Surrender to imagination, and you can
picture a fairy-tale horse trotting proudly across the mountains and plains of long
ago. A hot Spanish breeze ruffles his long mane and tail. Then close your eyes
and see this same horse cantering boldly into danger—the deadly horns of an
angry bull. The bullfighting horse and the beautiful fairytale horse are the same.
The Andalusian. The Horse of Kings.
You’ve seen them in movies, on TV in
various shows, and in art. The hero on the white stallion is probably mounted
on an Andalusian. Although in the old movie “Lady Hawk”, the villain rode one into
a battle in the cathedral.
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 Peloponnesian Wars in 431 B.C. Julius Caesar wrote of the noble steeds
of Hispania in "Del Bello Gallico". The Iberian horse carried
Hannibal across the Alps in his invasion of Italy (though the elephants got all
the credit!). Richard I and many of his knights rode "airy Spanish
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 them the 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, and on canvas the Spanish horse was introduced to
the high courts of Europe.
Rubens painted portraits of such
famous people 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 them 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
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 bloodstock 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 1960s, 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. Some lift up in the front, making the canter
very graceful and dramatic. The horse’s 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 both blacks and bays.
The Andalusian ranges in size from 15 hands to 17 hands, with the average being
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. Can you
imagine how frightening either of those moves must be to a man on the ground
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.
For many years, I bred, trained, and showed these kind, gentle, and loving horses. My stallion’s
name was Bonito and twice he won the national championship at halter. I rode
him in musical freestyle exhibitions and dressage classes—and about anytime the
gate opened. We rode to the thundering music of Phantom of the Opera. In a
musical freestyle or exhibition, the horse’s movements are choreographed to the
music. This photo was taken at the horse show grounds in Asheville, NC.
The International Association can be
reached at: firstname.lastname@example.org or at 205-995-8900. Many. many videos of the Andalusian can be found on YouTube and Instagram:
If you are a horse lover, perhaps you'd enjoy my book Gambler's Choice about two people who love horses. Gambler's Choice takes you to the glittering world of three-day eventing. An English aristocrat and a Virginia socialite go
head-to-head—and feet-to-feet—in a battle for ownership of a very special
horse. Here's the cover and blurb.
Becca McQuaid came
to England to find the perfect horse but instead met a darkly mysterious
challenge in Austen Heath, Baron of Hampton. She’s determined to buy Austen’s
stallion Gambler’s Choice. He’s determined not to sell, but the rivals are
thrown together by an accident that leaves Austen with a broken leg and the
threat he’ll never ride again.
Austen Heath has the title, heritage and manor house…but not the fortune. Becca
is wealthy. Her charms are irresistible, but he believes she’s shopping for a
Ladyship to go with her money. He has another reason to hold the sexy blonde at
arms’ length—the unexplained disappearance of an
old friend everyone thinks was his lover. When her body is discovered on
his property, he becomes a suspect in her murder.