Famous Bull Ring in Ronda and Equestrian School in Jerez

Our roving retirement trip to Spain has been really educational. We have learned new things at each place we’ve visited even at the places we have visited in the past. For example, we visited Ronda on our previous trip to Spain eons ago. We loved Ronda so much the last time we visited that we decided to go again. Boy, what a difference 20 years make. We were surprised at how much our visit to Ronda informed our visit to see the dancing horses in Jerez.

Ronda Revisited

The most memorable things about Ronda were the bridge spanning a gorge heading into town and the museum in the bullring. The 300+-year-old bridge, called the New Bridge, spans only 66 meters but is nearly 100 meters high. Rumor has it political prisoners were dispatched off the bridge during the Spanish Civil War (1936-1939). On the positive side, the stunning bridge was used in Game of Thrones and the animated film Ferdinand.

The New Bridge hasn’t changed since our last visit, but the rest of the town sure has. The first time we went to Ronda, I do not recall seeing so many hotels, restaurants, or tourists. Actually, I don’t remember seeing any of those things at all. But that was long ago. In addition to the bullring, we had more time to wander around the town on our recent visit.

The Famous Bullring

The Ronda bullring is the oldest in Spain. The modern bullfighting technique of matadors on foot with accompanying style and bravado became popular here in the 18th century. The first time we visited, we just walked into the museum underneath the bullring stands. I figured we would see things about the matadors and the event, which we did. However, we weren’t prepared to see all of the bulls’ heads with plaques on them talking about the honor given to the bulls that died in the ring.

This time was very different. Shortly after our first visit years ago, the town undertook a project of restoring the bullring and expanding the museum. There is now a large square and a park in front of the bullring as well as more to see inside. We were intrigued to see the cattle shoots and pens used to hold the bulls and move them into the ring. The ring itself had been restored with new seating and decorative paint. We even got to walk in the ring.

The Museum and The Riding School

So, why is the bullring even here? That story is now featured in the museum. We learned that King Felipe II’s decree in 1572 to establish a horsemanship school was answered here in Ronda. One of the early training regimens was fighting from horseback. But to get real practice, they decided to train with bulls, which attracted large crowds, thus creating demand to host the spectacles. Eventually, the tradition morphed into the modern form of bullfighting on foot.

Today the museum is primarily about the history of horsemanship and the riding school, the Real Maestranza de Caballería de Ronda. We learned the school was created to develop an aristocratic, well-trained, and disciplined cavalry for the defense of the realm. Topics covered in the museum include the long and storied history of equestrian training in Spain. There are depictions of the various elements of horse fighting styles (e.g. jousting), dressage, and livery as they changed over the years. Bullfighting is now more of a footnote, perhaps a nod to growing objections to the practice from animal rights activists. 

Jerez Horse Show

Continuing the equestrian theme, we were happy to get tickets to see a performance of the Dancing Stallions at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art while staying in Jerez. The horses are very carefully trained to perform six different moves that make them look like they are dancing. Watching the horses prance and walk sideways is quite a sight but these moves were originally developed for war.

Students at the school learn dressage, coach-driving, blacksmithing, the care and breeding of horses, saddlery, and the manufacture and care of horse harnesses. Founded in 1973, the school has advanced quickly and is now considered to be one of the Big Four classical riding academies in the world. The other famous equestrian schools are in Portugal, France, and Austria.

The show ring and stands were inside a large, naturally ventilated building. Which is to say it was freaking hot (over 100F) at the show that day. I felt bad for the human and horse performers working under those conditions, but the show must go on.

The dressage elements displayed were quite impressive. Horses prance and parade, displaying a variety of trots and canters. Rearing back on hind legs and then kicking back while completely off the ground. Horses start training at age three and are not ready to perform until they are at least seven years old. This is a show I recommend attending, especially when it is not freaking hot. 🙂

Early Training
Side Stepping

Where do you like to horse around?

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  1. Great post. We had the privilege of both seeing a (free!) equestrian performance in Portugal once, and visiting the stables of the Lippizaners in Vienna. Beautiful experiences for anyone, especially a horse lover like me. Thanks for putting this all together for your readers

  2. We went to the show in Austria for over $300 and they stopped us from taking any pictures of the horses. Looks like you didn’t have that problem. They would allow pics of the chandeliers and the arena afterwards, but were very stern during the performance (which wasn’t divulged ahead of time).

  3. We had a wonderful time seeing the horses but it was about 104F that day and the arena was even hotter. Before we saw the horses, we got a short visit to the carriage museum, I really love the carriages.

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