The Andalusian is one of the great, ancient breeds of horse. It originated in the Iberian Peninsula and is named for the region of Spain called Andalucia though the breed actually was more widespread. The Andalusian horse has been documented throughout European history and was praised as the finest horse of war by the Romans and Greeks in ancient times. It’s history as a equine type goes back even further, documented by cave paintings believed to be 20,000 years old. It has been known by many names throughout history but has always been spoken of with respect for its uncanny agility, courage, presence, tractability and beauty.
What's in a Name?
In modern times the name Andalusian means different things to different people. To some it refers only to horses born in the province of Andalucia in Spain, to others it means only horses from Spain. But the IALHA chooses to use the oldest definition which encompasses the breed that originated in the area, including both Spain and Portugal, since at the earliest documented times of the breed's origin and use of that name, neither Spain nor Portugal existed as they are now.
The origin of the name Andalucia is believed to have come from one of the peoples, the Vandals, who lived for a while in the Iberian Peninsula. Vandalus means Land of the Vandals. At various times the map of the region called Andalucia has changed. Through most of history, the land now encompassing Spain and Portugal was a single region divided only by names of sub-regions.
Even after the creation of the kingdom of Portugal in the early 12th century, the two countries were often reunited as one under various kings. During the Moorish occupation, an important time in the development of both the Andalusian horse and its relative, the Barb, they called the entire peninsula, Al-Andalus and the excellent warhorse found there the Andalus Horse. So its no wonder they are still referred to as Andalusians today.
The horse described by the many peoples who encountered it were impressed by its unique qualities and courage is the horse which we now call the Andalusian, be it from Spain or Portugal.
In 1912 the breeders of Spain chose to call the Andalusians (as they were know to most at that time) which would be entered into their new stud book, Pura Raza Española (Pure Spanish Race or Pure Spanish Horse). This was done mainly to appease the breeders from Spanish provinces outside of Andalusia who felt there was an unfair advantage given by the old name to breeders of that region.
In the late 1960’s, the Portuguese breeders created their own stud book. They named the horses they choose to put into their registry, Lusitanos, Puro Sangue Lusitano, after the Roman name for the region that is now Portugal, which was an important a center of horse breeding. The Portuguese breeders acquired Spanish stock for their breeding programs, and many of the horses which they registered were also registered in the Spanish stud book.
Many breeders were still calling their horses Andalusians well into the last decade and some still refer to this name today. In the mean time, horses had been exported from both Spain and Portugal to North America as Andalusians. The first registries in the USA and Mexico are as old or older than the one in Portugal. Naturally we registered their horses as Andalusians, regardless of whether they originated in Spain or in Portugal.
So, today, to understand the Andalusian breed one must also understand the two breeds which are it’s counterparts in Spain and Portugal. It is not possible to register a Pura Raza Española in Portugal as a Lusitano or a Lusitano in Spain as a Pura Raza Espanola, though many regard the longer part of the history of both breeds as the same horse. The IALHA chooses to therefore breed and register ANDALUSIANS founded from the old breed on horses imported from BOTH Spain and Portugal.
Interestingly enough, the two registries in Europe, the Pura Raza Española administered by the Jafatura de Cria Caballar, and the Puro Sangue Lusitano in Portugal, have developed some differences, but the standards of the two are virtually identical.
Many of the differences seen today are often more related to individual breeder’s lines than to the entire population in general. Some breeders have selected for specific characteristics, and bred for a specific discipline, such as bullfighting, dressage, cattle work or carriage, resulting in variation of type within the breed standard.
In the IALHA (International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association), we hope to keep our horses true to type by using the same standard as both the Spanish and Portuguese and even continuing to import horses registered as Pura Raza Espanola or Lusitano to add to our gene pool.
Recognizing the importance of keeping all these lines together, we also assist breeders in getting eligible horses inspected by the Spanish or Portuguese for Revision in these stud books. This way we know that a portion of our gene pool remains registered in Spain and Portugal and so we will not drift too far from their standards.
The History of the Andalusian Horse:
The Ancient Breed
The Andalusian Horse is one of the ancient breeds of the world. Its origin in the Iberian Peninsula is documented by cave paintings and even fossil evidence. That horse domestication began very early in the region that is now Spain, Portugal and southern France is evident form ancient sources. These include cave drawings which are dated as being more than 20,000 years old and fossil skulls of horses showing the peculiar wear of the front teeth found in horses which crib (chew and grind at their enclosures) a nervous vice known only to exist in captive, confined horses.
Many ancient peoples knew of the horse of the Iberians and praised them in writings, drawings and sculpture. The Greeks and Romans many times refer to the Iberian Celts as superb horsemen and their horses as exceptional.
Xenophon, considered by most as the founder of classical equitation, wrote of the Iberian horses that they had the ability to gather the hind legs under the fore, falling back on their hocks and raising the forehand, so that the belly can be seen from the front. This ability, which we now call collection, was impressive in that it allowed warhorses to be swift and agile and to stop and turn quickly in any direction. The Iberian horses and their riders undoubtedly gave Xenophon his first glimpse of classical riding. Iberian cavalry was one of the most important weapons of generals from Hannibal to Julius Caesar. The Iberian horse both shaped the way mounted warfare was conducted and was shaped by it. Its speed, agility and courage were unequaled and lent themselves to the mastery of mounted fighting. The Romans were so impressed by the Iberian Celts that after meeting them in battle they adopted both their weapons and fighting style and set up remount breeding stations for their legions in Baetica (modern Andalucia) to take advantage of the fine horses to be found there. There is also mention of mares brought from the Tagus valley region (Portugal) who were described by Pliny the Elder, a Roman cavalry officer and writer, as “fine", docile and impregnated by the west wind, which brought forth offspring of surprising fleetness.”
The Roman cavalry used the natural agility, flexibility, collection and willingness of the Iberian horses to great advantage. The horses were presented in battle formation, tightly ranked together, in shoulder-in position with shields to the fore. This allowed the shield to protect both horse and rider, presenting little to an opposing enemy to hit while allowing the rider’s lance or javelin to be used effectively.