One thing leads to another
We first visited Peñarroya-Pueblonuevo and the Spanish stud back in 2018 and since then we have been back several times. Also in the nearby village called Fuente Obejuna. Often we refer to it as “at the stud” and since we love that place so much, it really deserves its own blog post.
NO knowledge of horses
After our first visit at the stud Yeguada Cerro de los Castillejos, we went back a second time because our new friends Mati and Fernando needed a helping hand. Their long-time worker and his wife had decided to go back home to study and we saw that as a great opportunity to work for food and stay and learn about Spanish culture.
We had no idea about what we were getting ourselves into! We are surely not farmers, even though we love animals, and we were introduced to the horses right away. At the stud, they have 3 beautiful stallions and we were given a brush and were told to go groom one of them. None of us had ever groomed a horse before and it was quite scary to be that close to this huge animal. If he wanted to, he could kill us, by just kicking. But he didn’t. Actually this just-do-it approach seemed to work great for city folks like us. It gave us no time to overthink or panic.
The same happened when we were introduced to the foals. Mati told us to just go in there and all of a sudden we found ourselves surrounded by 12-15 curious foals, as tall as us. But we soon learned that the nature of these Purebred Spanish and Spanish Arabian horses is absolutely calm and friendly. I have to admit, that Malthe was and is, a bit more confident around the horses than I am and soon he was able to feed them and walk around with them as if he had never done anything else in his life.
Mati’s horses are very popular in e.g. Germany. Their kind nature, trust, and noble looks make them great for dressage, but they are also bought for “just” riding or breeding.
To us, it is also amazing to see how they live in the wild. As horses are meant to live. Horses are herd animals and at Yeguada Cerro de los Castillejos they live like that up at the mountain and on the fields. Each day they are provided with fresh water and hay, but other than that they are on their own.
They build up their own hierarchy, eat grass and other plants, play and give birth to foals. Just as they would normally do by themselves in nature. Even though they are living wild, their behavior is still kind and curious. We have never seen anything like it.
Not the only animals
Besides the horses, Mati and Fernando also have several other animals. The stud is a paradise for animal lovers like us. Peacocks, cats, and white doves greet you in the driveway, but that’s not all.
They have several beautiful dogs too. In Denmark, 13 breeds of dogs are not allowed, due to their dangerous nature. We have been laughing at this because at the stud, there are three of these breeds and they are absolutely amazing. First, there’s Mia. The sweetest and kindest Pitbull in the world. Actually she’s Mati’s son Antonio’s dog. In our opinion, no dogs are dangerous by nature. Either they are brought up to be on purpose or out of ignorance.
Watching Mia surely shows, that if you know what you’re doing, you can get a good dog from any breed. The same goes for the two Spanish Mastiffs Argus and Baliano. They are huge and the first time they came running towards us, we wondered if we would get eaten or survive. It turned out that these two big guys love to play and cuddle. But make no mistake. All of the dogs at the stud are guard dogs. If you have no business there, they will tell you.
Fernando also has some hunting dog and then there’s the no-name Mastiff that lives with Antonio’s herd of sheep. He showed up one day and have been living with the sheep ever since. He must have been mistreated badly at some point because even though he is wagging his tail and is looking eager to be cuddled, he doesn’t dear to get near humans. But at least now he is fed and has a happy life herding sheep. And then, of course, there’s Dylan the handsome Greyhound.
A family business
As you can probably guess, the stud is a family business. Actually 3 generations are living there. Back in the 80’s Mati’s parents build the stud. These days Mati’s mother Bernadette is enjoying her otium and is no more working with the animals. Unfortunately, her husband has passed away, but she has her dog Doby and her cat Mitzy to keep her company. Mati’s son Antonio has his 300-400 sheep and is doing the sowing and harvesting among other things.
We really like the way many Spanish live together with their families. Sometimes we envy the close relationships they have. This is one of the big cultural differences we experience on our way through Europe. Especially in Southern Europe.
Also living free like the horses are Fernando’s big black beautiful Andalucian cattle. For Malthe (or Mel as he’s called here) feeding these gigantic creatures was a first-time too. Jumping the fence with a sack of food on the shoulder and demanding space to lay the food out on the ground, took a lot of courage and getting used to. But he learned that too. Sometimes I think I’m married to a superhero.
Bottlefeeding and nursing
Sometimes things don’t go as planned in nature and that’s where I have found my strength… and weakness. Let me tell you the story about Salt the bottle lamb.
One morning Mati came and asked me if I could help out with a newborn lamb, whose mother had died during birth. I tried to bottle feed the tiny creature after making sure it was warm, but unfortunately, it died in my arms. It was sad, but also a part of nature.
