The Pure Spanish Horse or PRE (Pura Raza Española), is a horse breed from the Iberian Peninsula, where its ancestors have lived for thousands of years. The PRE has been recognized as an individual breed since the 15th century, and its conformation has changed very little over the centuries. Throughout its history, it has been known for its prowess as a war horse, and was prized by the nobility. The breed was used as a tool of diplomacy by the Spanish government, and kings across Europe rode and owned Spanish horses. During the 19th century, warfare, disease and crossbreeding reduced herd numbers dramatically, and despite some recovery in the late 19th century, the trend continued into the early 20th century. Exports of Pure Spanish Horses from Spain were restricted until the 1960s, but the breed has since spread throughout the world, despite still-low population numbers. In 2010, there were more than 185,000 registered Pure Spanish Horses worldwide.
Strongly built, and compact yet elegant, the PRE have long, thick manes and tails. Their most common coat color is gray, although they can be found in many other colors. They are known for their intelligence, sensitivity and docility. A sub-strain within the breed known as the Carthusian, is considered by breeders to be the purest strain of Pure Spanish Horse, though there is no genetic evidence for this claim. The strain is still considered separate from the main breed however, and is preferred by breeders because buyers pay more for horses of Carthusian bloodlines. There are several competing registries keeping records of horses designated as PRE, but they differ on their definition of the Andalusian and PRE, the purity of various strains of the breed, and the legalities of stud book ownership.
The PRE is closely related to the Lusitano of Portugal, and has been used to develop many other breeds, especially in Europe and the Americas. Breeds with Andalusian ancestry include many of thewarmbloods in Europe as well as western hemisphere breeds such as the Azteca. Over its centuries of development, the Andalusian breed has been selected for athleticism and stamina. The horses were originally used for classical dressage, driving, bullfighting, and as stock horses. Modern Andalusians are used for many equestrian activities, including dressage, show jumping and driving. The breed is also used extensively in movies, especially historical pictures and fantasy epics.
Pure Spanish stallions and geldings average 15.11⁄2 hands (61.5 inches, 156 cm) at the withers and 512 kilograms (1,130 lb) in weight; mares average 151⁄2 hands (60.5 inches, 154 cm) and 412 kilograms (910 lb). The Spanish government has set the minimum height for registration in Spain at 15.0 hands (60 inches, 152 cm) for males and 14.3 hands (59 inches, 150 cm) for mares – this standard is followed by the Association of Purebred Spanish Horse Breeders of Spain (Asociación Nacional de Criadores de Caballo de Pura Raza Española or ANCCE) . The Spanish legislation also requires that in order for animals to be approved as either “qualified” or “élite” breeding stock, stallions must stand at least 15.1 hands(61 inches, 155 cm) and mares at least 151⁄4 hands (60.25 inches, 153 cm).
Caballos de Pura Raza Espanol are elegant and strongly built. Members of the breed have heads of medium length, with a straight or slightly convex profile. Ultra convex and concave profiles are discouraged in the breed, and are penalized in breed shows. Necks are long and broad, running to well-defined withers and a massive chest. They have a short back and broad, strong hindquarters with a well-rounded croup. The breed tends to have clean legs, with no propensity for blemishes or injuries, and energetic gaits. The mane and tail are thick and long, but the legs do not have excess feathering. Andalusians tend to be docile, while remaining intelligent and sensitive. When treated with respect they are quick to learn, responsive, and cooperative.
There are two additional characteristics unique to the Carthusian strain, believed to trace back to the strain’s foundation stallion Esclavo. The first is warts under the tail, a trait which Esclavo passed to his offspring, and a trait which some breeders felt was necessary to prove that a horse was a member of the Esclavo bloodline. The second characteristic is the occasional presence of “horns”, which are frontal bosses, possibly inherited from Asian ancestors. The physical descriptions of the bosses vary, ranging from calcium-like deposits at the temple to small horn-like protuberances near or behind the ear. However, these “horns” are not considered proof of Esclavo descent, unlike the tail warts.
In the past, most coat colors were found, including spotted patterns. Today most Andalusians are gray or bay; in the US, around 80 percent of all PRE’s are gray. Of the remaining horses, approximately 15 percent are bay and 5 percent are black, dun or palomino or chestnut. Other colors, such as buckskin, pearl, and cremello, are rare, but are recognized as allowed colors by registries for the breed.
In the early history of the breed, certain white markings and whorls were considered to be indicators of character and good or bad luck. Horses with white socks on their feet were considered to have good or bad luck, depending on the leg or legs marked. A horse with no white markings at all was considered to be ill-tempered and vice-ridden, while certain facial markings were considered representative of honesty, loyalty and endurance. Similarly, hair whorls in various places were considered to show good or bad luck, with the most unlucky being in places where the horse could not see them – for example the temples, cheek, shoulder or heart. Two whorls near the root of the tail were considered a sign of courage and good luck.
The movement of PRE horses is extended, elevated, cadenced and harmonious, with a balance of roundness and forward movement. Poor elevation, irregular tempo, and excessive winging (sideways movement of the legs from the knee down) are discouraged by breed registry standards. Andalusians are known for their agility and their ability to learn difficult moves quickly, such as advanced collection and turns on the haunches. A 2001 study compared the kinematic characteristics of PRE, Arabian and Anglo-Arabian horses while moving at the trot. Andalusians were found to overtrack less (the degree to which the hind foot lands ahead of the front hoof print) but also exhibit greater flexing of both fore and hind joints, movement consistent with the more elevated way of going typically found in this breed. The authors of the study theorized that these characteristics of the breed’s trot may contribute to their success as a riding and dressage horse.