Alexander Mosaic


A dog may be man's best friend, but the horse wrote history.



What's in a Name?
Breed History
The Middle Ages
The Renaissance
The 20th Century
The Carthusian
Carthusian Monks

That horses have played a huge role in the advancement of human civilisation is indisputable. Initially, horses were a source of food and 'raw material' before a relatively late domestication at around 5000 BC. By this time, people in many parts of the world had ceased being 'hunters and gatherers' and had begun to settle on farms, raising cattle, goats and sheep and planting and harvesting. Nomadic stockbreeders were also common. The domestication of the horse was a revolutionary leap forward for these peoples, allowing them to dramatically increase their sphere of influence - travel was possible over greater distances, territories could be enlarged, war could be waged more effectively, cultures and languages could be spread. People were able to move faster and further, carrying large amounts of their possessions with them. The horse's compliant and willing nature, his swiftness, strength and intelligence and the comfort of his back made him a far more suitable partner for these endeavours than other quadrupeds. The horse's huge impact on humanity has been recorded at all stages of human history, from the pre-historic cave paintings of southern Europe, through the statuary and writings of the ancient Greeks and Romans, the works of the classical era and beyond.

Today, when horses are less necessary to humanity as beasts of burden or means of transportation than ever before, it is estimated that their numbers are greater across the world than at any other time. This is evidence of the great influence of the horse on our psyche.

What's in a name?

Andalusian, Pura Raza Española (PRE), Spanish Thoroughbred and Iberian are some of the names most commonly given to this breed. Many breeders and historians believe that the use of the term 'Andalusian' is incorrect, referring only to horses bred in the province of Andalusia, whilst others postulate that the entire Iberian Peninsula (with the exception of Asturias) was named Andalus at the time of the Moorish invasions in 711 AD by the Arabs. Andalus, interestingly, is thought to be a corruption of Vandalus - Land of the Vandals. Eventually the borders of Andalus shrank, retreating south with the advancement of Christian knights until all that was left was a relatively small area around Seville, Cordoba and Granada and the lands to the south (modern Andalusia).

In any event, whilst most commonly referred to as Andalusians outside of Spain, the breed's official name in the Spanish national stud book has been Pura Raza Española (abbreviated to P.R.E.) since 1912, allowing misinterpretations and the politics associated with the term 'Andalusian' to be avoided.

Breed History

Prehistoric paintings found in caves in Altamira in northern Spain, and the Dordogne in southern France seem to indicate that the domestication of the horse may have occurred earlier in this region than in any other parts of the world. Cave paintings from approximately 5,000 BC in Canforos de Penarubia in the north-east of Spain show Mesolithic horses being led by men, whilst Magdalenian horses, dated at around 15,000 BC, seem to be portrayed with rope headstalls around their heads.

Assorted cave paintings from the Iberian Peninsula

The La Pileta caves, in the south of Spain, provide a large number of paintings and murals of horses which are fascinating in their detail and clarity. The ages of these paintings vary from 30,000 - 20,000 BC and 20,000 - 10,000 BC. These paintings are of particular interest to scientists as the horses shown are very similar in form to the Sorraia, a primitive horse that still exists in Portugal in very small numbers today.

It is believed that the Phoenicians, establishing themselves on the Iberian Peninsula by approximately 2000 BC (and with an empire encompassing much of the southern Mediterranean coastline and stretching even up to Britain and Ireland) were responsible for the movement of horses around parts of Europe, Northern Africa and the Middle East. It is also believed that in the centuries before the birth of Christ, probably as a result of various wars and hostilities, horses from Libya, Egypt and Syria were brought to the Iberian Peninsular. The centuries around 700 BC brought both the Greeks and the Celts onto the Iberian Peninsular, again with their horses. The crossing of these horses with the native Sorraia horses was the inevitable result.

Around 5 BC the Carthaginians moved into the Iberian Peninsula, followed in relatively short order (around 2 BC) by the Romans. Remains of painted pottery from this period depict Iberian warriors mounted on relatively large 'highly crested' horses which bear a striking resemblance to today's Iberian horses. A description of war horses by Virgil in the Georgics (70-19 BC) seems to describe the Iberian horse, of then and now:

"His neck is carried erect; his head is small, his belly short, his back broad.
Brawny muscles swell upon his noble chest.
A bright bay or a good grey is the best colour, the worst is white or chestnut.
If from afar the clash of arms be heard,he knows not how to stand still;
his ears prick up, his limbs quiver, and snorting, he rolls the collected fire
under his nostrils. And his mane is thick and reposes tossed back
on his right shoulder".

