IALHA's Interview with Christa Probson

Interviewed on behalf of the IALHA by Susan Ambrose

When did you first become involved with Andalusians? Tell us how you got started, where you obtained your first horses, and why Andalusians?

Christa: I grew up in Germany and there were no Andalusians in my area, but I discovered them in books. I began collecting information on the breed, gathering everything I could find about these horses. I have been in love with this breed since I was a small child of about 9 or 10. Their beauty, grace, and nobility: these were the traits that initially attracted me to the breed. What I love about the breed is the purity – this is the essence of the horse.

When I moved to the USA, I finally met these horses for the first time in person at the Parra Ranch. That was around the mid eighties. At that time it was very rare to find Andalusian breeders or horses for sale and still very difficult to find information. I wrote to the breed association at the time, and they responded with a total of 5 breeders in the country; two were in Texas, so I started there.

I think the first horse I bought was originally registered as ‘Lusitano’ but it was actually an S/P. I asked what that meant and was told it was the same thing; at least that is my recollection. And so I began with my first purebred in the mid-80s.

Tell us a little about your farm.

Christa: We bought this property in Pilot Point, Texas without improvements, just raw land. It has level ground, excellent soil and grass and many pecan trees. When we first arrived, all that was here was a barbed-wire perimeter fence. We took it out and replaced it with horse-friendly fencing, built our barns (doing all the manual labor ourselves) and eventually, the house. It was difficult because we commuted daily to and from work, living in an apartment with the horses on the property, our house under construction, and all in different directions. Priority was given to complete the horse enclosures as we had already imported two mares and Urgel from Spain.

What are your goals as a breeder?

Christa: After I moved to the USA, I went back to Europe often and visited breeders in Germany and Spain. I did a lot of research on all the different Iberian breeds and after several years I selected the Spanish P.R.E. bloodlines. These are my favorite, as it is the old lines that appeal to me. I have put a lot of thought into the direction I have chosen to take my breeding program and what I am pursuing. We personally seek to preserve the old type, from the Cartujano horse.

Briefly describe your nutrition and care program. What do you feed? How are your horses kept? What is the exercise program?

Christa: All mares and foals are kept in small groups, matched by age and temperament. They are pastured during the day and in stalls, which open to one large paddock, during the night. They get grain twice a day, each horse fed individually to assure that each animal’s nutritional needs are fulfilled. Also, free choice hay is available all day and night. Only on extremely cold days will I confine them inside (thankfully rare in Texas). I pay very close attention to having clean, fresh water available to all horses at all times. Stallions have several hours’ pasture time, even in pastures adjacent to mares, interacting with them only when the ladies choose. There is never any crazy behavior; the boys are always gentleman-like, just as you would expect from a Spanish stallion.

Our mares are kept to pasture and often ridden, although not committed to any structured exercise program. The stallions that are of age are worked regularly. Of course, Urgel is the only mature stallion on the property, as the other males have previously been sold.

Please tell us about your involvement (if any) with showing your horses? What are your chosen discipline(s)?

Christa: I show my horses primarily to expose them to the world, as it’s a good socialization tool, and to gain exposure. Dressage is great to teach basics to a horse and I believe all my horses must be able to do dressage. I personally feel that if they aren’t capable of dressage, there is something wrong. Dieter is following the path of dressage, and I am geared more toward (high school) exhibition work and even the family pleasure horse. But at the same time, I do not breed for the “dressage market.” I feel that Andalusians can do a lot more than only dressage. I’m not trying to follow trends or make them into warmbloods. Many people believe in going with the flow and some are focused on size or color, but I have to follow what I believe, even if it goes against the mainstream. I think the classical type is more important to adhere to, not trends. You could say that I breed for a special market.

What qualities are you selecting for? Why?

Christa: I breed these horses to preserve the overall classical type of the P.R.E. I don’t breed specifically for color or size. If you select for certain breed-extrinsic characteristics, you will eventually lose the breed itself; it has happened in the past and happens still today in other breeds. Someone has to maintain the purity of the breed and I have chosen it as my mission.

Movement and functionality are priority number one here. I follow the belief of Juan Llamas: movement is hard to breed into a horse. I also believe that it is easier to add beauty than movement.

Beauty, intelligence, and temperament are all very important traits. But you must first learn about the correct breed type to develop your eye to the point where you can tell a correct horse from one that is not. All Andalusians are beautiful; that is the initial attraction. But, not all are correct.

What do you consider to be the 3 most important characteristics in the breed?

Christa: 1. They are the most beautiful horses in the world. 2. They are the most intelligent horses in the world. 3. There is no other breed in the world that has influenced the history of mankind as much as these horses or influenced other horse breeds as much as the Spanish horse. No other breed has inspired painters, poets, sculptors, artists, or conquered the hearts of man, more than this breed, documented more in history than any other.

Name some of your favorite horses of the past century, and what was special about them?

