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Discovering the Andalusian Horse: Facts and Characteristics

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When I was younger, my grandfather would often take me on horseback rides through the hills near our home. One day, his friend came along with us, riding a large gray Andalusian. It was so graceful and elegant that I couldn’t help but be fascinated by it.

Andalusians were originally bred in Spain and are known for their intelligence, athleticism, and graceful movement. Today, Andalusians are used in a variety of disciplines, including dressage, eventing, and show jumping. They are also a popular choice for mounted police units and therapeutic riding programs.

Andalusians are widely known for their beauty, athleticism, and proud demeanor. But many people don’t know that the Andalusian is also an incredibly versatile horse that can excel in many disciplines. In this post, we’ll take a closer look at the history and characteristics of this iconic breed.

Picture of an Andalusian horse,

History of the Andalusian horse breed.

Elegance and power, strength, and beauty are phrases used to describe Andalusian horses. However, they evolved from cross-breeding unlikely horses to become the modern Andalusians we know today.

The Andalusian horse originated on the Iberian peninsula

These horses originated on the Iberian peninsula of Europe. The Iberian peninsula is in the southwestern corner of Europe and includes Spain and Portugal.

Stone engravings of horses found in caves on the peninsula date back to 20,000 to 30,000 BC. Selective breeding of various light horses with heavy draft horse breeds evolved into the Andalusian horse.

Picture of an old painting depicting an Andalusian horse,

Andalusian pedigrees date back to the 1300s

Written pedigrees started in Europe in the 1300s, and by the late 15th century, specific breed stud farms were established in Spain. The Carthusian monks were tasked with the responsibility of documenting the horses’ lineage.

The Carthusian monks, a catholic religious order established in 1011, were among the few people who could read and write in the region. The breeding facility was located within the monastery to facilitate the accuracy of their record-keeping.

Researchers confirmed that all Andalusian horses could be traced to the horses bred in Spanish monastery stud farms. You can read about their findings here: Pedigree analysis in the Andalusian horse: population structure, genetic variability, and influence of the Carthusian strain.

Monks were in charge of Andalusian breeding.

By the 15th century, the Andalusians developed into a distinct breed with specific characteristics through selective breeding of the monks. The horses bred by the monks were the most beautiful horse in Europe. It was an intelligent horse that was strong and athletic.

During the 16th and 17th centuries, Andalusians were crossed with other European horse breeds to better the original stock. But breeders were careful to maintain the original characteristics that made the breed special.

Because of Spanish breeders’ diligent work, today’s Andalusians continue to display the traits of their ancestors.

Picture of a Friesian horse,
Friesian horse

Andalusian crosses spread across Europe.

The beautiful Friesian originated by crossing Andalusians with Dutch Friesland horses during the religious Crusades in the late 11th century. Today the Friesian breed still displays strong characteristics of its Andalusian ancestor.

Spanish warhorses came to England in the 12th century, these horses were the most desired in Europe, and the best of them all was Andalusian. Spanish nobility gave their unique horses to other European rulers as gifts.

In the 16th century, Spanish conquistadors took them to North America, where they influenced breeds, such as the Colonial Spanish Horse, a foundation breed for many American horse breeds. The breed’s popularity continued into the 19th century.

The Spanish Government restricted the export of Andalusians

The dilution of the horse’s genes resulted in few remaining pure bloodlines of Andalusians. The breed was at risk of extinction, so the Spanish government took action and placed an embargo on the horses. No Andalusian horses were exported from Spain for over 100 years.

In the early 1960s, the Spanish government lifted the ban, and in 1964 the first ones arrived in the United States. Every registered Andalusian in the United States can be traced to Spanish or Portuguese stud books.

What are Andalusian horses used for?

I was unfamiliar with the Andalusian horse breed, but their athletic appearance made me believe you could use them in a wide range of equine activities. I wanted to find out, so I did some research.

Andalusians are used in bullfights, jumping, dancing, dressage, western pleasure, and trail riding. These horses have strength, agility, and grace and can be used in many equestrian events.

