INICIO, EPONA - Equestrian Center

History of the Andalusian Horse

Article published in the book 'Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre' Author D. Juan Carlos AltamiroArticle published in the book 'Real Escuela Andaluza del Arte Ecuestre' Author D. Juan Carlos Altamiro
The spanish horse, the horse of Andalusia. the star of the spectacle "Como bailan los caballos andaluces" (How the Andalusian Horses Dance), registered in the Stud Book of the Breed as Purebred Spanish Horse, is one of the most noble and the most appreciated animals in the world. Easy to train and truly spectacular in the development of the airs required in Classical Dressage and in the Spanish High School of Riding, is also very beautiful, furthermore, its good character, elevated movements and an extraordinary capacity for collection make it useful for many different forms of sports and leisure activities. Because of those qualities, the great masters of equitation have regarded it as the horse of highest perfection. This is the statement Barron d'Eisenberg, director of the School of Pisa, made in 1770. "The experience has shown it clearly that the Spanish horse is without a doubt the most perfect in the world for the High School, and not only with respect to its shape, which is most beautiful, but also with regard to its qualities". However, just as it happened with other breeds of horses, the ignorance of its origin led to its mythification and, in the course of time, gave rise to different myths and legv ends. Still, as Luis Loredo Hill have said, these fantasies have been superseded "by the historic reality, for the process of creation of the Spanish horse and its evolution in the course of time has even more beauty in them than the myths that used to surround them". The thing is that the distortion of historic facts not only has concealed the extraordinary project through wish the horse had been obtained, but it has also shadowed its important cultural significance. It has been maintained that it was the product of natural evolution, thus attributing its morphological characteristics to its adaption to the Andalusian environment.

Van Dick. King Charles I of England. National Gallery LondonVan Dick. King Charles I of England. National Gallery London
The truth is, though, that the Spanish horse is the product of the first genetic project in history undertaken in order to obtain a breed of horses with certain specific morphological and mental characteristics. It began with the Royal Warrant of the 28th of November 1567, by which the king Phillip ll ordered the royal horse master in Cordoba, Diego Lopez de Haro, to purchase 1.200 mares and the stallions necessary to create a new breed of horses that would be obtained through crosses between the different types of horses existing in Andalusia at that time. While up till that moment man used to look for specimens that would serve only as means of transport, attaching little importance to shape, now he embarked on a task to create the type of horse that had been idealized for centuries. The model of a horse to be obtained was developed some four hundred years before Christ by the ancient Greeks such as Simon of Athens, Xenophon, and later on by Columella and Saint lsodore of Seville among others, who maintained that the perfect horse should possess features such as "small head, black eyes, tiny and straight ears, flexible, thick and not too long neck, thick mane, wide chest, round belly, elevated movements, long, silky and wavy tail. and round croup". From then on, this model of horse, inexistent in reality, was represented on drawings, engravings, paintings, and in sculptures by all known civilisations as an ideal prototype for an equine. Precisely this model, mythyfied for over a thousand years, was the one king Phillip II ordered to achieve in the city of Cordoba.

Van Dick. King Charles I of England. El PradoVan Dick. King Charles I of England. El Prado
The characteristics of which can be observed in the specimens of Purebred Spanish Horse that perform to the sound music in the spectacle "Como bailan los caballos andaluces" (How the Andalusian Horses Dance). François Robichón de la Guerniere, director of the Royal School of Tullerias, wrote about them in 1773: "All the authors have always given preference to the Spanish horse regarding it as the best of all the horses for High School, because of his agility, its springiness and cadence" One of the main characteristics sought-after for the new breed of horses was the nobility, so as to offer the maximum safety to the king by whom and for whom it was created. lts creation was a very good thing because it made possible to see, through the recently developed principles of dressage, the beauty of the natural movements of horses in all its splendour. The good character of those new horses compensated for the poor technique of the riders at that time. In 1606, Salomón de la Broue, the pupil of Juan Baitista Pignatelli, regarded that: "Comparing the best horses between one another (...) I put in the first rank the horse of Spain, and give my vote as the most beautiful, the most noble, the most courageous and the most worthy of being ridden by a great king". This search for nobility was precisely what caused that the most characteristic coat of the Spanish horse was the grey, since during the 16th century, and right up to the scientific revolution in the 17th century, it was believed that there was a correlation between the coat of colour and the character of the animals. Just as the chestnut horse, due to the reddish colour, was considered choleric and, therefore, was rejected, so the grey that would eventually end up as white, was regarded the one that possessed the greatest nobility.