Christa: Descarado II is my favorite horse from the 1900s. I fell in love with him as a child. He had the beauty that made me think, “that is the perfect horse.” He also had the substance, the bulk; for me, he exemplified the traits of the Andalusian horse. As time went by and with more research, I still came back to him and had an even greater appreciation for him. I also had a fondness for Juglar, Vasallo II, and Bilbaino III.

Looking back over your rich history in the breed, do you think the Americans are holding their own in terms of quality? Does a buyer really need to go to the mother countries to import a horse of "superior" quality, or can it be found here?

Christa: I think we are seeing better quality horses in this country now, as is only natural given the improved ease of importing: there are more breeders selling better stock to us, and more of us are importing stock to develop foundation herds in the Americas. Yes, you can find wonderful examples of quality horses here on this continent, and don’t need to go to Spain or Portugal to find them. But I still recommend to any potential new breeder to go to the mother countries, visit breeders, attend the big shows like Ecumad and Sicab. Get as much information as possible about the breed. See as many horses as you can, talk to as many breeders as possible. Most will be only too happy to share information with you.

In general, genetics are often thought to be a roll of the dice. A breeder can diligently plan by selecting top quality horses, and experience both grand results as well as huge disappointments. In America we’re seeing a lot of different bloodlines being crossed giving us new combinations. What about line breeding vs. outcrossing?

Christa: I do not believe that genetics is a roll of the dice. I believe that the greatest pitfall is neglecting to search back far enough into the genetics. You can’t buy a great looking animal and expect it to produce great foals if you are not familiar with the traits inherent to that particular line. I have recognized traits in Urgel’s offspring that are from ancestors 3 or 4 generations back. If you don’t know where these traits come from, you might be surprised to see them. If you breed specifically for looks or other elements, that is, from both dam and sire, I agree you may end up with grand results or huge disappointments – then it does become a roll of the dice. So does the next generation out of such a cross.

Can you talk a little about temperament?

Christa: These are very smart horses and they are capable of forming deep bonds with their human partners. But we mustn’t overlook the fact that with such intelligence comes sensitivity. They can take a very long time to adjust to a new environment. Bonds also run very deep between herd members. I think that not all of them can handle the show scene or being separated from their herd. The horses’ welfare is more important to me than a show record, so I won’t take chances with my horses when I see that its too difficult for them to be separated. No ribbon is worth the stress and anxiety of either animal or owner.

Not all bloodlines are the same in terms of the temperament. The Spanish horse is very animated and spirited on the ground and can sometimes even be intimidating, but under saddle they like to work; they listen, actually have a brain between their ears, and they do take care of you.

When do you think you can tell if a youngster is going to be something special? Do some look plain-jane as babies, then later on, surprise you and become fantastic? Or is a star, always an instant hit, from the earliest moments of its young life?

Christa: I believe you can tell a horse is a great horse when it is just a few days old. Yes, as they grow the conformation changes periodically, and maybe the movement is not always a constant quality, but when they “come out moving,” they always move! If they are balanced looking in conformation very young, they will be proportionate when mature. Again, know your genetics!

At various growth stages, you cant always tell about movement, but does the structure & angulation stay fairly constant? How important is angulation? Do the angles change and body parts grow out of proportion at different ages while they grow? Can you give a little guideline of when this happens?

Christa: Yes, movement changes with angulation and growth, but “no movement” never turns into “good movement” and vice versa. Look at both parents, and grandparents, and further back if possible.

In general, would you say that the stallions you have bred to were prepotent for their traits?

Christa: Absolutely. I looked many generations back. I see the same results, year after year, in Urgel’s offspring. There are minute differences, but the overall result is “cookie cutter, look alike foals” every year. However, the value of the mares’ genetics must not be dismissed or underestimated.

For first time buyers, or upcoming breeders, what advise would you give to a newbie? Any problems you would warn us to steer away from?

Christa: I think it’s important to note that this horse is part of the culture of Spain and the culture of Spain is part of this horse. You can’t have one without the other. The biggest pitfall one can fall into is failing to learn about this horse before beginning a breeding program of your own. Don’t rush into something before you have a firm grasp of what you want to accomplish. Study! We have a responsibility to preserve the qualities that make this breed unique – this took thousands of years to develop! And it can be undone in 10 years; in that short time we could destroy that which makes this horse so special. So, do your homework if you are new to the breed; ask as many questions to as many breeders as possible. You will get different opinions, and there are a lot of “experts” out there, but you must do your research and decide what you want to accomplish as a breeder. The results will vary with your goal.

But there is more to avoid: beware of thinking that you can breed a poor quality mare to a good stallion and get a great foal (or vice versa)! Find yourself a quality mare to breed to a quality stallion. In Spain and Portugal, sometimes it’s very hard to find a good mare; many breeders will not part with their best, and some won’t sell any mares at all.

