Avalon Farms Andalusians

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Origin: Spain (Andalusia)
Aptitudes: Riding Horse
Average Height: 15.1 to 16.1 h.h.
Population status: Rare

The Andalusian, represented by three bloodlines, the Purebred Spanish Horse (PRE), the Lusitano (PSL) and the original, Purebred Andalusian (PSP), reigned for several centuries throughout the known world as the embodiment of perfection in horseflesh. There is hardly a breed in existence that has not felt the dynamic impact of its influence and been greatly enhanced.

So widespread was the use of this horse that it became known by many names, resulting in a good deal of confusion. The Andalusian has been represented by the names Iberian Saddle Horse, Iberian Was Horse, Jennet, , Lusitano, Alter Real, Carthusian, Spanish Horse, Portugese, Peninsular, Castilian, Extremeño, Villanos, Zapata and Zamoranos. The famous Jennet of ancient times is unfortunately extinct.

While the word Jennet applied to a specific type of Andalusian famous for its smooth, fast, ambling gait, the term ginete referred to a style of riding (with shortened stirrup) and only indirectly to the horse ridden. As the Spanish horse was ridden in this manner after the invasion by the Moors, it became widely known as Ginete or Jennet.

Those wishing to know the Andalusian should drop some of the widely spread misconceptions about the breed. The Andalusian did not appear suddenly with the Muslim invasion of the Iberian Peninsula in 711 A.D., when Berber horses were crossed on the native horse of Spain. Often we see history more clearly when it more distant in time. Archeology, anthropology, paleontology, and other sciences have rewritten history as new facts have been revealed.

Another misconception is that the Andalusian obtained its convex profile from the North African Barb. An observation of the probable origin of the Bard will dispel this notion and reveal the reverse to be true.

Invasion by the Arabs brought fresh infusions of Oriental (not Arab) blood to the already renowned horses of Andalusia. Prior to the Muslim invasion, however, the Iberian Peninsula had been invaded and occupied by many others, and the indigenous horses of Spain and Portugal had already received infusions of hot eastern blood as well as cold northern blood. Great quantities of Oriental blood were introduced into Spain centuries prior to the birth of Christ. Periods of civilization and/or invasion of the peninsula include those of the Iberians (originally from north of Africa), peoples of the Alamanni, Basques (province of Navarre), Carthaginians, Celts, Cimbrians, Franks, Greeks, the Moorish invasion of 172-175 A.D., the Muslim invasion of 711 A.D., Ostragoths, Phoenicians, Romans, Suebi, Teutons, Vandals, Vistigoths, and perhaps some others (and not in order given). Each of these civilizations brought horses that had an influence on the native horses of Spain.

Some claim the Iberians domesticated the “Iberian” horse in prehistoric times, and often the impression is given that his means indigenous horses on the peninsula. It is interesting to note, however, that the Iberian people (Ibero in Spanish) who first inhabited the southern coast of Spain are believed to have migrated from “white Africa”. Some migrated about eleventh century C.C., so it is conceivable that the ancient Iberians took with them into Spain in very early times horses that crossed with the indigenous horse. The true origin of their horses is unknown. Possibly they were descendents of early Equidae migrations from Spain, crossing the once existing land bridge at Gibraltar; possibly they had already been mixed with horses from the east.

The Hyksos, Semitic Asiatics who gradually infiltrated the area around the Nile Valley, seized power in Lower Egypt in the seventeenth century B.C. – 600 years prior to the migration of Iberians into Spain. The Hyksos ruled in Egypt during the fifteenth dynasty (ca. 1674-1567 B.C.). The name Hyksos, given by the Egyptain historian Manetto, was translated by the Jewish historian Josephus (first century A.D.) to mean “king shepherds” or “captive shepherds”. It was probably derived from the Egyptian word hequ-khase, meaning “rulers of foreign lands”. The Hyksos introduced many things to Egypt- until then a “backward” civilization- such as the horse, chariots, the compound bow, improved battle axes, and advanced fortification. They were expelled from Egypt by Ahmose I, who reigned about 1570-1546 B.C. It is not difficult to believe that horses spread across the north of Africa once they were established in Egypt. Horses of the Hyksos came from western Asia.

History records that the early Iberian horses improved the existing stock in Spain and that, as early as the eleventh century B.C., the horses of southern Spain were considered better than stock in other parts of the country.

