Elite Jumping Horses of Cuba

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.

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A horse trainer demonstrates his horse's skills during an auction at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. Well-heeled collectors gathered hoping to find a champion among the horses paraded before them.
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A horse trainer braids the main of the horse he's been training, before the start of an auction at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana. Cuba splits proceeds from the auction with a Dutch equine company and uses much of its share to fund a new initiative to breed the horses locally rather than have to import steeds at great expense.
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A horse trainer stands with a horse before showing it at an auction inside the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba. After Fidel Castro's government banned horse racing along with gambling and professional sports in 1959, 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.
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A horse trainer demonstrates his horse's skills during an auction at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park. Well-heeled collectors gathered hoping to find a champion among the horses paraded before them.
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A worker sprays a horse with water after a training session at the state-run Azucarero horse ranch in Artemisa, Cuba. By importing colts and fillies from the Netherlands, Cuban trainers are creating prized competitors capable of fetching buyers at private auctions, with much of the proceeds going back to the government-led equine enterprise.
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A man trains a horse at the state-run Azucarero horse ranch in Artemisa. 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: thoroughbred jumping horses.
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Cecilia Pedraza, from Mexico, bids on a horse at an auction inside the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba, on Jan. 31, 2015. Horses sold to buyers from Brazil, Canada, Guatemala, the Netherlands and Mexico.
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Portraits of Cuba's President Raul Castro, right, and Fidel Castro hang on the wall above a statue of a horse at the state-run Azucarero horse ranch in Artemisa. Cuba has a 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.
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Posters of horses auctioned off in previous years hang at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana. Cuba complains bitterly about training world-class athletes who leave to make millions for themselves in other countries. If successful, Cuba's new equine initiative to breed thoroughbred jumping horses would produce four-hooved performers whose success only means more revenue for the program that produces them.
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A blacksmith places a hot horseshoe on a horse at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana. Rufino Rivera, from Jalapa, Veracruz, on Mexico's Gulf coast, bought 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.
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A horse trots on the state-run Azucarero horse ranch in Artemisa. Starting in 2005, Cuba began to import young Dutch Warmbloods then train them for competitive jumping before selling them at age 3.
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Tombstones of the first stallions at the state-run Azucarero horse ranch, where an artificial insemination program is being developed, stand in a horse cemetery at the ranch in Artemisa, Cuba. The tombstones carry the horses' names, birthdays, the years they died, their number of offspring as well as how many of their offspring were winners. Some of the names on the tombstones are Azucarero, Rincon Criollo, Playa Hermosa, Discutido, Limonada and Pimpollo.
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A blacksmith holds a horseshoe in front of the horse he'll fit it on at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana. The club is run by Flora and Fauna, a state business that promotes the island's natural resources.
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Horses graze alongside a bull at the state-run Azucarero horse ranch in Artemisa, Cuba, on Feb. 4, 2015. Last year, three horses born through the insemination program were sold from the ranch, the horse-breeding center where an artificial insemination program is being developed.
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Cecilia Pedraza, a Mexico City collector who bought several of Dutch Warmbloods horses, holds a magazine that lists horses for auction at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana, Cuba, on Jan. 30, 2015. "The great advantage is that they are already in the Americas," said Pedraza. "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."
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A horse trainer walks with a horse before an auction at the National Equestrian Club in Lenin Park on the outskirts of Havana. 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, said breeding foals in Cuba has the advantage of allowing horses to adapt to Cuba's sweltering heat and humidity from birth. "It's important to be able to produce them on the continent," Vega said. "They can adapt to the tropical conditions of our climate so people can have them in all countries in the Americas."
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