Personally, I learned more once I got involved in breeding than I had in all the years I had studied the breed before hand, as an observer. And, with the wealth of knowledge I had amassed, I eventually felt that I was not on the path I truly wished to follow. So, I ended up selling my initial stock and starting afresh, after more than ten years into it. My dissatisfaction and misdirection was based on a lack of information, not misinformation. And, I can tell you it was very hard to make that decision, to part with my first Andalusian horses to pursue the Spanish horse, the Pura Raza Espanola. It’s much easier to continue down a chosen path once you have momentum going. But, I decided that I had to be true to my passion, and that drove me to find and breed for what my research led me to believe to be the best bloodlines. I learned along the way what I liked and didn’t like about various bloodlines. You have to go over to the breeding farms and see hundreds of horses from various bloodlines in order to determine exactly which traits follow which bloodlines and which lines you want. Then you develop your eye and select those jewels that are to crown your program.

For first time buyers & newcomers, what qualities would you advise to seek out in a young foal?

Christa: There is no fast, secret solution. Ask questions, go see horses, look at books, and ask more questions. Evaluate the answers, validate them, then ask more questions, and see more horses. Decide what it is you desire, then find someone who breeds for the ideals you value. This horse is worth your investment of time and effort.

What are the biggest changes you have witnessed in the breed (in the USA) over the past 10+ years?

Christa: I can’t really respond to changes in the US. However, in my opinion, the criteria in Spain over the past ten years have been color and size, as the sport horse type has grown in demand. Ten years ago at SICAB, there were mostly grays, but now the bays and blacks prevail.

What do you think about the market for the breed today? Where is it going?

Christa: The dressage market is definitely starting to accept and even desire the Spanish horse. The breed is proving itself on an international level, even placing ahead of the warmbloods in the mecca of warmblood: Germany. The classical masters throughout the centuries have always chosen the Spanish horse above all others. It seems only natural that the breed is proving itself in the eyes of professional dressage riders of today. But please, let us not forget what makes the breed different and special from the others; let us preserve the Spanish horse and not try to assimilate it to the others.

Lastly, what is the number one thing you feel we need to avoid in the breed?

Christa: Let us preserve this breed. Throughout the centuries, man has come up with ways to “improve” the breed-many times for worse. Most of us are attracted to these horses for their alluring presence, exquisite beauty, and paramount intelligence. We must preserve this horse for future generations to cherish and love.

Our Philosophy

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       Our Vision

It is our intention to breed Andalusians, a.k.a. PRE (Pura Raza Espanola) horses, of the oldest and purest Carthusian lineage. I have been involved with and owned Spanish horses since 1985. My husband Dieter and I have visited many breeding farms worldwide, mostly in the PRE mecca of Spain, and also in Germany. We have visited with the breeders, studied their horses & breeding programs, discussed their ideals, visions, and passions, and gained invaluable, in depth knowledge of the Spanish horse, establishing friendships with many of the breeders, as one who is infected with this passion loves nothing more than to share it with another victim. It is this passion that drove us from one end of Spain to the other, many times over, in search of the perfect horses for our foundation stock. After many trips to Spain, we finally purchased one stallion and two mares from very distinguished breeders that shared our desire for old lineage, beauty, exceptional movement, and gentle temperament.
Breeders of Pure Spanish Horses Since 1985

       Our Ranch

Rancho Andalucia is located in the heart of  "Horse Country, USA" between Aubrey and Pilot Point, Texas, about 45 miles from DFW International Airport. The soil is a fertile sandy loam, which has attracted many major horse breeding ranches to the small area over the past decades. It is ideal because of all the horses in the area; there is a concentration of horse related businesses around us. We have two horse surgeons within five minutes of the ranch, including one equine reproductive specialist within half a mile, and numerous general equine veterinarians. Other horse-oriented businesses include tack shops, trailer sales, etc.
We believe in raising our horses in a horse friendly environment. Our ranch layout was completely designed by us when we bought the 32 acres of all coastal grass, half of which harbors about 400 pecan trees. We allow each stallion the freedom of their own pasture; our  stallion barn has individual runs that open into large separate pastures. This way, they can exercise to their hearts' content, socialize, and their favorite, graze! We have several pastures to rotate our young horses and mares in. Sometimes our mares run in pastures adjacent to the stallions, with no problems what so ever. All horses have access to shelter from heat and cold, and clean, fresh water. We nourish our horses on a diet of oats, including vitamin, mineral, and protein supplements twice a day, according to each individual's needs and age, beginning within the 1st week after birth. We harvest our own hay from our pastures, fertilized according to recommendations based on soil analyses. All horses are wormed regularly starting at about 3 months of age, then periodically every 4 weeks until they are about a year old, afterwards, about every 6-8 weeks. All horses are vaccinated and seen by a farrier on a regular basis, which is especially important in young animals to avoid problems later in life.

Rancho Andalucia