“… the Spanish horse is the noblest horse in the world … and the most beautiful, for he is not so thin and ladylike as the barb, not so gross as the Neapolitan. He is of great spirit and great courage and docile, hath the proudest trot and the best action in his trot; the loftiest gallop, and is the lovingest and gentlest horse and fittingest of all for a king in a day of triumph … much more intelligent than even the best Italian horses and for that reason the easiest dressed.”
So wrote the Duke of Newcastle in his 1667 manuscript, “New Method and Extraordinary Invention to Dress (train) Horses.”
Imagine a fairy-tale horse prancing across the mountains and plains of ancient times, his unshod hooves lifted high in a dramatic trot. A white stallion, his thick mane unfurled like a flag, canters boldly toward an angry bull and the cheers of the crowd rise into a blue-hot Spanish sky.
The Andalusian is an ancient pure breed that has been carefully preserved over the centuries. In Northern Spain, cave paintings depict men leading Mesolitic horses with convex heads, solid muscular bodies, elegant necks and luxurious manes. Circa 1,100 B.C., Homer refers to the Iberian horse in his Iliad. Xenophon, the ‘father’ of modern equitation, praises the gifted Iberian horses and horseman who fought in the Peloponneisian Wars in 431 B.C. Julius Caesar wrote of the noble steeds of Hispania in “Del Bollo Gallico.” The Iberian horse carried Hannibal across the Alps in his invasion of Italy (though the elephants got all the credit!). History records Richard I, and many of his knights, mounted on “airy Spanish Destriers”.
In an era when the mounted soldier trusted his life to his horse, the Andalusian’s strength and natural gift for collection made him the premier warhorse of Europe. It is easy to see why a horse, so bold and quick, that he can dart near enough for a mounted bullfighter to place a rose between the horns of a maddened bull then whisk away before being gored, is a definite advantage in battle. When mortal conflict waged hand-to-hand, the Andalusian was the soldier’s best friend or worst nightmare, depending on which side of the battle you faced him.
Dressage, today’s fastest growing sport, was developed as a means to school the superior warhorse. The Andalusian is particularly gifted for training in the Airs Above the Ground:
Capriole – The stallion leaps into the air, drawing his forelegs under his chest at the height of elevation, and kicks out violently with his hind legs. The capriole may take years of training.
Levade – The horse must maintain a haunched position at a 45-degree angle to the ground, requiring muscle control and perfect balance.
Mezair – A series of successive Levades in which the horse lowers its forefeet to the ground before rising again on hindquarters, moving forward.
Courbette – The horse balances on the hind legs and then jumps, keeping the hind legs together and the forelegs off the ground.
You can see videos of these movements by visiting this link: http://www.lipizzaner.com/lipizzaner_frameset.asp
These spectacular movements are now practiced in only a few of the world’s classical riding halls. The Spanish Court Riding School in Vienna is the most famous of the establishments which teach the art of horsemanship, but there is also the Escuela de Arte Equestre in Jerez de la Frontera, and its counterpart in Portugal, as well as the Ecole Militaire at Saumur, France. The Spanish Riding School is named for the Spanish horses used to create the Lipizzaner breed. In 1562, Maximilian of Austria imported Spanish horses to Kladrub (in what is now known as Czechoslovakia). The six main stallion lines and the nine main mare lines of today’s Lipizzaner breed trace heavy Spanish ancestry.
Throughout history, the Spanish horse has remained remarkably pure. The Andalusian is very sturdy, with a long sloping shoulder that gives him a lofty and pleasant trot. His wide chest, deep heart, strong, short back and well-rounded hind quarters give him the ability to sit down on his haunches and balance on his hind legs. The well-crested neck with its curtain of silky mane and the thick, long tail add elegance and a storybook beauty. Though most people imagine the Andalusian as the dancing white horse, the Spanish Registry recognizes blacks and bays as well. The Andalusian ranges in size from 15 hands to 17 hands, with the average being 15.3-16.0.
