Monday, February 23, 2015

Cuba moves into new luxury niche - purebred horses

Cuba moves into new luxury niche: purebred horses
Posted: Sunday, February 22, 2015 12:00 am
Associated Press

HAVANA — Already renowned for fine rum and fancy cigars, Cuba is carving
out a new luxury niche that is attracting Latin American elites to the
communist-run island: elite jumping horses.
By importing colts and fillies from the Netherlands, Cuban trainers are
creating prized competitors capable of fetching more than $40,000 from
buyers at private auctions, with much of the proceeds going back to the
government-led equine enterprise.
At an auction last month at the National Equestrian Club, well-heeled
horse collectors gathered in the tropical air to sip wine and raise
their bidding paddles, hoping to find a champion among the Dutch
Warmbloods paraded before them.
By evening's end, 31 horses sold for a total of about $435,000 to buyers
from Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, the Netherlands and Mexico.
"The great advantage is that they are already in the Americas," said
Cecilia Pedraza, a Mexico City collector who bought several of the Dutch
Warmbloods. "In addition, they have been trained very well. They are
advanced for their age, very well-behaved, perform concentrated jumps
and have excellent blood lines."
Rufino Rivera, from Xalapa, the capital of Mexico's Gulf coast state of
Veracruz, paid about $17,000 for a horse he hopes will follow the path
of Aristotelis, a prize-winning jumper he bought at the club's first
auction six years ago.
Cuba's tradition of horse breeding and training dates to the 16th
century, but after the 1959 communist revolution, Fidel Castro's
government banned horse racing along with gambling and professional
sports. Cuba continued to participate in amateur equestrianism,
producing top-notch horse riders and trainers. But the costly sport
slipped into decline in the 1990s, when the fall of the Soviet Union
provoked an economic crisis that made it hard to care for the animals.
Then, starting in 2005, Cuba began seeing horses as a way to gain badly
needed foreign currency. It began to import Dutch Warmbloods around age
1, then train them for competitive jumping before selling them at age 3.
In the days before an auction, jockeys and trainers like Jose Luis
Vaquero can be seen brushing their purebred wards' coats and braiding
their manes so that "everything is perfect."
"You have to take care of the horse, look after it every day," Vaquero said.
The National Equestrian Club is run by Flora and Fauna, a state business
that promotes the island's natural resources. It keeps 117 horses in
stables in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana.
Cuba, which splits proceeds from the auction with a Dutch equine
company, uses much of its share to fund a new initiative to breed the
horses locally rather than have to import animals at great expense.
Willy Arts, the head of the Royal Dutch Sport Horse association's North
American wing, said there is growing demand for high-quality show horses
and Cuba's program could be important to people in the Western
Hemisphere looking to purchase them at more accessible prices.
Cuba complains bitterly about training world-class athletes who leave to
make millions for themselves in other countries. If successful, the new
equine initiative would produce four-hooved performers whose success
means more revenue for the program.
"It's important to be able to produce them on the continent," said
Maydet Vega, a veterinarian who oversees equine programs at Rancho
Azucarero, the horse-breeding center west of Havana where the artificial
insemination program is being developed. "They can adapt to the tropical
conditions of our climate so people can have them in all countries in
the Americas."

Source: Cuba moves into new luxury niche: purebred horses - Business -

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