The Andalusian horse is the Swiss Army knife of horse breeds. As depicted in cave paintings in Andalusia (southern Spain), pure Spanish steeds of Iberian descent date back more than 20,000 years. Since then, aristocrats, conquistadors, cowboys, and Olympic champions have all gainfully straddled the athletic, intelligent, and expressive Andalusian horse.
More than 500 years ago, Carthusian monks of the Cartuja Monastery in Jerez de la Frontera first developed the Carthusian strain, now considered the purest breed of Andalusian horse. With one of the oldest and most appreciated pedigrees in the world, the confirmation of the Carthusian Andalusian horse remains little changed since its original monkish introduction.
The monks initially utilized the animals as stock horses for farming and transportation. In the ensuing centuries, these qualities of the Carthusian Andalusian strain have been extensively crossbred. The American Quarter Horse and other breeds known for their “cow sense” inherited their job skills from these Spanish ancestors.
Between the 15th and 17th centuries, Spain’s worldwide military activities required an abundant supply of horses. The compact and strongly built Andalusians excelled as a weight-bearing cavalry stallion, and earned status with nobility and New World conquerors as a prized war horse.
To get better acquainted with these magnificent animals, we went to see the former monastery and Yeguada de la Cartuja, the most important Carthusian stud farm and horse reserve in the world. In the pastoral countryside outside Jerez, the Yeguada aims to preserve the gene pool of this lineage and contribute to improving the Carthusian breed.
Our visit included a tour of the 600-acre ranch including the stables, corrals, artificial insemination area, veterinary clinic, and antique carriage collection. Following the tour, we were delighted with an entertaining exhibition of stallions, mares and foals, demonstrating their dance steps, carriage pulling talents, and dressage skills.
To watch more traditional dressage of the Andalusian horse, we returned to the city of Jerez for the celebrated horse show at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. During the skillfully choreographed performance, the Andalusian horses proved to us why they have won numerous gold medals in Olympic equestrian dressage.
From transportation to warfare to dressage the Andalusian has a proven itself as a very versatile horse. Because they even delight in working around dangerous and temperamental Iberian bulls, Andalusian horses also continue to be employed in the bull rings of Spain.
Physically, the Andalusian horse has a profuse and wavy mane and tail, and a range of coat colors, but mostly gray and white. It is an elegant, smooth-to-ride, and light-footed animal, with flowing movement, quick velocity, and controlled power.
In conduct and demeanor, they are docile, easily trained, and always responsive, willing, and easy-to-read when treated with respect. With just one look into their kind and intelligent eyes, it is abundantly clear that the Andalusian is a very sensitive, vivacious, and lovable all-purpose horse.
Feature Image: Lladró porcelain sculpture of Spanish Pure Breed Andalusian Horse at the Lladró factory in Valencia, Spain. Price tag $9,215.