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.

Vitor Ribeiro with Atrevido practicing before a bullfight in Artesia, CA
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Top: Paleolithic drawings from the Iberian Peninsula show the two types of horses found at that time, The Proto Iberian with a more subconvex profile and the Iberian Pony with a more convex profile.

Bottom: Neolithic Iberian man with domesticated 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.

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Iberian Celt Horsemen from a 4th century BC vase

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.”

Roman Era Bronze from Merida (Capitol of Roman age Lusitania) showing the classic round conformation of the Andalusian horse in a characteristic pose that shows the ability to lift the forelegs through natural collection that made it so prized by the Romans and Greeks and inspired Xenophon to invent the beginnings of classical dressage.

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. These horses were also able to perform the spectacular movements of defense and offense we now call the “Airs Above the Ground.”

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Internaltional Andalusian Lusitano Horse Association (IALHA)