A Trip of the Unexpected!

By Richard K. Cooper, Ph.D., LSU AgLeadership Class XV member

This is how I would characterize our visit to Spain, and to this point in the trip, the unexpected has been muy bien! Since our arrival in Madrid, I have been thinking of a word the would describe this beautiful country and its people, but rather than rush the search for a word, decided to let it come to me. During our visit to Yeguada de la Cartuja stud farm to view the stunning Andalusia horses, the word that finally crystallized, for me, so much of what we have observed is pride. The Spaniards seem to take pride in all aspects of their lives from the intricate carvings with gold overlay or stone work in their cathedrals, to the cleanliness of their cities and immaculate manicuring of their parks and gardens, to their dress as they walk down the streets, and the wine that they drink. Nowhere is this pride more evident than in the stud farm that is responsible for the careful breeding and maintenance of the genetic lines of the Andalusian horses.

Every person in our class with whom I have spoken has stated that the visit to Yeguada de la Cartuja stud farm was both not what they expected and the highlight of our trip thus far! During our tour, we also had several facts corrected in our knowledge of history, or at least mine! Last fall, I taught a senior level genetics course in animal breeding and the textbook we used for the class stated that the first documented studbook was for horses and began around 1570 in what we now call the United Kingdom. Incorrect! The Carthusian monks began keeping careful breeding and lineage records in the mid-1400’s, nearly 300 years before the studbooks in the United Kingdom! Today, this record keeping continues as the lineages are carefully bred to maintain certain lines, prevent inbreeding, and maintain the correct number of these beautiful animals.

Another fact that was corrected is that the Andalusian horses are not descendant from the Arabian horses, but are in fact a separate and distinct lineage and the farm has the DNA sequencing data to prove it!

Yeguada de la Cartuja is unique in that it is owned by the Spanish government, but not fully subsidized and in some aspects, a functional museum with a mission of educating the public on the history of the Andalusian. As stated above, the farm is publicly owned and partially subsidized, but has to make up the majority of its funding by being a functional stud farm. Their budget is met through the sale of semen, cryopreserved embryos and embryo transfer to surrogate mares and sale of horses. While the cost semen is very reasonable (~$120-$200), the cost to purchase one of these horses is a bit more expensive. Prices start at 9,000 Î (~$11,000 US and a shipping cost of the same amount to get it to the US) and can top 100,000 Î! The farm also hosts several training and riding events throughout the year, though these are not real money makers, but designed to educate the public. Even the carefully restored carriages dating back over 100 years and highly polished harnesses are used several times a year in festivals and parades to show the beauty and utility of these animals.

As we stood listening to our guide and one of the farm managers, a stallion that had just been washed after being exercised was being dried and brushed. The sun shone down and reflected off of him in hints of gold and it was then that the word pride crystallized for me. He represented so much of what we have experienced during this trip has he held his head high and glistened. This is a proud country and we have been privileged to experience it in ways a “regular” tourist would not. I am thankful for the Ag Leadership program, the experiences, the knowledge, and especially the friendships made during the past two years!