After conquering the Iberian Peninsula, the Romans began to adopt the cavalry methods and horses of the Iberians, apparently crossing their own horses with the local Iberian stock. Efficient stud farms were established primarily in Baetica in southern Spain (approximately today's Andalusia) and the Tagus Valley in Portugal, and horses from this area were used for the Roman cavalry in the Empire's northern and western provinces. According to Pliny the Elder, a great and prolific chronicler who attempted to collect together all the knowledge in the world, the horses from this area were 'a fine docile type'. He later stated that the mares were 'impregnated with the west wind, and brought forth offspring of surprising fleetness'. The presence of numerous written records by writers such as Pliny, Plutarch and Seneca, as well as the paintings, statuary and coins from this time - depicting warriors and emperors on Iberian horses - seem to indicate that the Iberian Horse as a breed and type had been established by this point.

The Roman rule over the Iberian Peninsula ended in the 5th Century AD with the invasion of the 'Vandals' - the beginning of a long period of turbulence and unrest on the Iberian Peninsula, culminating in the invasion of the Moors in 711 AD.

It is believed that during the initial Moorish invasion Barb horses were brought from Northern Africa onto the Peninsula. Contemporary Moorish chroniclers recorded that the invaders found the native Iberian horses to be larger and more prolific than their own, and as such requisitioned native horses for their soldiers, 'rapidly converting their infantry to cavalry'. It is believed that during the Moor's 300 year reign over the Peninsula, more horses were exported than imported, implying that other breeds did not impact too much on the Iberian horse during this period.

The Middle Ages

  The Middle Ages (or medieval period) are often thought to encompass the time between the fall of the Western Roman Empire in the 5th Century AD until the fall of the Eastern Roman Empire in approximately the 15th Century AD. This was a time of great change across Europe: culturally, politically, scientifically and economically. It was also a time when borders shifted fluidly due to wars, crusades and petty aggressions. Whilst the Iberian horse was still popular as riding horse for those that could afford it during this time, a heavier type of horse was generally preferred for war. The strength of these heavier horses was required to carry riders and the great weight of their armour, and for pulling heavy wagons across difficult terrain.

The introduction of black powder into Europe in the 14th Century began to change the way battles were fought. As the use of this propellant became more prolific, and the weapons in which it could be used more refined, the slow, strong and heavy war horse ceased to be an advantage on the battlefield and became instead a liability. The new requirement for a war horse was for a quick, responsive and agile animal, which was courageous enough to withstand the terrors of the battlefield whilst still concentrating on its rider. The Iberian horse, which had carried the Iberian Cavalry into battle for the Spartans against the Athenians during the Peloponnesian Wars of 457 and 431 BC, and into countless other battles on behalf of Carthaginians, Romans and Iberians during the intervening years, was once again in the spotlight. For the first time, there was a very real demand for this hot-blooded horse throughout other areas of Europe. From the beginning of the 16th Century, Iberian horses were not only being exported as gifts for foreign monarchs and as dowries, but also in great numbers as war horses. A royal stud farm was established by King Phillipe II in Spain, near the city of Cordoba, in order to institutionalise the breeding of these horses.

The Renaissance

The Renaissance period (approximately the 14th to the 17th Century) was not only a time of rebirth in the arts and science, but also a time of rebirth in the techniques of war and horsemanship. In order to make full use of the new type of war horse, both horse and rider needed to be highly trained and highly skilled. These skills needed to be learned, honed and practiced: a perfect environment for the establishment of military riding academies. Movements such as Levade allowed the horse to shield the rider from a frontal attack, piaffe kept a horse in 'a constant state of anticipation - literally on his toes' and movements such as capriole are reported to have been taught as attack manoeuvres. These exercises were so exacting, that the adoption of 'military' riding as a sport was almost inevitable, and riding schools were established at royal courts across Europe. Modern Andalusian, P.R.E. and Lusitano horses (as well as some of the breeds that stemmed from the Iberian horse) are sometimes referred to as 'Baroque' horses due to their popularity during this period.

