HISTORY OF THE ANDALUSIAN HORSE
by Saskia Mier
Although the breed is commonly referred to as "Andalusian", this is not the correct name but rather a term greatly used internationally by non-natives. It is slightly misguiding to use this term as many imagine the breed is specifically from the region of Andalusia, when in fact it is nationwide. In Spain, it is correctly referred to as Pura Raza Española, simply meaning "Spanish Pure Bred", and you will often see it abbreviated to P.R.E.
The origin of the Pura Raza Española does not have a specific date but goes back long before the birth of Christ, as suggested by vestiges in the Peninsula from the Paleolithic era. They are presented in the form of cave paintings that already show the importance of horses in prehistoric life systems. During this time, it seems that the horse spread throughout the European continent, but a sudden change in temperature about 10,000 years before our era meant that meadows which served as food for herbivorous animals disappeared. Horses were forced to emigrate north of the continent in search of pastures; therefore, horses survived only in two areas of Europe, the Tarpan species in the steppes of southern Russia and the Przewalski species in the steppes of Mongolia.
The current horse breeds would descend from these two species. Europe was re-populated with direct descendants of the Tarpan, characterised by a rectilinear profile, which gave rise to the Celtic horse; while in Africa descendants of the Przewalski prevail, with a convex or sub-convex profile. Various remains found in Spain indicate that from very early on the horses began to train for military purposes, even earlier than in other areas of the continent.
The Spanish horse began to take shape in the hands of the Carthaginians, who incorporated Equids in large numbers in their armies for their enormous strength and power. Later, the Romans greatly appreciated the value of the Spanish horse and enhanced its role both as a means of transport in civil life and in the frequent war conflicts, as a sign of distinction for Kings and Emperors. They were also selected for circus games. Roman authors such as Plutarch, Pliny the Elder and Seneca spoke of the horse of Hispania as a beautiful, docile, arrogant and brave specimen, ideal for war and for the games of the circuses during that time.
The Moors organised an army with a light cavalry consisting almost exclusively of Spanish horses. This cavalry was important in the Arab expansion in Spain and they admired the virtues of the Spanish horse. Their aim was to preserve and enhance the characteristics of the breed, creating important studs and even sending horses as gifts to Constantinople, Baghdad and other major cities of the Islamic empire.
After the Moors were driven from Spain in the fifteenth century, the breed enjoyed a period of great popularity, influencing almost all other American and European horse breeds.
King Felipe II ordered the bloodstock of his Kingdom and laid the definitive foundations for the Pura Raza Española to reach its apogee in years to come. He achieved this through the creation of the Caballerizas Reales de Córdoba (Royal Stables of Cordoba), where he grouped the best stallions and mares of the provinces that border the Guadalquivir, which at that time were the most prolific in breeding horses. This is how the Yeguada Real (Royal Stud) was born, which eventually became the National Stud.
These horses were taken by Spanish conquistadors to the New World in the Americas, eventually laying the foundations for breeds such as Frederiksborg (Royal Horse of Denmark), Neapolitan (when Naples was under Spanish rule from 1504 to 1713), Austrian Kladruber and some of the British breeds, notably the Cleveland Bay, Hackney, Connemara and possibly the Welsh Cob.
Direct descendants of the Spanish horse are the Lippizaners of the Spanish Riding School in Vienna, established in 1572 as an adjunct to the Court in order to educate their nobility in equitation arts. It was called the Spanish Riding School because right from its formation only Spanish stallions were used there. Lippizaners take their name from the stud at Lippiza, near Trieste, then part of the Austrian Empire. It was founded in 1580 by Archduke Charles II, who had nine stallions and 24 mares brought there from Spain. This is the horse that became "the very cornerstone of classical riding". The features that made the Pura Raza Español aso highly sought after are its balletic elegance, high head carriage, short arched neck, silky flowing mane, compact body and wonderful proportions.
At present, the world population of Purebred Spanish Horses registered in the Stud Book amounts to over 180,000 specimens, in more than 50 countries. The National Association of Horse Breeders of Purebred Spanish Horses (ANCCE) points out that some denominations such as "Andalusian" or "Iberian" horses do not represent the true Pura Raza Española, as they are usually cross breeds that lack quality and official documentation in the Pura Raza Española Stud Book. On the other hand, the so-called Carthusian horses are a family within the Pure bred Spanish.The foreign market is also a key factor, with the Pura Raza Española conquering dozens of countries in Central America and Europe.
It has been a tradition for many years in Spain for male horses to be ridden and for mares only to be used for breeding. Even today you will find the higher percentage of working horses are either stallions or castrated males, and that is more evident in the competition ring. Males will commonly have the characteristically long flowing mane, forelock and tail, not forgetting that distinctive thick neck.
Serving their only purpose of breeding, mares are usually left wild out in large herds to produce their offspring. Their manes are customarily shaven off, as is the top section of the tail. Over the years there has been an increase in the number of mares competing in dressage or just used as general working horses, as breeders are starting to realise that the mare must also prove her functionality as breeding stock and not just the stallion. In addition, some prefer the slight fineness of the mare's body for competing, not to mention their character, which can be considered stronger than that of the stallions.
Many breeders are also opting for a slight change to the morphology of the breed, breeding finer built stallions and mares to create a more refined shape of Pura Raza Española, similar to that of a Central European sports horse, ideal for dressage. Although the Pura Raza Española only competes in dressage, many enthusiasts across the world are trying to break them into other disciplines such as show jumping, vaulting and driving.
About 50 per cent of Pure Bred Spanish horses are the well-known grey colour, the rest being different shades of bay or even black. Chestnuts are very rare although there are some around nowadays, and the unique piebald is totally excluded from the Stud Book. It is well-known that the Pura Raza Española does, in fact, "dish" - a term used to describe the action of the horse throwing his forelegs in an outward arc before putting his hoof to the ground. In Spain, the action is highly esteemed but in countries like England it is not appreciated at all.
"It can only be the whims of changing fashion that, for the moment, deny him his place in competitive dressage - that and perhaps the extraordinarily extravagant and high action of his forelegs," suggests Elwyn Hartley Edwards in his engaging book "Horses, their Role in the History of Man".
The Purebred Spanish horse has great natural beauty, and every detail that completes it is added with care. While admitting external influences, the breed preserves the tradition of Andalusian cultural identity. The distinctive Spanish saddle andattire including long embroidered leather chaps,intricate tassels and sombrero calañés are some of the key elements that add to the staging of the Pure Bred Spanish Horse, making it an authentic visual jewel that remains indelible over time.