The native or indigenous Iberian horse was the ancient Equus stenonius, still represented by a small remnant of the Sorraia breed. While most historians claim domestication of the horse first took place in the Ukraine, possibly 5,000 B.C., in China about 4,000 B.C. and in Mesopotamia about 2,500 B.C., evidence has been found that could indicate horse domestication as early as 25,000 B.C. on the Iberian Peninsula. Cave paintings were discovered in 1879 in Altamira in northern Spain, and these were linked to previous discoveries in the Dordogne in France. In cave paintings dated approximately 5,000 B.C., in Canforos de Peñarubia in the northwest of Spain, Mesolithic horses are portrayed begin led by men and women – and Magdalenian horse paintings dated about 15,000 B.C. are shown with what appear to be rope halters on their heads. Some scientists dispute this claim, suggesting that the artist was only showing the border of the “mealy mouth” and the lateral lines running down the side of the skull, which together give the impression of a halter.

The horses depicted bear an undeniable likeness to the Sorraia breed, with so-called “Barb” head clearly in evidence. It should be noted that drawings of horse being led does not prove horses were ridden during that period. Probably they were kept as meat and milk animals long before they were used as beast of burden in any capacity.

Equus stenonius was one of the types of original horse believed to have inhabited Spain in prehistoric times. Research indicates this horse migrated into North Africa several millennia prior to domestication of the horse. The Arab invasion in 711 A.D. brought horses from the east which crossed with descendents of Iberian horses in North Africa, producing the Bard. When they penetrated Spain it is probably true to say that more original Spanish blood was returned to the peninsula that any other type. The horses of Spain had become quite mixed by that time with many breeds and were heavier than those of North Africa. The Barb horse did not impress its convex profile on the Andalusian; rather, the ancient Iberian was in full possession of the “Barb” head centuries before there was a horse known as the Barb. Infusions at various times of European and Oriental blood influenced the native horses of Spain, and the Andalusian developed.

The Celtic people, migrating in waves from the eighth to sixth centuries B.C. onward, settled heavily in north and central Spain, penetrated Portugal and Galicia, but left the indigenous Bronze Age Iberian people intact. The name Celtiberian was given to peoples where two cultures overlapped.

One breed usually overlooked when considering equine bloods taken into Spain and Portugal is the Camargue horse, highly though of by Julius Caesar and introduced to the peninsula by the Romans. One interesting characteristic of this ancient breed is the color; all of the foals are born dark, black or bay, and turn grey with maturity – a well-known characteristic in the Lipizzan, a descendant of the Andalusian.

The Goths (Visigoths) from the island of Gotland (in Sweden) also made a contribution to the horses of Spain. About 200 B.C., they migrated through the region now constituting Germany and Poland and into western Russia, settling near the Black Sea for approximately one hundred years. Sacking Rome in 410 A.D., they invaded the Spanish Peninsula in 414 A.D. and rules until the Muslim conquest. This points toward influence of the Gotland horse and undoubtedly to horses of Central Asian steppes such as the Turkmenian.

This great melting pot simmered with varying degrees of infusion and influence of different horse breeds and types as they crossed with various native horses of Spain and Portugal – and there were several. It is a great testimony to the dominant character of one particular native horse- the Sorraia, that throughout all the admixture of foreign blood the emerging result still retained the so-called Barb head, sloping croup, powerful quarters, exceptional action and extremely calm, kind nature.

When we speak of the original Spanish horses we should acknowledge that none is more “Spanish” than another. Those still exist today in relative purity (excepting the Galician), yet their blending added to the ingredients of the Andalusian. Perhaps the most prevalent and dominant was the Sorraia.

The Austuran from the northwestern province of Asturia in Spain in another ancient equine native that contributed to the development of the Andalusian. In the Asturian we may find the origin of the famous Jennet, for the Asturian was (and still is) an ambler. The Galician was the ancient small horse of Galicia, a small Spainish province west of Asturias in the North of Spain. The pure Galician is extinct today but was likely also amoung the horses that made up the Andalusian. The Garrano is another early Spainish and Portuguese horse, thought to be one ancestor to the Asturian and surely an ingredient of the Andalusian. The Pottok or Basque pony, a breed of great antiquity, is also a native of Spain and a possible part of the Andalusian recipe. It is unrealistic to believe, as many do, that the North African Barb was taken into Spain and crossed to the Sorraia alone to produce the Andalusian. It was a much more involved process than that.