Velazquez. Isabella de Bourbon. El PradoVelazquez. Isabella de Bourbon. El Prado
This doctrine had also influenced the selection of the other Spanish legend, which, because of its historic importance, ought to be remembered — the fighting bull. In regard to this animal, as in regard to the Spanish horse, the same mistake was repeated attributing its appearance, in part, to natural evolution whereas, in fact, it was the product of the same society and culture. Although the aim pursued in the creation of this animal was not precisely the nobility, its selection process followed the same cultural parameters. In this case, the preference was given to the specimens of black coat colour —representing death — in the conviction that it was linked with bravery and danger necessary for organising the public festivals and bullfighting spectacles in which the were partaking. The result obtained by the royal horse master Diego Lopez de Haro, the Spanish horse, was so extraordinary that the specimens produced, contrary to what the king announced at the beginning of the project, were destined for the exclusive use of the Royal Household that use them as gifts for foreign monarchs, nobles and clergy. For Garsault, horse master of the king of France Louis XIV, these horses combined the characteristics necessary for the High School of riding: "Not all horses are equally good for the High School of Riding, and the horses of Spain are without a doubt the best that are known for such uses".

Velazquez. King Felipe IV. El PradoVelazquez. King Felipe IV. El Prado
The revolution caused by the appearance of those animals, by making it possible to practice dressage and naturally establish it in its movements, meant that there was no king or nobleman who would not wish to cross their mares with Spanish stallions. Because of this, specimens were sent to different countries such as Germany, Italy, Sweden, France, and Austria among others. From their crosses, breeds such as the Kladruber, Lusitano, or the Lipizzaner that served as a base for the creation of the Spanish Riding School of Viena, were born. This how William Cavendish, Duke of Newcastle, one of the greatest horse masters of the time referred to the Spanish horse when years later he wrote about its qualities: "You know that of all the horses in the world, no matter what place, climate or province they may come from, the horses of Spain are the most intelligent, and to such extend that exceeds all imagination. If you know how to choose well a Spanish horse, I tell you that it is the noblest in the world and its trot action is the most beautiful. I, therefore, say, that the Spanish horse is the best horse in the world". ln the same fashion, George Louis Leclerc, Count of Bufón, wrote in 1749 about the uniqueness of this breed: "The horses of Andalusia seem to be the best of all (...) they are very spirited, docile, beautiful, elegant, and flexible; thanks to which the Spanish horses are preferred to all the others in the world".
Velazquez. Príncipe Baltazar Carlos. El Prado Velazquez. Príncipe Baltazar Carlos. El Prado
As we have indicated, there were many circumstances that favoured the creation of the Spanish horse, however, there was one that turned out to be the essential for the continuity of this breed over the course of time. It is about the certain aspects of the identity of the Andalusian people who developed a very unique way of life. They transmitted some of their idiosyncrasy onto the horse, thus it became worthy of forming part of the Spanish cultural heritage. Through obtaining what up till then had been a myth, the Andalusian people took in its importance and significance to such an extend that, from then on, the symbiosis between the horse and rider became part of life in that region, and in a very special way. Today, after over four centuries of existence, when the Spanish, thanks to the effort of the breeders and the Royal Foundation Andalusian School of Equestrian Art, enjoys the well-deserved international prestige, we should also recall the phrase of the great master of equitation Pluvinel, when he gave one specimen to the king Lois Xlll.

Sire, for certain Your Majesty, as the greatest king in the Christian world, shall learn to ride in the most perfect horse"