Andalusian Breed Standards that Differ

picture of andalusian horse

There is a definite breed standard for the horse in Spain and in the USA. I am a breeder of the Pura Raza Espanola (PRE). I started with first generation imports – meaning their parents were flown over from Spain.  I do not have lines that have been bred exclusively in the USA (lines from the 1960s). There are several types of Andalusians in the U.S. including domestic bred, Californian, Mexican, and older American, to name a few.

Within each of these lines you will find certain traits due to prevalence of certain lines or availability of outside lines such as those from Spain.

One breeder of Spanish horses told me that a “great dis-service had been done” by one of the early breeders of Andalusians in the United States. This breeder convinced everyone that the Spanish horse and Portuguese horse were the “same breed”. They sold horses off as “pure Andalusian” when in fact they were cross-breds according to Spain. You see, in Spain, only a Pure Spanish Horse is recognized, they do not crossbreed with Lusitanos. However, it goes the other way in Portugal. Many fine specimens of Pure Spanish mares were located in Portugal and these were bred to their Lusitano stallions to improve the breed.

There were breeders early in USA breed history that were opposed to following the breed standard in Spain. They fought against revision in this country. They wanted to continue selling the “S/P” as a purebred. I know personally of several people who were lied to when they went to buy a “purebred” Andalusian. They thought they were buying the horse of Spain. Only to find out later what the “S/P” on their papers meant. To sum it up, they couldn’t get their horses registered in Spain, nor in Portugal, and the value of these horses on the market was less than that for a purebred Pura Raza Espanola.

There can be no argument that there are some very nice “pure” Spanish/Portuguese horses being bred today. However, the blood speaks for itself, it is considered a “half-bred” in Spain.

How does the domestic USA horse compare to the horse from Spain?

First of all, consider that many USA breeders do not adhere to revision and many have crossbred horses.

picture of andalusian horse

This means that for several generations Americans have gone their own way with the breed. In fact, some breeders brag on their “American-bred” horses. I must admit these American bred horses are beautiful. But for me it comes down to, could they pass the minimum standards that Spain imposes on its breeding stock? For example, do they have sufficient bone in the cannon bone (at least 19 cm). Or are they on the borderline for bone? Does the stallion sprout a nice 22 inch cannon bone as is evidenced by his bulk and stature? Do they have the typical Spanish head? Or is it thinner and longer with Arabian-like ears? Is the back long? Or is it compact? How would the horse compete with Spanish horses in Spain?

Because I speak Spanish and have talked with people who love the Pure Spanish horse (many of whom also speak Spanish) I have the advantage of hearing first hand what the Spaniards think of our horses. Some of it is rumor, other may be taken out of context, but much of it I believe to be true. Here is what I’ve heard. They think our horses are in general of less quality than their own. Perhaps because we have so few good breeding stock of the highest caliber here. Perhaps because we have many generations of American-bred horses and crosses. But whatever the reason, it seems certain that if we flew our horses over to SICAB, the national horse show of Spain, they would not fare too well or at best would be somewhere in the middle of the crowd.
To understand why, you must know how hard it is to buy a really good horse from Spain.

The Spaniards consider the Pura Raza Espanola a national treasure.

Many breeders have two herds – the ones that are for sale and the ones that are not. Guess which herd you get to pick from? Many of the best horses are owned by the wealthiest in Spain. They are not impressed with our American dollar when it comes to their best horses. Why should they send them abroad? Time and again I have heard how difficult it is to buy good horses in Spain. It is also hard to find them. For over there, they have plenty of horses and many are mediocre. If you want the best they will be at SICAB or in a breeder’s backyard and probably not for sale. If they are for sale, you can expect to pay plenty for a good mare. Add on importation costs. You can see why we have a lack of good horses in the USA.

Now Mexico has gotten involved and is importing some spectacular horses. These appear to be better than our average USA-bred horses. The Mexicans share a heritage with the Spaniards and when they find the right contacts, are capable of bringing in some famous horses. The trend has been that Mexican horses have improved in quality immensely. They used to be known for being thin with small hooves and straight necks – a good Charro horse. But now, wow, they are winning everything at our National Championships.

Imported Horses

picture of andalusian horse

A huge increase in the numbers of imports occurred in the late 1990s and early 2000s. Some of the Spaniards saw America as a lucrative market and were setting up to ship us plenty of horses. Only buyer beware. I once heard of an American who was elated about the group of Spanish horses he had just acquired and bragged of this to a fellow breeder. The seller, a Spaniard, then went over to the same fellow breeder and admitted he'd just sold a lot of horses, saying “you’ll never believe who I just sold all my junk too.” Buyer beware. There is a fool born everyday.

What to Look For in Conformation and Color

So, what should you look for in conformation when you are considering buying a Pure Spanish horse? First of all, throw out color. Bays and blacks can be more popular and because of the demand are priced more expensively. If you have a big pocket book, fine, go for it. But remember, the majority of the breed has been grey for many generations. With more specimens to choose from, it’s easier to find a better quality animal that is grey. The bays are fewer. Yes, there are some good bays, but they are harder to find. And black, well, that’s a whole 'nother story. Black represents death and for years they were culled. They did not breed for black in Spain. Now that black is coming back in popularity, they are being sold like wildfire in Spain to the unsuspecting Americans who do not know they are getting a poorer quality horse. Or perhaps they just don’t care; they’re getting a “black.”

Mare or Stallion?