While the Andalusian was greatly admired prior to the Arab invasion in 711 A.D. and used as a war horse by the Romans and others, the horses of the Berbers brought refinement and refreshment to the heavier breed, as well as a new style of riding to the country; a la jineta (riding with a shortened stirrup). The inhabitants of Spain, riding their heavier Andalusians in the old style, a la brida, and encumbered by their heavy armor, were no match for the fast Berber warriors, who literally ran circles around them.




The addition of the Berber blood was frosting on the cake in the recipe that produced the world’s greatest horse breed, the Andalusian. From this time forward there would never be a war horse equal to it. Every army desired it. This horse was the perfect combination of desirable characteristics in agility, strength, and beauty and in addition possessed great docility, an obedient nature, and strong loyalty to it’s master.

Interest was focused on the Andalusian with the decline of chivalry. The breed has been widely distributed as far east as Cypress, during the time when the cold blooded heavy chargers were being bred to their maximum size, and was highly esteemed also in the northern countries. The first Andalusians recorded in England were two black chargers ridden by William the Conqueror at Hastings. The Andalusian was the perfect blend of both cold and Oriental blood; fast, agile, pleasant to ride, and able to carry great weight. This horse was the weapon of the reconquest against the Arabs and of the conquistadors against the Incas; the prized mount of El Cid and of Pizzaro; the charger of the Christian armies of the Danube when confronting the Turks.

The first real error in the breeding of Andalusians seems to have come during the reign of King Philip III (1598-1621). In 1600 he put the royal stud into the hands of a Neapolitan horseman, Juan Jeronimo Tiuti. This man imported slow-moving, huge Norman, Danish, Flemish and Neapolitan stallions to the stuff in Cordoba and crossed them with the light, agile Spanish mares. The resulting catastrophe revealed itself in a short time as the Andalusians lost their speed and refinement, gaining muscle and slow, lethargic movements.

Two types emerged later in the Andalusian breed due to cross breeding. After the Peninsular wars, the old Spanish studs suffered a shortage of good breeding stock. For improvement, a Spanish delegation purchased twenty six Arab Stallions, twelve mares, and three foals and put them in the royal stud at Aranjuez. King Alfonso XII imported three Arab stallions from France between 1884 and 1885, and in 1893 a royal order called for the breeding of Arab horses by the state. Military involvement occurred as well as that of private breeders. Favor had turned toward and Andalusian with a more “Oriental” shape to the head, and the old Iberian blood was threatened with extinction. For a number of years registration was refused to purebred Andalusian horses displaying the classic Iberian head. The urge to put an Arab head on nearly every breed of horse in the world seems universal. The Arab has a lovely head. But one of the wonderful things about the horse is its great diversity of size, type and use.

With the loss of the ancient Iberian type with convex profile, agility and the powerful forward-going thrust of the hocks were also sacrificed. Fortunately, a few individuals continued to breed the classic horse and the bloodlines were preserved. The most important remaining breeders were the Carthusian monks of Jerez de la Frontera. When the monks broke up their stud, these fine horses passed into the hands of a few famous breeders. Among these were the owners of the famous Miura fighting bulls, and they, along with a few other breeders, have kept the bloodlines pure to the present day. While some content that the Andalusian is no longer pure in its original form due to the years of Arab infusion, blood-group testing being done at the University of Kentucky has shown none of the genetic markers unique to the Arab, proving that at least some of the lines were kept pure.

It was in the hands of the bull owners that the Andalusian earned its reputation as the greatest stock-working animal in the equine world. The Quarter Horse and other breeds noted for their “cow sense” inherited this ability from their Andalusian ancestors. In the valley of the Guadalquivir River, Spanish cowboys have long used their Andalusian horses in handling the bulls, considered exceedingly temperamental stock. Few horses would feel comfortable working these dangerous animals, yet Andalusians appear to delight in the work. With incredible speed and handiness, they can maneuver an angry bull, dodging in and our and barely missing the hooking horns when the bull charges.

