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Family De Rooij with Spanish Cartujano horses in modern dressage

AES has approved two interesting new stallions from the Dutch breeders and owners Frans and Sylvia De Rooij-Tonnaer in Belgium. Both grey horses have Spanish roots. The impeccable Cartujano stallion Generoso CII is already sold to a French international dressage rider. The promising seven-year-old Adonis-R, a cross of the Spanish Cartujano race and the warmblood stallion Damsey, is ready to make his international breakthrough with Roger Schulkens. 

De family de Rooij has an interesting story to tell and with this, they already were standing in the spotlights several times. Not only we are charmed by the glory and luxury of the Spanish horses. Also moviemaker Mario Dirkx was inspired by it. He started to investigate the history of this clean Spanish race. This was the immediate cause of the documentary Horse of Kings - “Thief of Hearts”, a wonderful movie about the one and only real Spanish horse, the predecessor of the currently famous Andalusian horse. The horses are described as always sharp, temperamentful, but gentle. Their history is immemorial, their character is incorrigible, their potential is inexhaustible. The look in their eyes, the waving manes, the strong back and the fluent canter make the horses a pleasure to work with. That’s why these Cartujano’s have always been the horses of kings, the thiefs of hearts. That’s also why these horses fit in modern dressage…

The long history

A conversation with the de Rooij family generates the same feeling as watching the movie Thief of Hearts. Your heart will be conquered by the Cartujano horses when you walk in their stable. Sylvia De Rooij dips us in the history of her horses: ‘Cartujano is derived from the Carthusian monks in the south of Spain. In the Andalusian city Jerez de la Frontera, they already bred this type of horses in their abbeys many centuries ago. Noble people from the army’s and kingdoms from all over Europe bought the horses from the Spanish abbeys. Do you know why the school in Wien is called the Spanish Riding School? Because the Austrian Kingdom received a Cartujano horse as a present from Spain! De Lipizzaner horses that they use now, are still descendants of our Carthusian horses.’ Sylvia tells her story with a Dutch-American accent. ‘As a young girl, I moved with my family to California, where my father had a job. I lived there until I was thirty. I rode dressage on a Frisian Horse. When I moved back to the Netherlands, where I met my partner François, I picked up my old passion, but I wanted a quieter horse. A friend of ours brought us in contact with the Carthusian horses.’

Cartujano’s are esteemed to be the traditional Spanish horse. However, today the pure race is only a small percentage of the PRE (Pure Race Espagnol). How bizarre it may sound, but the PRE nowadays is impregnated with foreign blood, such as Arabian and thoroughbred. Only three percent of the “Pure Spanish Horses” is real Carthusian. ‘Luckily our horses have a certificate that proves their purity. That’s why twenty years ago we started to only breed Cartujano’s. We wanted to go back to the roots, because we were so impressed by the history of these horses. In the beginning we also had the typical Andalusian horses, but those we didn’t find unique anymore. Worldwide there are 60.000 horses like that. Of the real Cartujano there are only 1.500. The big Spanish studfarms mostly have not more than six or seven pure Carthusians. The rest are Andalusians. To prove that a Cartujano horse is pure, they are tested by the University of Cordoba.’ 

Sylvia and Frans De Rooij already breed Cartujano’s for more than twenty years now. They won the European Championship in 2006. Most competitors came from Spain and also the judges were Spanish, but the winners came from Belgium! Cartujano’s mostly are grey. Many old paintings and statues in Europe show the original Cartujano. Commanding officers only rode on these horses. Even Napoleon had a Cartujano horse. Rubens mostly portrayed the Carthusian horse. Altogether, the studbook lived up in the Sixteenth and Seventeenth Century, but the monks have stored pieces of writing about their horses that go back much further in history. 

Future in dressage

Cartujano’s are multifunctional horses. That’s for sure, but that they also can be suitable for high level dressage sport, is doubted by some. Family De Rooij motivates why they can be so competitive: ‘Our stallion Generoso was sold to the French junior rider Eugenie Burban, only fourteen, and she will become part of the national team soon. Her parents were looking for a quiet horse for their daughter. Normally then you wouldn’t end up buying a stallion, but with a Cartujano stallion, there is no problem at all. They have such a nice character and a lot of expression ofcours! For now Generoso is the only Cartujano stallion acting in the international sport, but I see changes. Jan Bemelmans has trained this horse and he was very delighted to see a new Spanish horse breaking through in the sport. In the past he trained the Spanish team existing of almost only Spanish horses. In that period, they won a lot of medals. It proves that there are chances for our horses in this world. Often Spanish horses are seen as show horses, but we want to prove that there is also a place for them in the sport. We think their potential will start to distinguish in the higher level. Also we are curious about how far the seven-year-old Adonis-R will reach. He is a crossing of a Cartujano-mare with the Hannovarian dressage champion Damsey, a grandson of Donnerhall. With this experiment we hoped to breed an even better dressage horse and we think it worked out well. Adonis now starts in the Z2 level and will make his international debut soon. Jan Bemelmans has told us often that he sees a nice future for this cross breeding. We also hope that Adonis-R will get chances in breeding with his AES approval. He really is the best of two different worlds. We already have bred seven foals of the same crossing Cartujano x warmblood and they are really in the market. We only have to more left and they are still growing up.’ 

