While western Europe slowly folded itself back into winter with temperatures falling and trees shedding leaves, the balmy weather in Seville, Spain, offered a generous climate to around 200,000 spectators which gathered at Fibes - the "Palacio de Congresos y Exposiciones" - for the annual SICAB fair, the World Championships for the PRE horse.
From 15 to 20 November 2022 FIBES opened its doors for SICAB, the year highlight show organized by ANCCE, the Spanish PRE breeding society. I've been to horse fairs before, like Equitana in Essen (GER), but there is no comparison to SICAB where the "Spanish" horse is celebrated in all its aspects: beauty, character, athleticism and versatility.
Whetting My Appetite
Normally after the rollercoaster summer show season with European and World Championships from pony and young horse level to Grand Prix, I feel squeezed like a tube of tooth paste and don't do horse shows for a while. Imagine a tube which you decide to cut it open with a pair of scissors so you can scoop every last bit of it in the corners with your brush. That's how I felt this year.
Each year in September I retreat to my sanctuary, my home, and no longer cover any horse shows physically in order to recharge my batteries, mentally and physically. The only shows in winter for which I crawl out of my cave - purely for pleasure - are the Oldenburg stallion licensing in Vechta, the PSI Auction ball for dancing and networking, and the CDI-W London to combine it with Christmas shopping. But I am known to make exceptions....
My Spanish colleague journalist and photographer Lily Forado is at the start of her professional career and still bubbling with energy. Picture yourself the image of a bath bomb, that's Lily. She has been whetting my appetite for a year now to give SICAB in Seville a chance and experience this Spanish horse extravaganza. I decided to say yes!
History and Horses
The fact that SICAB is hosted in Seville, the capital and largest city of the Spanish autonomous community of Andalusia, is another major magnet and reason for attending this horse fair. The city is steeped in history and offers the best city trip for lovers of Spanish culture, history, architecture, art and food.
As soon as I decided to go to Seville, three of my family members knocked on my door to join me. Off we went, an easy direct flight from Eindhoven to Seville; 2.5 hours later we exchanged grey, somber 5° C weather for a pleasant 20 ° C, palm trees, castles, cathedrals, sangria and tapas.
Seville became the perfect getaway for history and horses. Aside from SICAB, the city has so much to offer. Five hundred years ago Christopher Columbus and Ferdinand Magellan set sail from Seville to discover the Americas and find the Western route around the world. The wealth this exploration brought to the city is still on display nowadays: the Plaza de España and the Royal Alcázar are UNESCO World Heritage and boast some of the most beautiful Morish influenced architecture. For the fantasy geeks amongst the readers (myself included) they provide the setting for Star Wars and the Water Gardens of Dorne in Game of Thrones. The Cathedral boasts Columbus' tomb and the Museum of Fine Arts has some of the best Zurbaran paintings to be found in Spain.
So Seville wasn't all horses on the menu for me, but this made the trip even more fun and meaningful. However, let's talk horses now.
SICAB Celebrates the Versatility of the PRE
Upon my arrival Lily gave me a tour of the venue and it was jaw-dropping. There were three pavilions: one for the morphology/conformation classes, the true heart of the fair; one for competitions in Alta Escuela, Doma Vaquera, and other none FEI disciplines; and a third for all the dressage classes and evening "espectaculo" shows.
While a central corridor connected the indoor pavilions, one could also go outside in between exhibition halls and find the stables. The tent stalls were approachable for anyone. You could go see, touch and smell the horses, speak with the grooms, riders and owners right there on the spot. No closed off spaces, security barring entry as if these horses were only there for the elite. The low threshold to come in contact with horses, which SICAB offers, is remarkable and exemplary: open, friendly, accessible.
In addition, there was an outdoor marathon course for the carriage drivers, which shared the spotlight with a a very important leg at SICAB, the official carriage parade on Thursday. A fourth indoor arena in a big tent featured competition classes with cattle (like team penning for western riders). Needless to say, everything happened on PRE horses which is a testimony to their versatility and rideability!
Whether inside or outside, the fair was always packed with people. Outdoors people were standing in the stable corridors or near the catering stands having a drink, while handlers would bring out their horses, either ridden, just one in hand, or even a a cobra of three or five - and park them in the middle of the crowd to put them on display. Not in a million years would you imagine a neurotic dressage rider to do that. The fuse box of his hyper sensitive, nervous dressage horse would blow. It was impressive and a real testimony to horsemanship. These horses know how to be calm and relaxed, even in the most electric, busy and crowded atmosphere.
Crufts for PRE Horses
The morphology classes are the most important part of SICAB. It is the World PRE Championship for conformation and gaits. Horses are presented in hand. They enter the arena in walk on a straight line, then are "lunged" in trot and canter on a circle, then trotted on a straight line, before being presented in halt for a conformation assessment by the judges. Both their conformation and way of moving are being judged, but in the end the overall world champion title, given in a finale on Sunday, goes to the prettiest horse and not the best mover.