Andalusians are used in bullfighting.

Andalusians are extraordinarily athletic horses, which gives them great diversity. In Spain, They are still ridden by rejoneador during bullfighting events. Fighting bulls on horseback is a centuries-old tradition in Spain.

The horses’ temperament and athletic ability are on full display during a bullfight. The animal stands still and remains calm while being charged by a raging bull; at the last second, he leaps from the dangerous horns of the beast, then turns back and high steps in a taunting gait.

One wrong move and he is gorged. A bullfighting horse must be athletic, instinctive, and responsive to its rider. Few horse breeds have all the qualities to be successful bullfighting horses.

Andalusian horses are compete in dressage.

Andalusians are one of the original dressage horse breeds. Dressage is an event that showcases horses, training, and skill. King Philip II, in 1567, established the Andalusian dressage academy at the Royal Stables. The breed is a perfect fit for the sport.

They are agile, energetic, have a natural gait, and are easy to train. Dressage exposed more of Europe to these Spanish horses’ grace and beauty, and soon they were known as the “Royal Horse of Europe.”

In modern dressage, Spanish riders on Andalusian horses often medal in international competitions.

Andalusians can dance.

Dancing is a tradition that started at the Royal training academy in Spain. The dance of the horses demonstrates the advanced athletic ability and high intelligence of the breed.

Andalusian horses compete in showjumping.

Andalusians are used in event jumping; however, they are not competitive in the international class of jumping competitions. The breed has influenced other horse breeds that excel in jumping competitions, such as the Thoroughbred and Hanoverian breeds.

Andalusians are used in western events.

Andalusians are natural with cattle and are brilliant horses. They make great ranch horses because they have strong hindquarters, good sturdy feet, and healthy bones. They are naturally drawn to cattle and are eager learners.

Andalusians can compete in cutting competitions, roping, and western pleasure events. I doubt they could compete at the highest level against top-notch quarter horses, but they will give you all they have.

Picture of a Throroughbred horse.

Andalusians influenced many sport horse breeds.

Andalusians influenced Thoroughbreds

English stud books from the 16th and 17th centuries indicate English stallions in the thoroughbred pedigree-covered Spanish mares. The records also show the influence of the Barb in the foundation mare bloodline.

The Barb breed is believed to originate from a cross between an Andalusian and North African native horse.

Andalusians influenced Hanoverian

The Hanoverian is a premier jumping breed. Spanish stallions were imported throughout the 17th and 18th centuries to breed with the Lower Saxony region mares, home of the Hanoverian.

The offspring were exceptional cavalry horses. The Hanoverian breed continued to evolve, and thoroughbred stallions were imported to refine the breed.

Are Andalusians good horses for beginners?

When considering a horse, the Andalusian gets a lot of praise for its versatility. All these positive accolades made me curious to know if they are good horses for beginner riders.

Andalusians can be good horses for beginner riders. They are brilliant, willing, and social animals. But because they are so smart, they learn quickly and get bored easily. Their boredom often leads to testing the rider, which isn’t suitable for some novice equestrians.

All be aware that horses are individuals, and some may not conform to the general breed characteristics. So learn as much as possible about the specific horse you’re considering before buying one.

If they have been trained properly and given proper care, they are good beginner horses. This Spanish breed has a temperament similar to a quarter horse.

Some are so laid back; you can crawl under their belly, and others, everyone needs to be careful around. The different temperaments are often not their breeding but how they were broken and treated when young.

Roping quarter horses and racing quarter horses off the track are much higher strung than horses raised for pleasure riding. They may pound the ground during a trail ride or give you a buck or two now and again.

This activity occurs because they were trained to work when ridden, not ridden for pleasure often. Some Andalusians were trained similarly, and these types of horses need an experienced rider.

So know the history of the horse you buy and be extra cautious when purchasing a horse for an inexperienced rider.

How Tall is an Andalusian Horse?

When I stood next to an Andalusian, it didn’t seem as tall as it did from a distance. This made me wonder if they were even as tall as our Thoroughbreds.

