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.
By importing colts and fillies from the Netherlands, Cuban trainers are creating prized competitors capable of fetching more than $40,000 (£26,000) 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 international horse collectors bought 31 horses sold for a total of about $435,000 (£283,000) .
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”.
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. Although amateur equestrianism continued, the costly sport declined further in the economic crisis of the 1990s.
But in 2005, Cuba began seeing horses as a way to gain badly needed foreign currency. It started to import year-old warmbloods and train them for competitive jumping, before selling them at the age of three.
“You have to take care of the horse, look after it every day,” Mr Vaquero said. The sales will fund initiatives to breed horses locally, bringing new life to Cuba’s emerging equine industry – and Mr Vaquero’s job prospects. AP