Monsieur le Kraut, Ridinger

During this era the Spanish Empire was the greatest in Europe, which ensured the fame of the Iberian horse. It was during this time that the Iberian horse was influential in the founding of many European breeds, including the Neapolitan (from 1502), the Fredericksborg (from 1562), the Lipizzaner and Kladruber (from 1580) and some of the German warmbloods such as Hanoverians, Oldenburgers and Holsteiners (from ca. 1620). Iberian horses were also taken into the Americas with the conquistadors from the late 15th Century; indeed, by 1500 a stud had already been established by the Spanish in San Domingo, boasting 'no less than 60 mares'.

The 20th Century

The Spanish stud book was amalgamated in 1912, with a royal order on January 13th creating the Registro Matricula de Caballos y Yeguas de Pura Raza Española, giving rise to the Pura Raza Española. In 1967 the Portuguese stud book was amalgamated, creating the Livro Genealogico Portugues de Equinos and giving rise to the Cavalo Puro Sangue Lusitano.

Whilst these horses share a common ancestry, and many horses in both stud books share the same ancestors, the two stud books are now separate and closed.

The Carthusian

The Carthusian (or Cartujano) is not a separate breed, but is an important 'side breed' within the breed. The Carthusian line is one of Spain's most prestigious lines, stemming as it does from one of the world's oldest recorded studbooks.

According to legend, Don Alvaro Obertus de Valeto left ten thousand acres of land to the fathers of La Cartuja (a Carthusian Monastery south of Jerez de la Frontera) on his death in 1476. This act of generosity led to the establishment of a 'particularly fine' herd of Spanish mares, said to have been the purest descendants of the early Andalusian horse. A translation from El Caballo en Espana, compiled by the Spanish government in 1976, describes the Cartujano as follows:

"The monks of the Cartuja in Jerez, with deep vision and an
Understanding of the importance of the Spanish horse to their region,
taking advantage of the magnificent quality of the earth, with their pastures
and facilities, devoted themselves completely to the production of the Spanish
horse, eliminating as far as possible the crosses with other breeds,
going back to its origin in the African-Berber which lacked the height
of the other Africans and the Andalusian-Spaniard, but due to its
great quality the size was compensated for by its lightness,
temper and rapidity."

Through the centuries, the monks jealously guarded these horses, hiding their horses in the mountains and continuing breeding in secret in order to defy a royal edict (issued at the time of the 'Reconquest') that Spanish horses must be crossed with Neopolitan and Central European Horses in order to increase their height.

The Carthusian fathers were not only considered guardians of the purity of the line (employing selective breeding techniques that, somewhat mystically 'only they understood'), but also strong supporters of the Spanish style of horsemanship. The monks apparently violently opposed the French riding style, and even went so far as to threaten to excommunicate those who rode in the 'style of the bastard school, forgetting that of gineta which has given so many days of glory to Spain and to Religion'.

There are no horses left at the monastery; church properties were dissolved throughout Spain in 1835, and all the horses went into private hands. The monastery buildings still exist, however, and the words Salto el Cielo (Leap into Heaven) still remain over the gate.

There are very few pure Carthusians left, as the original stock was greatly depleted by Napoleon's army during the Peninsular Wars of the 1800s. The Zapata family claimed to have 'rescued' the breed by purchasing horses and continuing to breed along the guidelines laid down by the Carthusian monks. In more recent times, the Terry family was heavily involved with breeding Carthusian horses; the Carthusian horse is occasionally referred to as a 'Terry' horse due to this connection.

In 1983, the Spanish State Heritage Department expropriated the largest Carthusian stud from Rumasa S.A. The governmental (public) company EXPASA Agricultura y Ganaderia, S. A. has been given the responsibility of 'maintaining and improving this unique genetic heritage'.

The Carthusian horse typically posses a wide front and a smaller, lighter body than the average Andalusian. The head, however, is 'particularly distinctive'. Sylvia Loch, in her book 'The Royal Horse of Europe' describes it thus: 'broad of brow and straight of profile in the upper part, the head is somewhat smaller than usual, but the nose is long and finely tapering with a slight depression at the base of the nostrils which makes a small 's' along the lower profile'. Two small 'horns' (or 'frontal bosses') meeting in the middle of the forehead on some Carthusian horses has given rise to much speculation as to this breed's connection to their ancient ancestors.

Carthusian Monks