The Ancient Andalusian: the Horse of Kings

Credit: Colleen Pedrotti

By Melanie Huggett, in association with the Pacific Association of the Andalusian and Lusitano Horse

To look at an Andalusian, it is not hard to see why they are nicknamed the “Horse of Kings.” An elegant appearance and impressive movement make the Andalusian difficult to ignore. Praised by man for millennia, this ancient breed has long been thought to be the ideal riding companion.

The Andalusian dates back to 30,000 BC, and archaeological evidence in the Iberian Peninsula (modern day Spain and Portugal), indicates that the origins of the Iberian Horse date back to at least 25,000 BC, when their ancestors, the Sorraia, walked the rugged Iberian Peninsula. Cave paintings as old as 20,000 BC have been discovered in this area, featuring a profile that looks remarkably like the Andalusian’s. Other artifacts suggest man may have been riding them as early as 4,000 BC.

Andalusian Horse Breed Iberian Lusitano Purebred Spanish Purebred Portuguese Portugal Spain

Photo: Horse Source Ltd., Courtesy of Olympic Andalusians
The Andalusian’s handsome qualities complement the discipline of dressage. Shown here is Mareo, ridden by Sergio Velez, an Andalusian stallion at Olympic Andalusians, in Duncan BC.

These prehistoric horses were the foundation for the modern Andalusian, which was sculpted over thousands of years by the various human groups who occupied the region. Groups such as the Iberians, Celts, and Phoenicians brought their own horses to the peninsula, which were then selectively bred with the native horses, to create the Andalusian we know today.

The Andalusian itself went on to develop into many other breeds. Though many believe the Barb horse of North Africa gave the Andalusian its convex shaped head, the reverse is actually true: the Andalusian imbued the Barb horse with its profile. The Lipizzan, Alter Real, Kladruber, Quarter Horse, and many European Warmbloods all trace their parentage to the Andalusian.

The Andalusian was long known as the perfect war horse. The ancient Greeks and Romans used them for their cavalry mounts. Xenophon, the famous Greek cavalry officer, highly praised the “gifted Iberian horses” and their role in helping Sparta defeat the Athenians around 450 BC. For many centuries there was no equal. However, the breed suffered a slight decline when heavily armoured knights became the principle cavalry, and a heavier mount was needed to support their weight.

The Andalusian regained its enormous popularity during the Renaissance, when it became well known for its great ability in High School Dressage. Classical riding academies emerged at royal courts across Europe. It was during this time that the horse was known as the “Royal Horse of Europe,” as it became the principle mount for nobility in countries such as France, Germany, Italy, and Austria.

Andalusian Horse Breed Iberian Lusitano Purebred Spanish Purebred Portuguese Portugal Spain

Photo: Courtesy of Kara Lingam
80% of Andalusians are grey, just like PK Regalo shown here, who is a pure Andalusian stallion at Bello Escasso Farms in Delta BC.

In Spain, the Andalusian has long been used for bull-fighting. The same characteristics that make the horse excel at dressage also make it an exceptional mount when facing a bull or cow. Their courage, agility, intelligence, and ability to turn quickly on the haunches, make them ideal for dealing with an angry bull. Though the sport is controversial, Andalusians are still used today in Spain for this purpose.

On average the Andalusian stands 15.2 to 16.2 hands high. They have a slightly convex or straight profile, large, lively eyes, and small wide-placed ears. They seem to have a permanently raised eyebrow. Their necks are broad and well-arched, and they have thick, flowing manes which, when combined with their arched necks, give them an elegant appearance. The shoulder is sloped and muscular. They have a short to medium back, sturdy but fine legs, and a low set tail. Their tails are bountiful and long. It is considered a fault to cut, trim, or pull an Andalusian’s mane or tail. Overall, they have substantial but graceful bodies.

80 percent of all Andalusians are grey, with another 15 percent bay. Although Spanish registries have denied registration of Andalusians who were not grey, bay, or black in the past, in 2003 they re-allowed chestnut and dilutions such as palomino and dun, all of which are present in the breed, though rare.

“Andalusians are easy to ride with their flowing elastic movement,” says Bunny Caton, co-owner of Alberta Andalusians, in Eckville, Alberta. Their conformation makes them superb athletes and graceful movers, with strength, agility, impulsion, and natural balance. Their rounded crest and croup, coupled with a short back, give them easy collection, though they require conditioning of their hind muscles before they can achieve a good extended trot.

Andalusian Horse Breed Iberian Lusitano Purebred Spanish Purebred Portuguese Portugal Spain

Photo: Courtesy of Bette-Lyn Eger
With their docile nature, Andalusians make wonderful family horses. Here, Richelle Eger reads a bedtime story to an Andalusian foal.

Andalusians are also very willing, kind, and docile, and are said to learn very quickly. “Having a kind, giving temperament, they are extremely sociable with their human companions,” says Bette-Lyn Eger of the Pacific Association of the Andalusian and Lusitano Horse (PAALH). However, they are also sensitive, and harsh or disrespectful training methods can lead to a nervous, unmanageable horse. Their intelligence also leads some people to push them quickly through training before they are truly ready. Their “ease [of training] and ‘try’ may make people ask for more than the horse has to give,” says Caton, whose Andalusians have placed as champions at many shows in North America. An Andalusian performs best when given time to gain a solid foundation. The breed does not mature until approximately seven years of age.

The Andalusian makes a superb mount for both children and adults. They bond with their human partners, and any other livestock kept with them.