Also Adonis’ rider Roger Schulkens, who shows us his stallion under saddle, is very enthusiastic about the grey horse. ‘It’s my first experience with Spanish horses, but I like it a lot. Adonis immediately can enter in the high level dressage. He wants to learn and to work.’ Roger likes the character and also the expression of Adonis. Spanish horses are also more powerful, because they’re a bit shorter. ‘They do complicated exercises, like pirouette, piaffe and passage, much easier because they have less difficulty with collection.’ Sylvia: ‘You already have to do your best to see that Adonis is a semi Spanish horse. A lot of people don’t remark it. You can mostly see it in the movement. He really is a nice horse, so that’s why many people ask us about this horse when we show him in competition. Every time he got a lot of points.’ 

By crossing Cartujano’s with warmbloods, more length and speed was added to the Spanish type of horse. They have more impulse. François Van Rooij: ‘The next warmblood on my list is Totilas.’ It’s an experiment, but obviously the De Rooij family keeps on focusing mostly on the breeding of Cartujano’s. ‘That’s what we became famous with. We sold horses to China, France, Turkey, Spain, … We only do outcross once or twice for one mare, because we don’t want to fall out of our pure Spanish breed. Also because our son Francisco, who studies in Spain, works with pure Cartujano’s, we need more of these horses. With Bonito XXII he acts in the Doma Vaquera, which is Spanish dressage with one hand. He even does exercises without reigns. In the Doma Vaquera the rider has the reigns normally in one hand and he carries a stick, in Spanish the Garocha, in the other hand. The Garocha was the attribute to drive the cattle in the past. Today it’s only a show attribute. Doma Vaquera is a wonderful demonstration. Riders wear amazing ancient outfits. There is also a competition for it. It’s the passion of our son and he wants to go further in it. He went back to the roots of the sport, as we found the original Spanish horse back. The Doma Classica, or the modern dressage as we know in the north, arose out of the Doma Vaquera. Driving cattle together is the base of every dressage. Horses had to turn sharp. That’s how the pirouette originated. They had to do lead changes to follow the cows. The capers, known from the Spanish Riding School, also come from the Doma Vaquera.’ 

Not only in Belgium, but also in the Spanish area of Malaga, the Dutch family De Rooij has a barn. The Spanish one is called Residelca. There the breeding stock lives. In Belgium they have the sport horses. ‘The better dressage events are in Belgium. In Spain we have more place to do the breeding. The mares with the foals have plenty of place to live together and grow up without any problem. It’s perfect for their health and their mental freedom. Our son also trains his show horses in Spain, because he studies there. Now it will be his decision whether he continues the breeding or not. In fact we think he will start a professional career in the horse world, but we don’t want to push him at all. For us, it has always been a hobby. We have started off, but we don’t have the plan to expand the activities. We’re too old for that.’ 

The Curthusian movie

Because of the wonderful old story and because of the exceptional character of this race, a movie came out about the Cartujano horses. The première has been done and the movie is now available on the digital network Horse Lifestyle. In november the movie won the award of best documentary about horses at Horse Film Festival in New York. You really have to see him. It takes one hour and a half and it is marvellous from the beginning till the end. Sylvia: ‘Generoso, the AES-approved Cartujano stallion that we sold to France, is on every flyer in the world about this movie. In total seven of our horses are used for this movie. It’s all about the birth of the foal up to the most technical exercises in the show ring.’ 

Horse of Kings is a documentary in which the whole evolution of the Cartujano race is described. Sylvia De Rooij about how the idea arose: ‘Scriptwriter Mario Dirkx bought two of our Carthusian horses and got charmed by their history. When I started telling about how precious these horses were in the Middle Ages and how the monks already bred them in the 16th century, he got that interested that he travelled to Spain to discover every little detail of the Cartujano horse. It attracted him that much, that he wanted to make a movie of it. Finally the search to the roots of Mario’s horses became the subject of the film. It’s about history, about secrets and about the qualities of the Carthusian horse. It took many years before the project was finished. Scenes were filmed all over Europe. The result is amazing.’


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