have to understand that Spain has a very long history of horsemanship and the knowledge is passed from father to son, going back generations. They don’t take riding lessons or learn what is going on in the equestrian world,” she explains. “The roots of how things are done run very deep here and it’s a long process to learn new things.
“The older generations are resistant to change – and you still see some people doing things the old way: using harsh training methods or tack – but thanks to the internet and foreign horse buyers the horse market and its demands are changing.”
Laura is happy that the younger generations are starting to learn softer ways to train their horses. Changing deeply ingrained cultural traditions doesn’t happen overnight but as people learn different methods from foreigners and through exposure to different kinds of trainers and methods online, a new way of working with horses is slowly taking root.
What should you consider when you’re buying your first PRE horse?
I asked Laura if she had any advice for people who are planning to buy their very first Andalusian horse.
“They’re purebred horses and very different from warmbloods. The rideability is different and it takes time to adjust and learn how these horses work,” Laura reveals. “Also, they have a different character and mindset, morphology and movements. I think it’s a good idea to do some research and learn about the breed beforehand. Just know, that everyone who rides one of these horses falls in love with them!”
She also stresses the point that you should buy from a trusted seller because you are at risk of buying something you didn’t intend to – especially if you’re buying the horse without going to see it yourself.
A trustworthy agent will be like your eyes and ears as they help you find the perfect horse for you. Finding an agent that has roots in the community and knows the people breeding and selling horses, can really make all the difference in your purchase experience.
BaRock Andalusians take pride in working closely with their clients to find them the perfect horse. “I really like to see people connect with their horses and find The One for them. The best thing about my job is seeing that big smile on my client’s face when they’re riding the right horse,” Laura says.
Laura’s top tip for getting up close and personal with your horse
As an equine physiotherapist, Laura works with a lot of different horses and sees the kind of challenges they have up close. I asked her if she had an easy tip that anyone could implement with their own horse.
“A really simple thing that I think everyone should learn is to feel their horse,” Laura explains. “Move your relaxed, soft hand around your horse’s body before riding to feel the muscles.”
You’re looking to find if…
- there are any lumps or bumps
- some areas feel more hot or cold
- your horse shies away from your touch when you touch some part of his body.
“This is something you can do to find out if your horse has any issues. Softly massaging your horse with just your hands or with a curry brush will help circulation, in areas that feel cold, and soothe sore muscles, in areas that feel hard or stiff.”
All photos in this article are courtesy of Laura.