Andalusian horses’ average height is between 15.2 and 16.2 hands tall. The minimum height for a three-year-old stallion is 15 hands, and the minimum for a mare at three is 14.3.

The Andalusian Horse Association of Australia has an in-depth confirmation article on its site. The article covers the acceptable standards for horse registration.

How long do Andalusians live?

I know that some European breeds have short lifespans, such as the Friesian breed; this made me wonder if the Andalusians followed suit and also had short lives.

Andalusian horses live to an average age of twenty-five this is typical for most horses their size. We have an article about the lifespan of racehorses here, and it also covers the average lifespan of horses in general.

Are Andalusians considered to be warmbloods?

Andalusians are versatile horses that compete in equine events. These are traits found in warm-blood breeds. So I wondered if Andalusians are warmbloods.

Andalusian horses are a foundation breed, so no, they are not a warmblood in the technical sense. However, they do display some characteristics of a warmblood. For example, they are good dressage horses and have an even temperament.

Warmblood is an informal term to describe both draft horses(cold) and light horses(hot) in their pedigree. Many of the top-performing dressage horses are warmblood, like the Dutch Warmblood or the Hanoverian.

Are Andalusians Gaited?

I’ve seen Andalusians perform their famous dance routine with their high knee movement. Does this indicate that they are a gaited breed?

Andalusian horses are not technically considered naturally gaited horses, like Tennessee Walking Horses or Paso Finos. However, the horse’s movement is smooth and lively; they extend and elevate in a walk and trot. Their action is cadenced and harmonious but not gaited.

Gaited horse breeds have distinct footfall patterns; at all times, they have one foot on the ground creating a smoother ride. Please check out my article to learn more about gaited horses.

How Much Do Andalusians Cost?

Andalusians are well-rounded animals with superior conformation that you can use for a wide variety of equine events. These are traits that make them highly valued. So I was curious how much one would cost.

Andalusians are more expensive than most horse breeds. The average sales price is between 12,000-20,000 dollars for a horse with some dressage training.

Horse prices vary based on the amount of training, sex, pedigree, conformation, temperament, and age. There could be other issues affecting the price as well, for example, the motivation of the seller.

There are useful resources for buyers on the internet. You can purchase from the breeders or classifieds listed by the owners.

Buying from an established breeder has advantages; you can:

  • See the stud: viewing the sire of the horse you plan to purchase can give you an idea of what the foal may look like when fully grown.
  • See the broodmare: viewing the dam of the foal will also help you get a clearer picture of the fully-grown foal. You have the opportunity to see how the horses are treated at the facility. If allowed, get into the stall and test the mares’ temperament.
  • Ask for references: Breeders make a living by having satisfied customers and should encourage you to speak with other sellers if they discourage you, red flag.
  • View their facility and see other stock: Walk around and learn as much as possible about how they treat the young horses. How horses interact with people when developing makes an impact on their future.

Andalusians have a high rate of certain diseases.

Certain breeds pass a gene or genes that cause disease from parent to offspring. Andalusians are no exception; a few diseases seem to be genetically transferred from generation to generation.

One such disease is equine degenerative myeloencephalopathy (EDM). EDM is a neurodegenerative disorder that damages part of the brain that controls muscle coordination.

The breed also experiences a high risk of developing reduced blood flow of the small intestine and laminitis. Similarly, many horses in this breed have light skin and are subject to melanomas, and the stallions are at risk of inguinal hernias.

All breeds have some genetic predisposition to disease, but overall, Andalusians are a hardy breed, and most health issues they have are present in other horse breeds.

For example, any horse that’s not fed properly is susceptible to developing laminitis.

Andalusian coat colors are typically bay or gray.

Through the ages, Andalusians have been seen in all basic horse color patterns, including spotted. However, modern Andalusians are mostly bay or gray, with the vast majority gray.

Official registries for the Andalusian horse breed accept registration colors of bay, gray, chestnut, black, dun, palomino, buckskin, pearlino, and cremello. See Rules for International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association.