A few days later, the same thing happened. This time with a pair of twins. A black and a white. I managed to keep the two adorable lambs alive and we named them Salt & Pepper. They were so cute and even though feeding them every 3 hours and cleaning up after them was a lot of work, it was all worth it. Unfortunately, Pepper also died after a week. If the lambs don’t get the first raw milk from their mother, they aren’t resistant to pneumonia and other diseases and sadly Pepper caught pneumonia. Even though I tried to give him mouth-to-mouth I couldn’t bring him back to life. Yes, I did that! And afterward, I remember crying. I have a hard time handling things like that. Too much death for my likes.
But at least we had Salt left and she became a regular family member. We couldn’t help it, even though she was just a lamb. She was so much fun and one day I even found her watching television with Malthe on the sofa. Don’t worry, we also socialized her with the other sheep, but she was still being bottle-fed, so we couldn’t let her out on the field yet.
My biggest concern was, that she would one day end up on someone’s dinner table. I know that was her faith, but after bonding with her, the thought wasn’t a nice one. So Malthe did yet another heroic deed. For Christmas, I got a lamb. He had simply bought her free and now she was mine. Her faith is now to live until she dies of old age and has a lot of babies herself before that.
When Salt was old enough, she went to live with her own kind as a part of her real family. When we returned to check up on her some weeks later, she noticed who we were, but then turned around to be with her herd. Just as it should be.
“Could you please help out again?”
Working at a Spanish farm doesn’t provide much spare time. There’s always something to do. One Sunday we decided to take the day off though. We slept a little longer, relaxed, had breakfast and when we were done, we decided to go for a walk. When we opened the door, Fernando came rushing by. We said good morning and how are you, but things weren’t good. A horse on the field was giving birth but was having complications because the foal was so big and suddenly we found ourselves on the field along with the others.
The foal was born, but the mother was in no state to take care of him, unfortunately. And once again I was asked if I could help out with bottle feeding the little guy. I didn’t need to think more than a few seconds. When I say little guy, it’s actually not true. I never imagined a newborn foal was that big. Almost immediately he could stand on his feet. Unsure, but he could stand and walk. He was almost as tall as me.
This time feeding was every second hour and the first 72 hours were critical for his survival. I absolutely never bottle-fed a foal before let alone took any care of one. But I learned quickly. At night the others helped out with the feeding so I could get some sleep, but in the daytime, I was “the mother”. He was like a dog, following me everywhere. Sleeping in the shade of a tree, while I was doing my work on the computer and wanting to play and eat when he was awake. He came strong and healthy through the first 72 hours and someday when he’s old enough, he will be the father of many beautiful foals.
Love and care
To be honest, we have never met anyone caring so much for their animals as they do at the stud. Mati knows the nature of all her horses and she has a special bond with them. The same care goes for Fernando and his cattle, plus Antonio and his sheep. And of course also Bernadette and her pets. Being accepted as a part of all this has been amazing. So much accepted that we even celebrated Christmas with them all.
Christmas in Spain
Normally we are used to Danish Christmas, that goes something like this:
- People arrive and look forward to a lot of good food in the form of pork roast, duck, goose, Danish meatballs, and potatoes with a thick brown gravy. Well normally not always ALL the kind of meats, but it happens. For dessert, we eat a special kind of rice pudding called Ris a la Mande. My absolute favorite part of the Christmas dinner. In the pudding, there is ONE almond, and the one who finds it gets a present as a price. I don’t care about the present. I simply love the pudding.
- After that, we dance around the Christmas tree, holding hands and singing songs.
- At last, we open Christmas presents. Depending on each family’s traditions everybody takes turns, picks up a present from under the tree, hands it over to the receiver and everybody watches the unpacking. With a lot of guests, especially children, this can take hours. Meanwhile, we drink coffee and eat sweets.
Spain is much different. Or at least the Christmas we were invited to at the stud.
- A lot of people arrived and everybody was talking while eating tapas set out on a small table. Meanwhile, the last preparations for the Christmas dinner were made.
- We had amazing beef fondue with all sorts of salads and side dishes. The table was huge, with a lot of food on it.
- There was no dancing around a tree and Mati had bought presents for some of us. No gift orgy, which suited us fine. I treasure the soft scarf I got and Malthe got a soft neck warmer, for the cold mornings when he had to feed the animals.
- To be honest, I don’t know if Spaniards trade gifts on the 25th, but on the 24th everything was about eating and having a good time. As it is in Denmark. Only the food is far from, what we are used to.
But celebrating Christmas in the sunshine was absolutely fantastic. And we enjoyed every moment. Fun fact: Spaniards from southern Spain don’t find 20 degrees celsius in December that warm. If only they knew what winter in Denmark feels like!
We’ll be back
Probably over and over again. For animal lovers like us, Yeguada Cerro de los Castillejos is a great place to relax. Either by working with the animals, cooling down in the pool, or simply going to the top of one of the small mountains, sit among the goats, and let the thoughts run free.
– Text, photos and photo editing: Eva // Photos : Malthe