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New Zealand: Rare
Importation: 1980s

Spanish (Andalusian) Horses

A Rare Breed of Spanish Origin

Spanish horse, Indiano VI (Photo by Dr Sabina Holle)
Spanish horse, Indiano VI
(Photo by Dr Sabina Holle)

      The modern day Pure Spanish Horse is derived from very ancient horses whose body shapes are depicted in cave drawings from at least 5000 BC in both north-eastern and southern regions of Spain (see illustration below). Eventually predominating in the southern province of Andalucía, they became known as Andalusian horses. However, the authorities of the Spanish stud book now prefer them to be known as Pura Raza Española (P.R.E.) or Pure Spanish Horse. There are about 45,000 world-wide.

      The Spanish Horse is a very beautiful aristocratic animal, with a lovely arched neck held uprightly on a strong, compact body. The cannons (lower legs) are short and sturdy. It has a long thick mane and tail, and the predominantly grey or bay coat has a natural glistening sheen to it. The height varies from 15 to 17 hands (152 to 173 centimetres).

      This horse has a lovely rocking canter and such stamina that its forbears were reputed to be able to carry a fully armoured Spanish soldier for 40 miles (64 kilometres) in a day. Rounded (collected) leg action, a natural athleticism and high intelligence make them able to master high school dressage movements easily. For this reason they are also known as “The Dancing Horses”. Powerful hindquarters and natural balance make them very good and stylish show jumpers too. Their versatility, strength and responsiveness lends to their ability at many riding and harness driving disciplines including Western riding, trail riding, bull fighting, making movies, and plain old hacking!

European cave paintings of horses, dating from around 20,000 BC
European cave paintings of horses, dating from around 20,000 BC

      Andalusians were in the company of Hannibal and his elephants, and ridden as cavalry horses since the time of the ancient Greeks, but lost favour during the Middle Ages because heavily armoured knights required much larger, more solid animals for battle. With the invention of firearms in the 1500s, the fortunes of the Spanish Horses turned and they were once again used in the military. By royal decree of King Felipe II the horse was standardised between 1567-1593 and bred selectively to his ideal represented by the horse of today.

      With its regal bearing and sociable, kind, and respectful temperament this horse was a favourite of European royalty and it became known as “The Horse of Kings”. Many art forms show them being ridden by famous people – the greatness of the rider being accentuated by the stunning presence of the mount! However, with less ostentatious display from royal houses during the 1800s Spanish Horse numbers began to fall, and it was mainly conservation by Carthusian monks which preserved the breed.

      The Spanish Horse is a contributor to many other modern breeds in both the Old and New Worlds. They were taken along with other breeds by the Spanish Conquistadores to the Americas from the early 1490s. As the Conquistadores were mainly from Andalucía, the breeds transported were from there as well, and included the Spanish Jennet (a gaited horse) and the Barb. The mixing of these horses developed into many new breeds within varying geographical areas of the New World. The following are but a few breeds descended from Spanish horse stock: the Criollo of Argentina, Peruvian Paso, Paso Fino of Puerto Rico and Colombia, Mustang (Spanish Colonial Horse) of the American mid and western areas, Native American Appaloosa and the Quarter Horse. In the Old World, in 1580 they became the foundation of the Lipizzaner, and at least since the 1600s they were used in the development of the Hanoverian, Holsteiner, Kladruber, Lusitano, Alter Real, Friesians, Oldenburg – and the English Thoroughbred!

      The Paso Fino is a naturally gaited light breed dating back to horses that were imported to the Caribbean from Spain. The paso gaits are performed at approximately trot speeds in "paso corto" and canter speeds in "paso largo". However as the gait is four-beat instead of two-beat the ride is exceptionally well balanced, with both legs on the same side move, one just after the other (back one slightly before the front one). It is a smooth movement with little up and down movement as occurs when riding a trotting horse or side to side movement as when riding a two beat pacing horse. As the movement is unsuspended and the rider is able to just sit to the gaiting without tiring.

      The height of paso breeds of horses varies between 13/2 and 15/2 hands and there is a wide variety of colours. Their ancestry is primarily linked to the Spanish Jennet (pinto and appaloosa coloured gaited) horses, Spanish Barbs and Spanish Andalusians which were taken to the Americas from the time of the Conquistadors in the 1490s. The horses hailed mainly from the province of Andalucía in Spain, as did the Conquistadors. Paso Finos were developed primarily in Puerto Rico and then Colombia, and Peruvian (Paso) Horses in Peru.

The compilers of the Rare Breeds Website gratefully acknowledge the help of Marti Winn
of  Winnfarms Spanish Stud in the compilation of this page.

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