Horses have been working in close-cooperation with humans for many thousands of years. They’re an animal that’s capable of tremendous diversity, coming in a variety of shapes, sizes, colours and temperaments. Over the years, breeders have developed many different sorts of horse to cater for the needs of their owners and riders. Some of these breeds have been developed only very recently, while others have been around since before history could make any note of them.
The Andalusian is an example of the latter sort – it’s an ancient breed that has stood the test of time, and though it’s considered a rare breed, it remains popular with breeders across the world. In this article, we’ll examine the origins of this breed, and see what role it might play as part of your stable.
The Andalusian draws its name from Andalusia, a region in southern Spain which in turn derives its name from the Arabic word for ‘land of the vandals’. The horse’s ancestors lived on the Iberian Peninsula for many millennia before the breed was first recognised by the Spanish in the 15th century. Whilst it’s impossible to be certain just when the horse first arrived at the peninsula, cave paintings dating back more than twenty thousand years depict them – though some modern DNA testing throws doubt on the notion that these ancient horses are close relatives of more modern Iberian breeds.
Throughout its history, the breed has been most renowned for its prowess in battle. It has long been highly prized by the upper classes in Spain and beyond, and used as a status symbol. The breed has undoubtedly been influenced by the many civilisations which, at one time or another, have rule in Spain – including Carthage, Rome, and the Moors.
During the latter half of the 2nd millennium, the horse was used as a diplomatic gift. As such, it spread across Europe via the stables of the ruling classes. In France, a succession of kings had Spanish horses in their stables. In England, Henry VIII received many such horses as gifts when he married Katherine of Aragon.
And of course, Spanish horses were also spread by conquest. They were transported across every ocean by Conquistadors, and used as war horses and breeding stock on every continent that the Spanish arrived at. Since custom forbade Spanish riders from riding anything but a full-blooded stallion, these campaigns had a profound influence on horse breeds across the world.
But of the Andalusians alive today, most can trace their ancestry back to those bred by a small number of them bred by religious communities in the 18th and 19th centuries. As changes in warfare and transport meant that the breed was no longer as useful as it once was, mainstream breeders in Europe began to dilute the bloodline, introducing the blood of heavy horses. This was the age in which the Thoroughbred really began to establish its foothold on the equestrian world – and this foothold came at the expense of breeds like the Andalusian, who were not viewed favourably by either breeders or military forces on the continent.
Today, horse breeders are under completely different pressures. Instead of creating animals that can be ridden into battle, or pull heavy carriages across the countryside, they’re tasked with creating animals which can be easily ridden, and which look beautiful. Since the natural beauty of the Andalusian is so obvious, they’ve enjoyed a resurgence in recent decades – and they’re now found in stables in Europe, America, Australia, and many other places. Most Andalusians, however, are to be found in their homeland of Spain – where they’re as iconic and revered as they ever were.
Andalusian horses are known principally for their stunning good looks. The breed is powerfully built, and yet elegant, with a slightly convex head and a long, broad neck. The withers are well-defined, the chest powerful and the hindquarters similarly so.
They are warm-blooded, and thus strike a balance between power and good-nature. Both the horse’s mane and tail are prominent and bushy, with the former usually flopping downward over the creature’s face, sheltering it against the Spanish sunshine. But unlike other breeds so constituted, there is little feathering on the legs. The breed is known for its gait, which is vibrant and showy. The legs, though slender, are robust and able to resist injury.
The breed is lighter and taller than most other breeds, with an average height of around sixteen hands, and an average weight of around 900lbs. In Spain, the breed is regulated so that only males taller than fifteen hands can be registered (for females, the lower limit is just over fourteen hands).
It’s capable of an astonishing diversity of colour, ranging from bay, to grey, to black, to dun, as well as more specific diluted coats like palomino and perlino. Throughout the history of the breed, patterns and whorls were highly sought-after, and thought to evidence character and luck – depending on where they were located. Modern breeders are less concerned about such things, however, and will often strive for single-colour coats.
Being a warm-blooded equine, the Andalusian represents a useful compromise between the speed and responsiveness of their hot-blooded cousins with the easy-going temperament and powerful build of their cold-blooded ones. This makes them ideal for intermediate-level riders who have garnered experience on cold-blooded horses, but who don’t want to make an immediate switch to a hot-blooded one.
Indeed, many riders will feel that they never need make such a switch, because a warm-blooded horse like the Andalusian is flexible and good-natured enough to perform many different tasks well. It’s a popular mount for dressage, showjumping and other sports. More controversially, the breed has also proven itself worthy in bullfighting.
The breed is very intelligent, and so will thrive if given the right care and attention. With proper training and respect, an Andalusian can make a sensitive, peaceful component of a modern stable.