Long ago, when King Ferdinand of Spain decreed that all gentlemen must ride stallions, and the breeders of Spanish horses began to select bloodstock, which would produce a stallion with good enough temperament to be a pleasurable saddle horse (in an effort, no doubt, to preserve the Spanish nobility). The King’s severe edict must have resulted in a few Spanish Grandees being dumped on their noble heads! So, the Andalusian was selectively bred to retain its fiery presence and proud bearing, yet be gentle and tractable, a trait which persists today.
In the heyday of European monarchies, the Iberian horse’s flair, style and formidable carriage made him the mount of choice for the aristocracy. Not only did the Andalusian excel in battle, he was a fancy parade horse and an elegant fine-harness animal. This popularity earned him a grandiose title, “Horse of Kings” or “Royal Horse of Europe.” Indeed, there was a time when no crowned head would consider having a portrait painted on any horse other than an Andalusian.
It is not surprising that the 17th-century Flemish painter, Peter Paul Rubens, chose the Spanish horse, with its robust body and flowing mane and tail, for his paintings. The artist is noted for his voluptuous, full-bodied nudes, and the Andalusian horse epitomizes the term “Rubenesque.” The Spanish horse and Rubens’ passionate style were the quintessence of the opulent Baroque era. As a popular painter and a pro-Spanish diplomat, Rubens’ work and his pro-Spanish politics accompanied him on his diplomatic missions. Thus, via canvas, the Spanish horse was introduced to the high courts of Europe.
Rubens painted portraits of such famous personages as the governors of the Spanish Netherlands, King Charles I of England, King Philip IV of Spain, the Spanish Duke of Lerma, Kings Henri IV and Henri XIII of France, the Polish Princes Ladislas Sigismund and the Duke of Lerma. In “Capture at Juliers”, Rubens allegorically depicts Marie de Medici mounted on a Spanish horse. Many of his works, including “St. George and the Dragon” (c. 1606-1610), feature the Spanish horse in powerful and fierce battle poses, which seemed to satisfy his taste for depicting violent action and lovely women.
Van Dyke, Rubens’ most celebrated pupil, depicted Charles I on an Andalusian, and the Spanish painter Velazquez painted Philip III and Queen Isabel of Bourbon riding Andalusians.
But in the late 18th and 19th centuries, the trend to greater size and scope in horses began to adversely affect the breed’s popularity. Then a tragic plague followed by a devastating famine nearly swept the breed into oblivion, but, fortunately, in a few mountainous areas of the country, the Carthusian monks carefully preserved the depleted bloodstock and began the long journey to re-establishing the breed. In order to conserve these rare horses for breeding, the Spanish government placed an embargo on their export and, for over 100 years, the Andalusian was virtually unseen by the rest of the world. Only a scattered one or two Andalusians came to this country prior to the 1960’s, and it was virtually impossible to see one outside art or film.
Like the economy following a stock market surge, the breed’s popularity is on the rise. Sales prices have remained stable through the recession encouraging many investors to consider the Andalusian the blue chip stock of the equine world. The glamour and presence of the breed attract many celebrities. At their Santa Ynez Valley Ranch, John and Bo Derek are Andalusian breeders. Designer Bijan’s fragrance is being promoted with photographs of his wife and daughter and their Andalusian horses. Burt Reynolds and Loni Anderson owned Spanish horses as did Dean Martin, film producers Greg Garrison and Bud Boetticher. Novelist Ainslee Sheridan spotlighted the breed in “Trophies” about international show jumping.
The unicorn in Stardust was an Andalusian. The breed’s film appearances are too numerous to list here.
I speak as a former breeder of these wondrous animals. My stallion Bonito was twice National Champion Stallion and the best friend I ever had. Sometimes I wonder if he was my soul mate! The Andalusian is a masterpiece of living art, carefully preserved by the Cria Caballar, who inspect and grade the quality of the Spanish horse. Horses who do not meet the rigorous standards are not licensed to breed. To own an Andalusian horse is both an honor and a commitment to preserve history. The return on investment is uncommonly high — Pride, Companionship and lots of unadulterated Fun.