HUISCAPI, Chile – Purebred Spanish horses, brought to the Americas by the conquistadors, had not been seen in Chile for over five centuries – until 20 years ago when a horse-loving businessman decided to repeat history and breed again in his country one of the noblest animals on the planet.
On Tuesday, the efforts of Chilean Felipe Ibañez were rewarded with the highest honor bestowed by Spain’s National Association of Purebred Spanish Horse Breeders (ANCCE): Stockbreeder of the Year.
The prize will be awarded next Nov. 17 in Seville during the SICAB International Horse Fair, the world’s most important event in this equestrian category, and which every year attracts some 200,000 visitors from around 60 countries.
The first purebred Spanish horses reached the New World on the second voyage of Columbus, requested by the Catholic Royalty in 1493 to take 24 stallions and 10 mares to the island of Hispaniola, which initiated the equine population of the Americas.
Five centuries later, in 1995, Felipe Ibañez Scott and his wife, Heather Atkinson – another horse enthusiast – traveled to Spain to learn up close about the breeding of these Andalusian thoroughbreds.
Later they shipped back to their homeland three stallions and three mares, all highly trained, that Ibañez bought from Spanish rancher Manolo San Miguel. They became the first of the breed in Chile since colonial times.
Though the initial purpose was to reintroduce purebred Spanish horses in this country, Ibañez went on to found the first Chilean school of classical horsemanship.
He did it almost by chance. With the aid of tractor driver Johnny Enriquez, whom Felipe taught to ride horseback, he organized a horse show in 2002 to honor his friend.
Ibañez, a self-taught equestrian, has taught his employees, who knew nothing about horses, to be outstanding horseback riders, like Cristian Rosas, a truckdriver who worked in forestry and who is today the school’s director of horsemanship, and Carlos Fernandez, a former shelf-stocker for a supermarket chain.
Last Oct. 15, Fernandez won two prizes in a horse training competition at the San Cristobal Polo Club in Santiago, where Felipe Ibañez took home the third of the four prizes being contested.
This was a huge success considering it was the first time riders from the school competed before international judges.
Ibañez’s School of Equestrian Art in Chile was founded in 2002 on a 700-hectare (1,730-acre) ranch outside a small village in southern Chile called Huiscapi.
Though 95 percent of the horses were born in Chile, all are registered and certified by the National Association of Purebred Spanish Horse Breeders.
And Felipe Ibañez knows them all individually – their descent, their characters and even their peculiarities. “Purebred Spanish horses weren’t born to be penned up,” he said, “but to gallop into the wind and feel free.”