I am a total layman when it comes to the conformation of a PRE horse and watched some of the movement classes. Some of the horses have a serious paddle in their front legs, yet made it all the way to the top of the ranking, which I found strange. My favourite "movers" were stallion Leonidas BAT (by Galileo TF x Dibujado V) and mare Chispa Torreluna (by Oleaje x Mas Nitrogen), both won the World Champion's title in the movement Division, but not the Overall World Champion's title. I wonder if we will ever get to see them in sport?
As I watched the morphology classes, I couldn't help but compare the entire event to Crufts, the most famous international dog show held annually in the United Kingdom: the way the horses were presented with care, groomed to perfection (although the animal welfare standard of unclipped ears and whiskers does not seem to hit home in Spain), as well as the excitement building in the arena and the roaring crowds when the winners are announced over the speakers. The break-out of emotions and joy is palpable because a year's work - often the labour of generations - gets rewarded at this competition. The cries of exhilaration and delight are infectious and you automatically cheer along, whether you agree with the decision or not.
Check out this handler doing a dance with his whip trying to get the horse to puts its ears forward.
"Jamon and Guitars"
The pavilion for the morphology classes was always teeming with spectators. The VIP area spans the entire long side of the ring and has tables bought by breeders and owners for a price owners in the show jumping or dressage world would laugh at. When you move to pavilion three for the dressage competition, where classes were held from young horse level to Grand Prix, there is only a small VIP section and plenty of seating for "normal" spectators on both long sides.
For the Grand Prix freestyle on Saturday, the entire arena was sold out and it seated almost 4,000 people, something many World Cup dressage qualifiers fail to do (as more space is taken by VIP tables than by seating for the commoners). This year the Spanish dressage team at the 2022 World Championships in Herning included three PRE horses (Alejandro Sanchez' Quincallo de Indalo, Teia Hernandez' Romero de Trujillo, and Jose Daniel Martin Dockx' Malagueno). While at the 2022 World Young Horse Championships in Ermelo a special 10-minute tribute was organized to celebrate Glamourdale and Hermes' medal success in Herning, SICAB decided not to schedule a moment of triumph for its own PRE's which performance at the biggest stage in the high performance sport the world has to offer. A pity.
I talked to a famous Spanish international dressage rider and trainer at SICAB and he hit the nail on the head when he said, "we are still 'jamon and guitars,' we don't look enough to the outside. There is so much industry, so much money to be made, in horse sales, job creation." He believes it is all too much left untapped in Spain, at the moment.
Nevertheless it was fun to see Spain's most famous international dressage riders, such as the Herning team riders, as well as Claudio Castilla Ruiz and Juan Matute Guimon, present PRE horses at SICAB. The event also offers a press service incomparable to many shows. Live streaming from all arenas since 2006, with a knowledgeable camera crew which zooms in on the conformation of a horse the way judges do it in the morphology class; there are video interviews with the winners after each dressage class, and a PR staff that welcomes press, domestic and foreign. At one point Lily was showing a Japanese journalist around, who had travelled to Spain exclusively for this event.
Si Si Senior
While Spanish PRE horse breeding might still be "jamon and guitars," not all breeders are old school and many have found their way on social media, aware of the marketing power of videos and reels. Many of the horses that competed at SICAB were already "promoted" online to build a reputation on the internet. They could be seen in the flesh for the first time, like Unica K who was not a legitimately coloured PRE but as an exotic sold to Dubai for the big bucks.
The audience at SICAB is a global one. It's no longer Spain meets Spain, but big money rollers from especially Central and Latin America (such as Mexico, Colombia, and Venezuela) have found their way to Seville to buy the best of the best. In the morphology pavilion the biggest breeders have their own booth in the trade fair, where they wine and dine clients to network. They are hospitable and inviting to everyone: the casual passer-by as well as the horse shopper decked out in a luxury brand outfit, can get a slice of jamon, some delicious olives and a glass of Spanish wine.
There seems to be a fear that this new money from abroad might corrode the expertise, knowledge, and tradition of the original breeders, who are labelled as the "Señorios." Dressed in tailored suits, they bring authentic wisdom, style and class to the table at SICAB. Someone buying the champion for title and glory does not automatically get the book of wisdom with the horse. While this fresh money can be a good start for a breeding programme of a new devotee, hopefully it's not just a whim for fame and glory; something which we also see in the warmblood horse breeding world.
The keen observer walking around SICAB can certainly see that the treasure of tradition and knowledge that is there: the right handlers who work their horse with patience and grace, the breeders aiming for correctness in conformation, and the horse who have the wit to match their outstanding horses to dressage riders that can introduce them into the sport world, the real gateway and global platform for world wide fame.
- Text and Photos by Astrid Appels
2022 SICAB Gathers the Best PRE in the World: Athos MOR and Elite Torreluna World Champions
Unica K, the Eye Catcher of the 2022 SICAB, the PRE World Championships
Kimberly Van Kampen: "SICAB is a Constant Celebration of the Values of a Past Time"
10 Reasons Why You Cannot Miss 2022 SICAB