Anyways, after color, choose your sex. Fillies tend to be a good investment for the beginner. They are easy to care for, raise, and breed. A filly that is an 8 or 9 in quality should be what you’re looking for. If you have a “10” stallion, then fillies that are “7’s” might work for awhile. If you are buying a colt for breeding you have a huge job ahead of you. Revision is tougher on colts and stallions. A stallion can cover many mares in a season. A mare has only one foal a year. If that stallion has a major fault, he can do some damage to the foal crop in one generation. I prefer to pick a mare that has no major faults and if minor, they can be corrected in one generation by breeding to the right stallion. That to me is a 7, 8, or 9 mare. The stallion must not have any of the same faults that are in your broodmare herd. He should have presence, beauty, movement, size, excellent conformation, etc.

Movement

Movement is very important. The horse should have at least some overstride. The better the movement, the higher the price tag. Movement does not always match up with conformation. A good mover may have a poor neck or head but still moves great. A mediocre mover may have a great body, but doesn’t show as much elevation in the trot. Find what you like, and try to improve on it by breeding more movement in. Good movers do not always throw movement.

A “good breeding stallion” is one that throws what he is all the time no matter what he is bred too.

This is called prepotency. Of course, he should be bred to decent mares. But a horse that is prepotent for movement will throw it on anything or at least improve the movement. There are also prepotent mares who are known for throwing their genes despite the faults of the stallions.

Different kinds of movement come to mind. In the US we hear of criticism of the “sewing-machine” movement in our breed. This criticism usually comes from dressage riders. They know how hard it is to get an extended trot out of a horse that doesn’t naturally extend. Take a horse with sewing-machine action and you will not have a great dressage horse. A horse with sewing machine movement has knees that lift to their chest while their pasterns and hooves flip under their body. Their front feet do not land far out in front. Usually sewing machine action is accompanied by “hockiness” behind. In other words, the hocks move out behind like some Arabians and do not drive up under the body.

Ideal Movement

Ideal movement for one person may not be the same for another. But your horse should have some kind of movement. Movement for dressage is looseness, long stride, horse reaches out in front, and drives up underneath himself. There is some suspension and the hooves land flat out in front. There is air under the body with the horse floating. The back is strong and the horse moves smoothly. A horse with less knee lift but that has this type of dressage movement is much in demand for the amateur horse owner who wants to do some dressage riding.

Keep in mind that the Spanish horse does not come close to having the type of warmblood movement seen in top competitions. No matter what anyone tells you, our horses do not have the same scope as a warmblood. They are not built for it.

picture of andalusian horse

Besides dressage movement, I really like the flashy knee lift movement with driving from behind. This horse is borderline “sewing machine” action, but they are instantly noticed the minute they come in the show ring. A horse with “fantastic movement” must not only have the conformation for it, but their nervous system has to be set up so that the movement is put in gear.

A lazy horse will not typically have fantastic movement unless trained for it under saddle. So, horses with fantastic movement are typically hotter. They also have very loose joints, a protruding shoulder, long cannon bones. They are not bunched up or straight in the shoulder. A horse can be a beauty standing still, and then when he moves out you see nothing. The other type may not look so great standing there, but when he moves his legs are going everywhere.

Look at the hindquarters and the shoulder. A good moving horse will have some bend in his hocks; they will appear almost sickle-hocked. This allows him to have plenty of push-off action behind. The front legs will be long with a long sloping shoulder. If the neck is thick and the shoulder straight and bulky, the horse will probably not move out.
What about winging? It occurs throughout the breed at different levels. Try not to breed for it but realize that some of the better movers will wing in different areas just because their legs have got to go somewhere.

Necks

The neck. Necks are important. They must be pretty and rounded off the back. They should tie in nicely to the back without a prominent dip in front of the withers. It’s difficult to find good horses who carry their neck high. I like a horse with a high head carriage. This gives them presence. Our breed typically has short necks. That doesn’t bother me too much. A short neck makes a better lever to lift the body up for the airs. The collected movements are easier for a horse with a short neck. A longer neck gives the horse a prettier look. Too long and it’s hard to get the horse collected. Watch out for necks that are bowed on the bottom. This is a big no no.

Ewe necks are even worse. Look for where the neck originates on the chest. Good movers seem to have necks that originate high up. Gato is when the neck has deposits of fat on it. If the crest falls, the horse will be eliminated from Spain’s studbook as will all his offspring. Test the sturdiness of the neck. Be cautious of young horses with a fully developed fatty crest. On the other hand, don’t believe it when the seller says the horse’s neck will grow and fill out that notch in front of the withers. From birth you should be able to see a smooth line and a slight curve to the neck. Straight necks don’t get a lot curvier. But there are exceptions when the horse is a stallion.

Backs - Dipped or Not?

The back. Backs come in either rounded, dipped forms, or straight forms. The straight back is preferred since the horse is tied in well. Dipped backs make for an easier time fitting the saddle, but they are inherited and may go along with a weak loin. Try for something in between.

Hindquarters

The hindquarters. This is an area that is easy. The hindquarters should be rounded. The tail should be set low. The hindquarters should be large and match the front end of the horse. Sometimes the taller horses will be lacking in the hindquarters. Some horses carry their tail a little high. You really like the tail to be tucked in between the hindquarters. The croup should be muscled and strong and tie well into the back. Horses with poor croups will show a dip down to the saddle. They will show angulations. An angular croup or hindquarters is a fault.

A Few Others to Mention

The legs should be strong and of good bone. The chest should be broad. The head should be slightly bulged or straight. The ears medium sized and not pointing in towards each other. The eyes large and triangular.

Skyhorse Ranch - Andalusian horse breeder in Texas with Andalusian horses for sale. Breeders of PRE Pura Raza Espanola horses with cartas from Spain. Selling black, grey, and bay Andalusians. Recommend Andalusian stallions at stud. Pictures, history, facts, and info. Spanish Andalusian horse farm. Bloodlines from Spain in the USA.

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