The cherished horse of Spain is one of the ancient breeds of the world. Its ancestry traces to the cave dwellers of the Meslithic Age, living about 8,000 years ago in the mountains of the Iberian Peninsula. Together with the Arabian and Barb strains, the Spanish horse is responsible for founding nearly all the other recognized breeds known today. The Spanish, or Iberian horse was well known to the Romans as a superior war horse because of its strength and agility. The Romans used them under saddle and to pull their chariots. Julius Caesar wrote of the noble steeds of Hispania in De Bello Gallico, and they are depicted in many reliefs and statuary of the period. 

Hannibal relied on Spanish horses
as well as elephants to take him across the Alps during his 218 B.C. invasion of Italy. History also notes that Richard the Lionhearted and many of his knights were mounted on Spanish horses when they rode to victory over the Saracens of Cypress. As further tribute to the noble breed, Sir Walter Scott put his great Ivanhoe aboard an Andalusian. As a breed, the Andalusian dates back to the 8th century and the Moorish invasion of Spain. The Moors brought with them the fine Barb horses of their homeland. These they crossed with the native Iberian horses in an effort to produce a breed that combined the finest points of each equine type. The Moors were perhaps the most patient and critical horse breeders of their time. 

After the Spanish reclaimed their lands, their efforts to develop an unexcelled war horse were continued by the breeders of the Spanish province of Andalusia. The horse that they bred was very sturdy, with a long sloping shoulder, wide chest, deep heart and strong back. He also possessed extremely sturdy legs, round hindquarters and a well-crested neck with a natural arch. The horse was bred with inimitable Spanish flair. He carried himself with such style and presence that he was much sought after by kings and rulers all over the world. Because of its strength and agility, this popular steed became the premiere war horse of Europe and was used in all of Spain's successful conquests. The Spanish horse practically carried Spain to greatness. As a result, the Spanish horse enjoyed the admiration of the world for thousands of years. With the heavy use of Spanish blood, new breeds of horses were developed throughout Europe and older, more established breeds were improved. Eighty percent of all modern breeds trace part of their lineage back to the illustrious horse of Spain. Due to a heavy infusion of Spanish blood, the English Thoroughbred breed was already well established before the arrival of the celebrated Oriental stallions. 

When Europe surged into the New World, the Spanish horse was integral to the explorer's efforts. As a result, it has been called the "great colonizer." As Spain's influence as a world power grew, it established stock farms in the Caribbean and supplied horses to all colonizing countries. In 1493, a law was passed that required every ship leaving Spain to carry at least 12 native horses. For hundreds of years, the Spanish horse was the equine representative in the Americas. All New World breeds carry its blood, owing at least part of what they are today to what the Andalusian was 500 years ago. 

One example of the Spanish horse's influence is the American Quarter horse, whose development traces from the Colonial Short Horse-an animal of Spanish heritage-so named because it was unbeatable in short-distance races. The Short Horse was also crossed with a number of English Thoroughbreds when they were imported to what is now the United States. This mixing of blood produced most of the modern North American breeds, including the Quarter Horse, Morgan, American Saddlebred and the original American Thoroughbred. Ironically, the very breeds that the Andalusian spawned were to be his near undoing. Size became the fad in Europe. The Neapolitan, the Norman and the English Thoroughbred grew in popularity and in numbers until finally, they surpassed the position of the Spanish horse. The Andalusian breed was all but extinct in all areas except Spain and Portugal, where it became known as the Lusitano. 

Then tragically, the plague followed
by famine, nearly pushed the breed into oblivion. Fortunately, the horses survived in a few mountainous areas of Spain, notably at the Carthusian Monastery. The animals of this herd are today known as the Carthusians, the finest of the Spanish horses. In order to conserve the rare horses for breeding, the government of Spain placed an embargo on their export. For more than 100 years, the Andalusian was virtually unseen by the rest of the world. Then in the 1960's the export ban was lifted. 

Now the popularity of the Andalusian horse is once again on the rise. Horsemen are rediscovering the traits that made the Andalusian the most sought-after horse in the world; the strength, agility, beauty, pride and docility bred for centuries into the Spanish horse. The Spanish stallions are unique because they are fiery and tractable. 

This seeming contradiction stems from the edict of King Ferdinand of Spain, who enforced the old law that gentlemen must ride only stallions. This severe edict must have resulted in a few Spanish grandees being dumped on their heads, until horsemen began to breed their steeds for good temperament, knowing that they would not only have to ride stallions, but they would also be selling saddle stallions for a living. 

The temperament, agility and strength of the Andalusian are again being sought after for dressage purposes. Dressage and the Spanish horse were almost synonymous in the beginning. The Spanish horse was so strong and agile that he could be trained to do amazing things, and the techniques that are now recognized as modern dressage were actually methods used to train the superior war-horses. 

The Andalusian was so adept at this training that nearly all of the oldest and most famous riding schools started with Spanish horses. The best example of this is the Spanish Riding School in Austria, thus named for the Spanish horses that it used. The Lipizzan breed is an ancestor to the Andalusian, being almost totally of Spanish blood. As recently as 1968, a four-year-old stallion of the Carthusian line of the Andalusian was imported to rejuvenate the present line of Lipizzans in Austria. 

Although less popular today among dressage horse breeders, the Spanish Andalusian is still a superior dressage mount. Occasionally overlooked by modern dressage riders, who consider him a "circus horse," the Andalusian significantly contributed to the Thoroughbred and most of the other popular European dressage breeds. 

Nonetheless, the Andalusian is proving that he is not only suitable, but perhaps the best choice for the dressage arena. The list of the breed's winnings and the spread of its fame is limited only by its rarity. The Andalusian is excelling in other areas as American horsemen discover his great level of versatility. As a Western-riding horse, his skills are surpassed only by his grandchild-the Quarter Horse. However, when it comes to agility and the ability to work cattle, there is none better than the Andalusian. After all, he has been through countless battles with wild and deadly Iberian bulls. 

For well over 1,000 years, he has worked at close quarters with these bulls, both in and out of the bullfighting arena. With death only inches away, he has had to carry his rider close enough to a maddened bull to place a rose between his horns and then whisk away before being gored. When not in the arena, he was the only horse quick enough to work the unpredictable and dangerous herds. 

As a show and parade horse, the Andalusian's trademark movements, combined with his noble appearance with a long, lush mane and tail, make him a winner. His shiny gray or white coat glistens as he moves with all of the pride and style bequeathed to him by his ancestors who carried Caesars and kings in their day of triumph and splendor. 

His strength and boldness make him a very good hunter and jumper. His agility and endurance make him ideal for trail riding cross-country. Generally, the Andalusian is a horse for all seasons and for all sports, even though he is a relative newcomer to the United States. Not until 1965 were the first Andalusians registered in this country. Today, their numbers are only about 700, making them precious as gold to their owners.

 

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