United States PRE Breeders Association



The Birth of A Legend: The Spanish Horse



Perhaps no other animal has been praised as much as the horse throughout history. In fact, the possession of a horse did not only raise the social status of its rider but, at times would make him become a legend.

And it was the renaissance society, with which it would achieve its maximum splendor. It is in that period that we have set the origin of this legendary horse that would conquer the world with its beauty, its movements, its capacity to collect and its noble character – the Purebred Spanish Horse.

The process of creation of the Spanish Horse began when King Phillip II, on the 28th November 1567, issued a Royal Decree to his Mayor in Cordoba Francisco Zapata de Cisneros in which he ordered to create, in that city, a new breed of horses. Furthermore, he ordered Diego de Yrizar, his collector of taxes from the salt works of Andalusia, to hand over 4,500 ducats to his cashier in Cordoba Francisco Sanchez de Toledo to initiate the purchase of 1,200 mares “ for the breed and stock of horses that we have ordered to create in Andalusia “.

To carry out this project, Phillip II appointed Diego Lopez de Haro as the Royal Stable master and he was the true architect of the Purebred Spanish Horse…” This was the model to be obtained and Lopez de Haro achieved it since these characteristics do not differ from those of the present day Spanish horse. The achievement was so extraordinary that it was used as an emblem of an Empire and of a culture that had been able to obtain what the whole world was longing for – the Perfect Horse.

Contrary to what had been expressed at the beginning of the project, these horses were destined for the exclusive use of the Royal Household who, given the great demand, used them as gifts and as currency. There was no king or nobleman who would not wish to cross his mares with a specimen of the new breed and so the Lusitano horse, Lippizaner, Kladruber, etc. were born.

Once the Court was established in Madrid, had undergone a process of change from the medieval warrior type to the renaissance court style.In the Royal riding schools, the spectacular high airs such as passage, piaffe, capriole, pesada, etc. were practiced creating the need for a horse that would perform these movements with the required beauty.

The morphology of the ordained horse would coincide , some years later, with the taste for forms characteristic of the new style that invaded Europe – the Baroque. Not only was its shape what the world admired but its temperament as well. The nobility sought at the origin of the breed has become its passport throughout the ages.

In the year 1747, the Baron of Eisenberg having given a morphological description of the Pure Spanish Horse, and in regards to its predisposition for Dressage, he added, “ Experience has shown that the Spanish Horse is, without any doubt, the most perfect on the world for the riding arena, not only with respect of its appearance, which is most beautiful, but also in regard to its qualities: because it is willing, vigorous and so docile, that when taught with knowledge and patience, it understands and executes what it has learned great exactitude. “

The Spanish Horse continued to be one of the best in the world and people from all over Europe used to come to Andalucia looking for mares and stallions. The most privileged when it came to obtaining when it came to obtaining the Pure Spanish horses were the Portuguese, and in the same year in which the Baron of Eisenberg praised the virtues of horses, the House of the Duke of Braganza in Portugal, sent a commission to Andalucia to acquire a group of mares. What the Portuguese wanted to achieve was to create in Vila de Portel a Stud similar to that of the Spanish Royal Household with the same objectives sought by Phillip II of Spain when he launched the project of the Royal Stables of Cordoba.

Years later the Portuguese stable master of the same stud, Joao Galvao Mexia, purchased the best stallions they could find in Spain, and from these obtained a better offspring. As a result of the project a breed of horses was achieved presently known Ater Real. At the time when the Baroque style spread through Europe from the 17th century onwards, it is true that one of the profiles that the Spanish Horse had, at one point in time was a Roman-nosed profile, but from the beginning of the 18th century its shape was becoming moderate as the aesthetic tastes began to change in Spain and the Baroque profile came to be considered vulgar, because of that , to say that the Lusitano horse, as it shares the sake habitat as the Spanish Horse, belongs to the same breed is an error, both from the evolutionary point of view, morphological and historical one, as this characteristic was obtained by mere selection.

The Lusitano horse, to a greater or lesser degree, has just as much of the Pure Spanish Horse in its make up as the Hispano-Arab, the Anglo-Hispano, or Lippizaner, from the point of view of an Andalusian, these can be considered breeds or types of horses crossed with the Pure Spanish Horses.

It is enough to say that the Portuguese government itself allows that in order to improve the quality of their horses, and there will be reasons for it, the Lusitano mares may be covered with Purebred Spanish Horses and still have their offspring considered Pure Lusitano. On the other hand, the Spanish government, and it will also have its reasons, does not allow breeders of Spanish Horses to cover their mares with Lusitano mares if the breeder wants to maintain the certificate of purity of the Spanish breed, because their offspring would not be considered Spanish horses, but Hispano-Lusitano instead. With these clarifications I do not want to say that the Lusitano horse is superior or inferior in quality with respect to the Pure Spanish Horse, but, simply that they belong to two different breeds, each demonstrating the characteristics proper of the breed to which they belong.

In reality the Lusitano horse is the result of crossbreeding between the pure Spanish Horse, and the common Portuguese horses, mainly from the 18th century onwards. Their similarity stems from the fact that the Portuguese, like so many other Europeans, ever since the creation of the Spanish Horse in the second half of the 16th century, wanted to have a horse which would resemble as close as possible to the Pure Spanish Horse, for the characteristics obtained by the Andalusians has already been defined as perfect for a horse by the ancient Greeks in the fifth Century BC.

The Spanish Horse has resisted the vicissitudes caused by the decadence of the old empire, and was about to witness its revival in the 20th century, it was the result of three major events: the creation in 1892 of the Military Stud Farm, the reopening in 1913 of the Studbook of the Pure Spanish Horse, and in Seville in 1972 the creation of the National Association of Breeders of Spanish Horses.

There were various circumstances which favored the creation of the Spanish Horse, as has been pointed out; However, there was one that turned out to be fundamental in order to maintain it throughout the centuries – the Andalusian people. Their aesthetic sense, their peculiar way of life and the very way they are, made it possible to transfer into that horse some of their idiosyncrasy thus making it worthy of becoming a part of the Spanish national heritage.

 Juan Carlos Altamirano