It's been just over twenty years since the PRE made its Olympic dressage debut on the Spanish team in 1996. However, since the dressage world first took notice of this compelling horse, the breed has undergone an enormous evolution that has thrust it from the sidelines into the spotlight. America has embraced Spain's beloved horse, becoming a springboard for the breed's growth as the second largest home of PREs in the world. The USPRE association drives an active community of PRE enthusiasts, promoting the breed through tireless dedication which culminates during their annual USPRE Week in Wellington, Florida. This year the event will take place from January 23rd-26th and feature a variety of events from educational seminars to an elegant reception. Much like the horse itself, USPRE Week is nothing if not glamorous, captivating, and inviting.
(Kerrigan Gluch riding Vauquero HGF. Photo by Lily Forado)
This year the four day event will celebrate the PRE's deep rooted heritage and timeless endurance through culture and sport with the aptly titled theme 'Horse of the Ages'. As many PRE enthusiasts will tell you, this horse isn't simply a icon of the past, rather recent events indicate that the PRE's history is still being written.
USPRE media ambassador, Lily Forado, explains that not too long ago the PRE's ability to perform high level dressage experienced a dramatic increase thanks to pressure on breeders to produce highly competitive dressage horses - a market that warmblood breeders in northern Europe had been dominating for some time. "In Spain the main market for the PRE horse used to be a beauty contest" says Forado, but in just a relatively short period of time the PRE has transformed into a powerhouse of an athlete. "We've seen a huge improvement of the gaits on the PRE horse" while still retaining the breed's trademark beauty and noble character.
Forado explains that these horses have chipped away at the warmblood market, though their growing athleticism has at times out paced the public's changing perception. For many riders, Forado thinks often seeing is believing. One such event that Forado regards as instrumental to the changing perception of the PRE was only several years ago at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Kentucky. Spanish rider Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz delivered a jaw dropping, passion-fueled freestyle on the charismatic stallion Fuego XII that left fans and naysayers alike, speechless. "I think the freestyle with Fuego was a big thing in the United States. They (the spectators) were just amazed by Fuego, and it helped Americans to picture PREs on the national dressage teams."
Fuego XII and other horses including Spanish Olympic team horse Grandioso III, the first PRE at US selection trials, Rociero XX, and most recently top young rider Kerrigan Gluch's mount, Vaquero HGF, have given way to a loyal following of advocates who are sending the PRE to the top of modern day dressage competition. These riders, trainers, and breeders are not only purposefully choosing PREs over other breeds for their ability to perform at the top international Grand Prix level, but also for their often unshakeable temperament. USPRE board member Jane Bistline recalls when she made the switch from warmbloods to strictly PREs specifically for those intangible qualities. "The feeling of riding and being with my first Spanish horse had an emotional component to it that is difficult to describe. The sensitivity and intelligence of the PRE makes the rider feel that they are a part of the ageless relationship between a horse and rider." Bistline, who is an adult amateur, remembers beginning the search for her second PRE "soulmate", finally settling on a stallion with an unbeatable character. "My decision to travel to Spain to meet him was made when I watched a video of this stallion in an awards ceremony. The other horses were rearing, spinning, and running backwards and the lone PRE was standing quietly amidst the chaos, an oasis of composure and self confidence that is a result of hundreds of years of selective breeding."
According to Bistline, her stallion has proven to be remarkable in every sense of the word - from his unparalleled athletic ability to his outstanding behavior. "I was fortunate enough to be trusted with the first born of Hampton Green Farm, Encanto XI, son of the great Evento. As an internationally competitive Grand Prix horse I have (successfully) put a 10 year old child on him to feel piaffe, and taught a boyfriend how to safely mount a horse knowing that he would care for his rider. From the show ring to a trusted companion, these horses can do it all. And they do it with a grace and beauty that makes a rider feel like royalty. To ride one of these great horses is truly a privilege."
(Jane Bistline's stallion, Encanto, with Tom Reed. Photo by Lily Forado)
Bistline's experience with the PRE is just one of many stories that inspires a fiercely loyal following for the horse. It's no wonder that the annual USPRE Week draws over 800 visitors, and this year will boast appearances and events featuring some of dressage's biggest names including Robert Dover and Lendon Gray. PRE enthusiasts will dine on traditional Spanish cuisine and enjoy a taste of the breed's enduring history, spanning from the Golden Age of Spain to the modern day centerline. From a performance by The Knights of Medieval Times to a master class lead by Andreas Helgstrand, equestrians can expect an unforgettable experience.
Such a festival illustrates a stark comparison to the breed's humble start as dressage's quiet underdog. Despite the fact that the sport is still dominated by warmbloods, the PRE has made an inarguable case that there is room for diversity. Just as Bistline was drawn to her PRE stallion by his distinctive aura amongst a raucous crowd of horses, Forado says the uniqueness of the breed makes the PRE a compelling standout in the dressage ring. There's something about the horse's captivating beauty and undeniable presence that simply isn't made to blend in. Forado insists, "People like to see something different."
For more information on USPRE Week visit www.usprea.com