What is a Normal Skeletal Structure for an Andalusian Horse?

In this article I will refer to excerpts from the article Evaluating Breeding Stock by Arlene J. Rigdon, printed in the Impulsion Issue: February-April 1996.

Introduction

One of the first dilemmas facing a newcomer to the Andalusian breed is determining what is “normal” or desired for an Andalusian or Pure Spanish Horse. Most horse owners in the USA come with a background of Arabian, Quarter Horse, or Thoroughbred and have no idea what a Spanish horse is or is supposed to be.

All horses have the same skeletal structure; that is the bones are equivalent - from the smallest pony to the draft horse. The difference in appearance of the various types and breeds is a result of the lengths of the respective bones and the angles with which they are joined.

The only way to find out what a Spanish horse is or is supposed to be is through experience. The more you know about equine conformation and anatomy, the better off you will be as you begin this process.

As stated above, all horses have the same skeletal structure. However, the Andalusian horse appears to have a different form than most breeds you are familiar with. As a result, he tends to have different faults and problems. This is where I believe most breeders run into error. They don’t understand how form and function work together.

The sport horse is bred to be athletic, balanced, and strong. He must be able to carry a rider in the demanding high level dressage, over difficult obstacles, or though rugged terrain (as in the driving or combined event horse).

The Andalusian is NOT, by form or function, a sport horse.

Ideal specimens are capable of demanding work, but are difficult to find. The reason is that the Andalusian was bred foremost for beauty and brains over function. In literature and in paintings he is pictured as the baroque horse of the courts, the fancy parade horse, and the king’s favorite mount. You do not see him jumping fences or galloping racecourses. The “haute ecole” or high school movements preferred by the riding schools in the baroque period involved collected work with a horse very behind the bit and working deep on his hindquarters. This horse was easy to punish and offered very little evasion.

He was the gentleman’s horse who agreed to do what was asked of him. He was not bred to be a sport horse, but more a horse of leisure.

As you learn more about the Andalusian breed, you will discover what is meant by an athletic, balanced, and strong Andalusian as opposed to a weak or unbalanced specimen. However, it is not fair to compare the Andalusian to horses bred for sport, as he will fall far behind in some areas and you will search long and hard for this perfect specimen only to be disappointed because you discover it does not exist.

Assessing the Forelegs

. . . In the forequarter . . .we can predict how much the shoulder can raise and the foreleg compress over a fence and the capacity the horse structurally has to perform the elevated, round passage.

The Andalusian has been bred for showy movement in the forequarter.

He should be able to reach forward and swing his foreleg out. In some specimens, the shoulders are too “straight”, the angle too steep, and the horse’s movement is seen as “tight”. He may move over the ground with suspension but will be lacking any bending of the knee. Or he may bend the knee but his strides are short and choppy. A desirable step includes some knee action with the foot landing out in front of the horse.

Assessing Scope of Stride

The length of the humerus determines to a large extent the length of the steps - the longer bone creating more of a "pendulum effect" of the foreleg and longer steps, both to the front and to the side (as in lateral movements), adding necessary "scope" to the dressage horse as well as the jumper.

Therein lies the difficulty in finding a “scopey” Andalusian. The Andalusian breed is not one of long straight visual lines, long bones, or long backs. Their body type is in general very compact. The breed standard calls for a short to medium back. The taller Andalusians who may have a longer foreleg and bigger stride also tend to lose some of the baroque characteristics and “round” look that the breed was originally bred for. Or, you may try to put together a long foreleg with a short back and you get a funny looking animal that appears very unbalanced.

Assessing the Hindquarters

The structure of the hindquarters is critical, as it is here that impulsion is created and correct balance maintained.

In my research I have found that the better breeders in Spain with “winners” in movement and conformation classes have no problem in the hip areas of their horses. Their horses have large round croups with a sufficiently long hip and open angle that allows the horse to push up under themselves as a dressage horse should.

Problems come when the hip angle is too narrow or straight or too short and not in proportion to the rest of the body. This is one of the hardest areas in which to educate yourself but there are a few warning signs to look for in order to tell if a horse doesn’t have enough “engine” power that is reaching all the way through the body.

• The hocks bend upwards behind the point of the buttocks and the foot fails to reach under the belly.
• The horse prefers to only trot and does not offer a canter
• When turning, the horse’s hind legs lag behind
• When turning and cantering off, the horse’s hind legs hop together rather than taking separate steps
• The front legs do not match the hind legs in action

The canter is perhaps the most important gait in which to assess movement because it indicates clearly the horse's innate balance.

Too many people get carried away with evaluating the trot of the horse. Remember, the canter will tell you how athletic the horse REALLY is. Watch those back feet.

Assessing Angulation

The positioning of the joints . . . as well as their angulation, determine the horse's ability to "compress" the hind leg . . .The bending of these joints of the hind leg allows the leg to step under the center of gravity which lightens and mobilizes the forehand.

If you look at a horse from the side and he has no angle to his joints, it’s a good possibility he won’t have much movement, either. However, even if a horse has good angulation in his hocks and a large rear end, that doesn’t mean the energy is necessarily transferred “upward”, forward and through, the horse.

The top line or "bridge" from the poll to the tail is also critical. The impulsion created by the hind leg must be carried through a strong loin and back into the neck.

If the horse has a good rear end, good angulation, but his hocks are slightly out behind and his back is weak through the middle without a strong connection into the neck, all that energy created by the hind legs is pushed back towards the rear. This is what dressage riders mean by a horse that pushes behind rather than strides forward. It is a serious fault.

I would rather have a horse that is limited in their stride and action but is able to bring themselves together than one that is strung out with false action behind.

Assessing the Topline Connection

Connections between the part of the topline must be smooth and strong in order to achieve the "bridge" that enables lightness, balance and power - all necessary requirements for the sport horse.

Some Andalusian horses show a tendency for a “soft” back or back that dips. Others have a loin that is dis-connected with the back or lacking in strength to transfer the energy from the hind legs forward. Still others have a neck that is set too low or a ewe-neck that will inhibit the horse’s ability to lift the forehand and round.

The ideal horse has good angles in the legs and a strong topline connected to a moderately lifted neck (horses that are extremely upright in the neck may develop the incorrect muscles and hollow their back as they work).

Conclusion

Understanding conformation and movement is an art. One must be realistic in their expectations and should seek expert opinion if lacking experience.  

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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