Name of breed: Menorquín, or Menorcan
Country of origin: Menorca, an island of Spain
Breed origin: The Menorquín is an Iberian breed indigenous to the island of Menorca, which lies east of mainland Spain. Like other Iberian breeds such as the Andalusian and the Lusitano, the Menorquín has a strong percentage of Barb blood and some Arabian influence thanks to the long and complicated relationship between North Africa and its European neighbours. The primary difference is that Menorquín horses also carry Thoroughbred bloodlines, which were introduced by the English in the 1700s.
Highly adapted to their island habitat, these horses were used for light farm work, driving and riding for hundreds of years. They are uniquely suited to the movements of the Doma menorquina, the traditional Menorcan style of riding based on classical dressage. Movements include the Spanish walk, half pass, flying changes and piaffe, culminating in the bot, or walking courbette, in which the horse rears to its full height then proceeds to walk on its hind legs for several paces. A special saddle with a rigid cantle allows the rider to stay secure in his or her seat. Since these movements are common displays of strength and dominance among stallions in the wild, only stallions are trained in the Doma menorquina riding style. Here’s a great video demonstrating the movements and training. During Menorca’s traditional saint’s day fiestas, these movements are performed amidst thronging crowds, with spectators jostling to touch the horses, a feat which is said to bring good luck. The more frequently the bot is performed and the further the horse travels on his hind legs, the greater the applause. The most dramatic movement of all is reserved for these fiestas: the elevade, in which the horse performs the don while beating the air with its front hooves. During the festival, the horses and riders also participate in three contests harking back to medieval times: the ensortilla, in which the rider attempts to thrust a lance through a small ring suspended from a pole or rope as he gallops his horse through the crowd; the rompre ses carotes, in which two jousters gallop towards each other and attempt to break one another’s wooden shield with their lance in passing; and the córrer abraçats, in which two riders embrace each other as their horses gallop side-by-side. As you would expect of a horse capable of not only participating in but genuinely enjoying these fiestas, the Menorquín is incredibly brave, willing and unflappable!
Distinguishing features: Menorquín horses are always black, with only small white markings permitted. They typically stand between 15 and 16 hands high, and have a lean yet powerful build. Their movements are fluid, balanced, light and elevated, making them both comfortable to ride and ideally suited to dressage. They are enthusiastic, trainable, courageous and loyal, with a calm disposition underpinning a natural sense of pride and flamboyance. They are fast and agile, possessing great endurance, and adapt well to virtually any discipline or riding style. In terms of conformation, Menorquíns have a long, elegant head, with large, expressive eyes, wide nostrils and a square muzzle. Their neck is softly arched and well muscled, leading to long, obliquely-angled shoulders and a straight, strong back. Their hindquarters are long and powerful, with firm flanks leading to fine, long legs and solid, dark hooves. They have a thick, low-set tail and their mane is generous, growing fairly long.
Modern day Menorquín: Menorquíns are indispensable on their native island, especially for the saint’s day fiestas in which they play a vital and much-celebrated role. Like other Iberian breeds, they are extremely versatile, and especially well-suited to dressage. Their conformation is uniquely suited to perform the movements of the Doma menorquina.
Image credits: Illes Balears, Cavalluna.