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
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
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