The very best Andalusians are used in a daring spectacle that takes place in the bull ring. A skilled bullfighter on horseback, called a rejoreador, fights and kills a toro bravo (fierce bull) in a spectacular display which combines intricate high school movements with curving dashes, coming within inches of dangerous horns. It is here that the obviously superior qualities of the Andalusian as a stock-working horse are readily apparent to all. The natural calm temperament is underscored by the fact that one moment the horse is perilously closed to death and the next, he turns to doing intricate high school movements in a perfectly calm state of mind.

The process of eliminating the old type and selecting for the new continued unchecked until 1975; then, slowly, a change began to take place as breeders turned once again to their original, classic horse. Had it not been for the few breeders who had clung to the old style of horse for which Spain had been famous for centuries, none would have survived in purity to the present.

Blood of the Andalusian had a strong influence on almost every breed of the known world in ancient times. Agile and powerful, the Andalusian made the best type of war horse. Besides agility and strength, this horse has always had a regal carriage and high step fit for any king or knight. Far be it from any wealthy knight (for the Andalusian has always been expensive) to be seen plodding along a bored, low headed mount!

According to the traditional fables, the Spanish horse was bred by Zephyr, the golden or gentle west wind. Also known as Pegasus since ancient times, this horse was the reigning symbol in Olympus of all the contemporary horses of the Punic-Roman world until the last years of the eighteenth century.

The Spanish horse, bred in Andalusia (formerly Roman Betica), made up the Iberian and Celtiberian squadrons of the famous Carthaginian horse troops that carried the Roman army in its conquests throughout the ancient world. Breeds were spawned by the spread of this horse from the lukewarm waters of the Betis River (now called Guadalquivir) to the frozen banks of the Volga. One of the most famous chargers of old was the Fresian breed, developed when Andalusians were taken into Holland during the Crusades and crossed with the native Friesland horses. The Friesian has been bred pure for centuries, yet the Spanish influence is still evident.

Mounted on the Spanish Andalusian horses like El Cid’s horse Babieca, Christian horsemen battled the Arabs of the Reconquest, and because of its well-earned reputation, Andalusia, the land of their birth, was called by Cervantes, “the origin of the best horses in the world.”

This same horse, along with the beloved Spanish Jennet, carried the conquistadores on their forays into the Americas, and both North and South America owe a great deal to Spain for the quality found in American breeds. In addition to the Andalusian and Jennet, the Spaniards brought the Garrano, Sorraia, Asturian and Galician to the Americas, possibly as pack animals. Without a doubt, these small horses contributed to the various types found throughout the South, Central and North America.

The famous Kladruby stud, created by Maximilian II of Austria, the Imperial de Lipizza stud, and that of Mezohegyes were founded on Spanish horses and mares. The Kladruby stud has retained the ancient, baroque head shape of the Iberian, resisting thoughts of “Arabizing” the head of their elegant breed. The truly old Spanish blood has vanished almost everywhere else in the world.

The aesthetics of pure Spanish blood stand out because of this breed’s incomparable elegance, harmony, and distinction. Spanish blood, once introduced into any other breed, leaves a distinctive stamp that still may be seen centuries later. Famous for their fire and elegance combined with majestic peacefulness, great endurance and liveliness, Andalusians are a perfect example of controlled power. It was the Andalusian that gave the Lipizzan breed its great strength and high school ability.

The Andalusian possesses excellent muscular action; a finely sculptured head with subconvex profile; short, active ears; vivacious eyes with a quiet kind expression; elegant arched neck; and profuse and often wavy mane and tail. It has well-defined withers and strong, sloping back; wide, well developed chest; rounded quarters with low tail-set; well-sloped shoulders; strong legs with broad joints; and the hoof is well formed and strong.

Grey is the predominant color today, with chestnut next, then bay. In early times, all colors were found within the breed, including spotted.

In studying the history of almost every horse breed, blood of the Andalusian will be found with it, an elegance and quality that are unmistakable. It seems a cruel twist of past allegiance that the breeders of the world, having drawn so heavily on the horse of Spain for many centuries to create and improve native breeds elsewhere, now tend to overlook the Spanish blood inherent in their stock and look only to the Arab for improvement. This is not meant to detract from the high quality of the beautiful Arab, universally used to improve other breeds. It simply is the case that the Spanish horse was the original improver of many of those breeds and it is curious that for refreshment breeders should look elsewhere.

Source: International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds by Bonnie L. Hendricks