Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Enchanting Fairy Tale Horse - The Andalusion

Since last month I did a short piece on the Friesian, I must give equal time to another horse that stepped out of my dreams into reality.  The Andalusian has been called the Horse of Kings.

The Horse of Kings

Surrender to imagination.  Envision a fairy-tale horse prancing across the mountains and plains of ancient times, his unshod hooves lifted high in a dramatic trot.  This 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 the heyday of European monarchies, the Andalusian's flair, style and formidable carriage made
him the mount of choice for the aristocracy.  Not only did the Spanish horse excel in battle but he was a fancy parade horse and an elegant fine harness animal.   This popularity earned the Iberian horse 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.

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 Andalusian'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 blood stock 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.

Throughout history, the Spanish horse has remained remarkably pure.  The Andalusian is very sturdy, with a long sloping shoulder which 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 crested neck with its curtain of silky mane and the thick, long tail add elegance and a story-book 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. 

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. 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, developed as a means to school the superior warhorse.   The
so-called airs-above-the-ground, capriole and courbette, were designed to strike terror in the enemy foot soldiers.  In capriole, the horse leaps into the air and kicks out with his hind feet.  In courbette, he rears and jumps forward on his hind feet. 

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.

 I know this is rather long but this horse is one of my favorite subjects.  I hope you get to meet an Andalusian one day if you haven't already.


Diane Burton said...

What an interesting post. I've heard of Andalusians but have never seen one in person. Beautiful. Thanks for sharing your research into the "fairy tale" horse.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Thanks for the interesting article. I believe the Spanish brought their horses, possibly Andalusians to North America, but the breed wasn't kept pure. They are beautiful animals.

CJ Burright said...

I didn't know the Andulasians were almost wiped out (not that I'm a horse breed expert by any means, but still). Thanks for the interesting historical post!