Andalusian Horse Origin and Characteristics

Andalusians are sometimes referred to as being the Pure Spanish Horse. It is a breed that originates from the Iberian Peninsula and has an ancestry that dates to ancient times. They are known for their stately appearance, with a strong, muscular appearance. Their long tails and thick manes gives the horse a look elegance as well.

There are two groups of Andalusians that are recognized today: the standard horse and the Carthusian horse. Some breeders believe that the Carthusian sub-group is a purer line of genetics for the breed, though no genetic evidence has been found to support this belief. Nevertheless, Carthusians command higher pricing and breeding priorities for many around the world today.

Competing registries have created further uncertainty within the sub-groups of the Andalusian breed, along with who rightfully owns the official studbooks, but one observation cannot be denied: Andalusians are widely regarded as one of the most beautiful horse breeds in the world.

The History of the Andalusian

Andalusians have been recognized as a breed since the 15th century. Even though there are 600+ years of history with this breed, the conformation standards have changed very little over that time. It has been a horse that was prized by royalty, craved by soldiers, and offered as gifts for diplomatic missions over the centuries.

The ancestry of the Andalusian, however, dates much further back. There have been cave paintings that have been dated to 30,000 BC that show horses being present on the Iberian Peninsula. Breeds like the Andalusian have influenced regional cultures within the region for millennia.

Evidence suggests that in ancient times, Barb and Andalusian horses were regularly bred together to improve both breeds.

The Romans used Iberian horses as war horses beginning in the 4th century BC. Early written pedigrees of lineage were kept by Carthusian monks in the 13th century, which is why the Carthusian sub-group is often treated as a “purer” form of Andalusian horse. Stud farms for breeding Andalusians were established by the monks in the 15th century in Seville, Cazalla, and Jerez.

Their stately appearance made the Andalusian the preferred horse of European royalty throughout the Middle Ages. Spain often used this breed as a tool for diplomacy, granting export rights to citizens as a form of favor. By the time the breed was officially recognized, Andalusians could be found throughout the entire Mediterranean region. Explorers were taking Andalusians over to the Americas as well.

By 1642, Andalusian horses could be found the world over. 

Despite their widespread appeal, the lineage of all modern Andalusian horses can be traced to a small herd that was bred by European religious orders in the 18th and 19th centuries. This is because an effort to improve the Andalusian with draft horse genetics failed and caused a complete dilution of the breed’s bloodlines. Only the horses selectively separated by the religious orders could restore the breed to its original status.

Because of this endangerment, the exportation of Andalusians was stopped until the late 20th century. Even today, export opportunities are limited. 

There has also been some controversy over the breed because of the two perceived lines that exist. At one time, all the horses that were accepted for registry as an Andalusian were kept in the same stud book. The stud book was separated into two books in 1966, creating a Lusitano book that was separate from the main Andalusian book. Then there are the hand-kept records of the Carthusian lines to consider with the breed as well, along with stud farm records that may not always be included with the registry records.

Primary Characteristics of the Andalusian Horse

Stallions and mares average a height of 15.5 hands high. Stallions can weigh over 1,100 pounds, while it is rare for a mare to weight more than 1,000 pounds. For an Andalusian to be registered with the Spanish government, the horse must be at least 15 hands as a stallion or 14.3 hands for a mare.

Andalusian horses have a certain elegance to them that is not found in most other breeds. This elegance is complimented by a strong build. Concave or convex profiles are discouraged within the breed. The neck of the horse should be broad and long, with withers that are defined well. The chest of an Andalusian is massive, but the back is broad and short.

The temperament of an Andalusian is generally quiet and willing. These horses are highly intelligent and tend to process information through observation. They are also one of the most sensitive horse breeds in the world today, with a strong desire for social interactions within a herd and with human handlers.

Andalusian horses demand respect. If they receive it, then they are responsive to learning opportunities. If they feel like they are not being respected, then an Andalusian can become stubborn, combative, and display other unwanted behaviors.

Carthusian horses have two specific characteristics that are often noted as evidence that they are a purer form of the breed.

  • There are warts that can be found under the tail, which is a trait that a stallion named Esclavo passed along to his offspring.
  • There are frontal bosses, sometimes called “horns,” they are found at the temple or around the ears, formed from calcium deposits.

Most coat colors can be found in all Andalusian horses. Most horses within the breed tend to be bay or gray. Only 5% of Andalusians have coloring that is chestnut, dun, black or palomino. Rare coloring, such as buckskin or pearl, are accepted and allowed within the breeding registries.

Movement is an important characteristic for the Andalusian breed. Horses that have excessive sideways movement of the legs, have a poor tempo, or do not naturally have good elevation are discouraged from being included on a breeding registry. There should be a smoothness too the forward movement, with high-stepping grace, that promotes a tempo that is elevated and extended with a good cadence. 

Superstitions with the Andalusian Horse

Certain markings and whorls that could be found on Andalusians were often preferred for superstitious reasons during the early days of the breed. Specific white markings were thought to bring either good or bad luck, depending on the size or placement of the marking. A horse with white stockings, for example, was considered to bring extremely good or really bad luck, depending on the legs marked and the type of marking present. Without stockings, the horse would be considered ill-tempered and difficult to manage. Markings on the face were considered to determine if the horse would be honest, loyal, or lazy.

Whorls within the coat would complement the superstitions that were present. Placement was important for the whorls. If the horse could not see them, then it was thought to be unlucky. Andalusians with coat whorls near the heart, but the shoulder, or along the cheeks and temples were considered the worst and many horses were let go or worse because of these markings.

On the other hand, whorls that were placed near the root of the tail were thought to be extremely good luck. It was treated as a mark of courage. Horses with two whorls in this location were highly sought because it was believed that these were the most courageous horses.

Health Issues with the Andalusian Horse

Andalusian horses have an equal risk for health conditions compared to the other horse breeds. There is a higher risk for reduced circulation through the small intestine with this breed, however, that can put some horses at risk for colic. For stallions within the breed, the risk of suffering from an inguinal hernia is up to 30 times greater than average for all horse breeds.

Andalusians also tend to suffer from laminitis as a complication to their colic when it occurs because their sensitivity creates an urge to limit mobility.

Despite the propensity for colic, there is actually a lower risk of suffering obstruction-related colic within the breed.

The Modern Andalusian Horse

Portugal and Spain may be treating Lusitano and Andalusian horses as separate breeds, but not everyone does so. It is only recently that Portugal has even closed its stud book to Spanish horses, so the offspring being produced can have mixed attributes that can make classification somewhat confusing.

Many are calling for the stud books to be reunited to end the confusion.

What can be agreed upon is the versatility of the Andalusian. They are virtually unequalled in the equine world today with the events, disciplines, and riding opportunities that they are offer. In each event or discipline, they strive to excel. The competitive nature of this horse, when supported by a rider who they respect, is virtually unprecedented when compared to other breeds.

This breed is set apart because of its talent, visual appearance, and movement. They are responsive, expressive, and offer a smooth ride. Although ownership opportunities may be limited for some, there is no denying the attraction that an Andalusian horse creates for those who love horses.