Why "Spanish" Horse?

Closeup of Andalusian

Even in Spain, it is normal to hear people insist that the horse should be called Andalusian*, perhaps as a result of a strong regionalist sentiment and because that is the name often used in other countries. The official name of the horse is Purebred Spanish (Pura Raza Española or PRE in Spanish), and it is informally referred to as the Spanish horse (Caballo Español).

During the Middle Ages and in more modern times many authors considered all horses bred in Southern Spain as belonging to one single breed. No references were made to the different types of horses bred, such as hacas (hacks), "hacaneas", frisones (Friesians), "cuartagos", trotones (trotters), etc. It is possible that as a result of this oversight present day authors erroneously attribute certain characteristics to the Spanish horse, and even insist that it is a cross-breed.

Since ancient times and before a breed acquired its present-day meaning, horses were named after their place of origin (just as the warmbloods of Europe are named for their origination). Any horse coming from Andalusia, regardless of its breed, was called an Andalusian. For those who lived outside Andalusia, both the haca (hack) bred there and the most indigenous animal of the region were Andalusian. When references to foreign horses were made, they were named after the country they came from.

Thus, when a horse came from Friesland, it was called frisón (Friesian); if it came from Portugual, Portuguese; from Naples, Napolitan, etc. Even today it is common to hear that someone has "bought a German horse", without specifying its breed. If one were interested in distinguishing the different regions of a country, the same principle was applied: horses coming from Extremadura were called extremeños; from Galicia, Galicians; or from Asturias, asturcones (Asturians). And at the local level or geographic area of origin, horses were distinguished according to their class: those of the Carthusian Order were carthusians; those from the region of the swamps (marismas) were called marismeños; from la Valenzuela, valenzuelas. And within each class, animals were differentiated on the basis of their pedigree, like the famous ones of Rucio, Esclavo, Soldado, etc.

The use of the name “Spanish” dates back to 1567, the year in which the king Philip II decided to indulge in his passion for horses. It was a costly project for the Public Treasury, yet the king wanted a new and better type of horse that would bring great benefits to the public in general. The success of the project represented the culmination of a thousand year search for what had been considered to be the perfect morphology for a horse, as described in the writings of Simon of Athens, Xenophon or Columela. The Andalusian city of Cordoba was chosen as the place for the project.

On November 28th, 1567, the royal secretary Francisco Eraso sent a Royal Decree to the chief magistrate of the city, Franciso Zapata de Cisneros, ordering that stables be built and that parts of the uncultivated common land be set aside as pasture for the 1200 mares which were to be bought. An initial sum of 1,500 ducats was earmarked for the care of the mares, along with 500 for beginning the construction of the stables. The results of the project were so spectacular that these horses were never bred to the mares kept on the municipal pastures, and they remained the exclusive property of the crown, to be used at its discretion and as gifts to nobles and kings.

As the outstanding qualities the Spanish horse captivated the rest of the world, it became the symbol of an empire and of a culture that had achieved what everyone had longed for, the perfect horse. In recognition of such a feat the breed was officially admitted and given the name Spanish horse. For the purpose of preserving its purity, a stud book, called the Registro de Caballos Españoles (stud-book), was created to record the pedigree of all Spanish horses.

Source: Juan Carlos Altamirano, author of History of the Spanish horse: the Royal Stables of Cordoba.

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