“Visiting a [Andalusian] farm, we noticed a mare following just behind our three-year-old son. Concerned, we went to fetch him until the owner interceded, stating the mare was following him to keep an eye out for his safety,” said Eger, who also co-owns Mystique Andalusians, a breeding farm in Roberts Creek, BC. “They look out for their family.”

According to Eger, the Andalusian “is highly interactive with their owners, and will do their best to please when treated with respect.” They are a breed who does best by being kept busy, with lots of attention given by their owner. “This is not a breed to purchase and leave in a stall without interaction,” she warns.

Andalusian Horse Breed Iberian Lusitano Purebred Spanish Purebred Portuguese Portugal Spain

Photo: Courtesy of Bette-Lyn Eger
Andalusians are quick and courageous, and excel at cattle work. They are a foundation breed of the modern Quarter Horse.

With their versatility, however, it should not be hard for an owner to find work for their Andalusian companion. The Andalusian excels in a wide variety of equestrian sports, and is capable of both English and Western disciplines. Today, the Andalusian can be seen in the dressage ring, jumping over fences, on the ranch doing cattle work, or in harness.

An excellent cow horse, the Andalusian has an uncanny ability to read the thoughts of their rider and cattle. According to Caton, “working cattle requires quick thinking and athletic traits along with good bone and hooves,” qualities which the Andalusian has in spades. “Quick thinking and agility are natural and easy for an Andalusian,” she says. The Quarter Horse is said to get its “cow sense” from its Andalusian blood.

Andalusians are still well known for their ability to do high school dressage maneuvers. With their natural ability at the piaffe and passage, they perform much the same as they did at the royal courts centuries ago.

Andalusian Horse Breed Iberian Lusitano Purebred Spanish Purebred Portuguese Portugal Spain

Photo: Rhonda Doram
Zorro del Bosque, a 2006 pure Spanish Andalusian colt. Zorro is owned by Keilan Ranch in Quesnel BC.

The word Andalusian, derived from the Spanish province of Andalusia, is often used as a generic term for horses that originated on the Iberian Peninsula: the Andalusian, Lusitano, Purebred Spanish Horse (PRE), Purebred Portuguese Horse (PSL), and Spanish Portuguese Horse (PSP). Before 1960, all these types were considered the same breed and registered together in Europe (though the Spanish had created their own studbook for the PRE earlier, in 1912, the Portuguese did not create a studbook for their own horse, the PSL, until 1960). In order to be registered in the PRE or PSL studbooks, a horse must be of a particular conformation and breed type set by the registries, with both parents being revised.

In Canada and the US, Andalusians are registered by the International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association (IALHA). This association is dedicated to the education, promotion, and preservation of the Andalusian breed, and does so through clinics, shows, and publications. Under the IALHA, all Andalusian-type horses can be registered, as well as partbreds, as long as the sire and dam are registered with the association. Horses are considered purebred Andalusian regardless of whether they are PRE, PSL, or a cross of the Andalusian and Lusitano, the PSP.

Andalusian Horse Breed Iberian Lusitano Purebred Spanish Purebred Portuguese Portugal Spain

Photo: Courtesy of Kara Lingam
Three-quarter Andalusian Graciano (Sham), proves just how versatile this breed can be! Sham placed seventh at the 2008 Mount Cheam Horse Trials, in Chilliwack BC, and is owned by Bello Escasso Farms of Delta.

PAALH, based in western Canada, recognizes and promotes the Andalusian, PRE, Lusitano, PSL, and their cross (PSP), along with numerous partbreds. They are the only Canadian association to do so. The PAALH was created to bring together people who share in the love of the Andalusian and Lusitano horse.

Despite their versatility, the Andalusian is a very rare breed in Canada, with only 400 horses registered in 2005. Those that do exist, however, showcase the abilities and personality of the breed well.

The Andalusian is a family horse, and a kind partner. They have been man’s companion throughout the centuries, praised for their intelligence, athleticism, and grace. “The temperament and willingness of the Andalusian creates a partnership second to none,” says Caton. “One begins to believe they can read your mind!”

2008 Canadian Andalusian Show & Fiesta
Each year, PAALH hosts the Canadian National Andalusian Show and Fiesta (CNASF). Top Andalusians from across Canada and the Pacific Northwest travel to the show to share their passion for the Andalusian horse.

Andalusian Horse Breed Iberian Lusitano Purebred Spanish Purebred Portuguese Portugal Spain

Photo: Susan Kerr
The Canadian National Andalusian Show & Fiesta is a celebration of the Andalusian breed, held at Chilliwack Heritage Park in Chilliwack BC. Its versatility, strength, agility, beauty, and history are all on display for visitors to appreciate.

A variety of nationally recognized competitions, youth competitions, and other classes are offered to showcase the versatility, beauty, and talent of the breed. In addition to modern style dressage, jumping, and western pleasure classes, CNASF also celebrates the heritage of the breed with classical dressage, traditional costume and Doma Vaquara, a style of riding developed in Spain from working with cattle.

The Saturday evening Fiesta of the Royal Horse features a variety of exhibitions, such as Mexican Charro, a form of cowboy dressage, musical freestyle, where costumed riders perform maneuvers to music, Flamenco dancing, and many others. The Fiesta is complimentary and sure to be enjoyed by all.

Main article photo: Colleen Pedrotti - Camelia de la Corazon, 1993 pure Spanish Andalusian mare, with her 2005 palomino pure Spanish/Portuguese filly, enjoy some quiet time, grazing on Quesnel BC pasture at Kielen Ranch.

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