For most British horse fanatics, the only horse-based sport worth watching takes place at the famous old courses either in the UK, Ireland or the States.
However, if you happen to be in Spain, and on the lookout for things to see and do, it would be greatly remiss of you to overlook the wealth of equestrian history and culture that exists in the country.
Whether you are into racing on flats or even a bit of show jumping, Spain certainly has plenty of surprises up its sleeve for lovers of all things to do with the long noses.
Menorca – An Island Obsessed with Horses
Inhabitants of this small Balearic island have been obsessed with horses ever since they used them to repel invaders who wished to steal their lands.
These days their trusty steeds are used more for show rather than battles, meaning that if you ever go to a country fete or a celebration on the island, there are sure to be horses doing the famous Bot dressage manoeuvre, whereby they stand on their two hind legs as the crowd go wild.
The horses here also have a distinctive look compared to other breeds, boasting a jet-black coat so glossy that it shines bright in the heat of a Spanish summer.
If riding is more your thing than spectating, there are a multitude of reputable stables around the island which will allow you to take your very own Menorcan stallion out for a simple trot or full-paced gallop along a white sand beach.
Ibiza – Not All Clubs on the Island Play Techno and House
Another Balearic island, Ibiza is better known for its hippy culture and hedonistic night clubs than it is for graceful animals dashing across the horizon, but look a little closer and it soon becomes clear that Ibiza residents are almost as in love with horses as their island neighbours are.
For those who wish to rub shoulders with royalty, or least a load of people who wish they had blue blood running through their veins, there is the Ibiza Polo Club.
Here you can watch the pros do their thing or you can even partake in a taster session yourself, wielding your giant mallet as you try to maintain balance on the back of a huge four legged beast.
If all the Pimm’s and strawberries with cream is a bit rich for you, another alternative is the Horse Valley rehabilitation centre, where retired racehorses and circus steeds go to enjoy their well-earned retirement.
Riding is available here too if you so wish, giving you the chance to explore parts of the island that are not dominated by DJs and goldfish bowls full of cocktails.
Sanlucar de Barrameda – Like Ascot, But Down the Beach
Horse racing in Spain is something of a niche sport, with very few tracks drawing much of a crowd on race days.
However, for those people who do like a little flutter on the gg’s and keep their eye on the most up-to-date tips and odds back in Blighty, there are races to be found in Spain, some of which come with a bit of a special twist.
Perhaps the best example of one of these is the race meet that takes place in the province of Cadiz, where horses and their jockeys race on the beach at Sanlucar de Barrameda. With sand kicking up, horses chomping at the bit, and waves crashing in the background, this is one race day you are sure to never forget. Just do not expect to see any grade one horses make an appearance on this wild and treacherous course.
The races normally happen in August, but they also depend on the tide being out, in order for there to be enough sand for the horses to work with.
Jerez – The Ride of Your Life
People in Jerez love riding stuff, whether what they ride is fuelled by hay or by petrol. When the MotoGP series is not taking centre stage in the city, then the focus is solely on horses, and especially during the much-vaunted Feria del Caballo (Horse Fair).
Almost every aspect of equestrianism is on display at this week-long event and is not to be missed, especially seeing as entry to the general grounds of the fair are free, with only the special displays and shows being ticketed.
The Pyrenees – High Altitude Riding of the Highest Quality
If all you really care about is getting to ride great trails during your holiday, then you cannot go far wrong with some of the companies who run tours among the spiralling peaks of the Pyrenees.
For a true Catalan horseback experience visitors can even undertake a multi-day tour, with everything looked after for you from your traditionally cooked meals, to homely hotels and bed and breakfasts, meaning that all there is left to do is to is pull the reins and hold on tight, as your steed thunders you along mountain passes and valley floors.
By the end of your trip you are certain to be saddle sore but begging to come back for more regardless of the pain.
If riding is your thing but you prefer to remain within striking distance of a main urban hub, then Madrid has you covered.
Obviously, the Spanish capital is well worth a visit all on its own, boasting everything from culinary delights to a vibrant night life.
Then, away from the hustle and bustle of the big smoke, there are the nearby Sierra de Guadarrama mountains.
Purpose built horse trails weave their way through this lush landscape, which you will never believe is just a short drive from the city.
All-in-all, Spain, far from being a country devoid of equestrian culture – due to its lack of racecourses – is in fact every bit as fanatical about its horses as the UK, Ireland or the US, and you would be well advised to check out some or all of these destinations.