Anyone who has been to the South of Spain will almost certainly have seen the Andalusian horse. Those who are lucky to be there on during a recognized holiday may have had a chance to see them at their traditional finest. Typically they are ridden by men with a woman pillion behind them. Both the man and the woman will wear their traditional costumes and the horse will probably have coloured ribbons in its mane and tail. It will carry them both with strength and elegance.
The Andalusian breed as we know it today became recognizable and recognized in the 15th Century. For centuries they were exclusively for nobility and royalty so much so that they were formerly an important part of Spanish diplomacy. Horses were given as gifts to important figures in Europe and the rights to breed and sell them were granted to favourites at the Spanish court. To this day they still retain the nickname of the Horse of Kings as they were the preferred mounts of kings around Europe.
In spite of the modern breed's royal connections, it is thought that they trace their ancestry to the horses which roamed wild on the Iberian peninsula. Spain's geographical location made it a prime target both for invaders and migrants for other parts of Europe and Africa. Many of these brought their horses with them, in particular the Lusitano from Portugal and the Barb horse from North Africa. By the 16th Century Andalusians were essentially the equivalent of the modern supercar – highly desirable, hugely expensive and often hard to obtain, even for those who had the money. The 19th and early 20th Centuries were troubled times for the breed. Andalusians were widely cross-bred with other horses for specific purposes. Many horses were killed during wars and in an epidemic which swept through Spain's horse population in 1832. Those who escaped this were often stolen, with Napoleon in particular looting significant numbers of them. Finally as time passed they simply fell out of favour, often losing out to Thoroughbreds and Arabs in terms of popularity.
Fortunately the breed was preserved by the monks in the South of Spain and began to make a comeback in the latter part of the 20th Century. Its cause was helped hugely by the easing of export restrictions in the 1960s, which made it much easier for international admirers of the breed to work to preserve and develop it. While the days of using horses for warfare are long over, the Andalusian is an outstanding competition horse, which is encouraging for the breed's future.
It is difficult to give precise standards for the Andalucian since there are a variety of stud books in operation. As a rule they stand at least 15 hands high. These days their most common colour is grey followed by bay, but they can be any whole colour. They are compact and strong horses but still elegant. Some have slightly dished faces. All have long, flowing manes and tails. Arguably the greatest beauty of the Andalusian is not so much how they look. Their paces are both energetic and elegant and they are superb dressage horses. They also have powerful quarters for jumping and their deep chests help keep them going over longer distances for cross-country courses or endurance riding.
Andalusians are noted for their combination of intelligence and docility. This is hugely appreciated for showing purposes as it makes them easy to train. They are also honest, hard workers. Whether or not they are suitable for inexperienced riders depends on the rider in question. Andalusians are refined horses and have sensitive mouths and bodies. This means they are very responsive and riders who have yet to develop independence in their seat, arms and legs may find themselves accidentally giving the horse signals to which it will be prompt to respond. This may lead to frustration if, for example, a rider accidentally signals the horse to go faster only to pull it up again immediately. Matters will be made worse if this causes the rider to panic. If, however, the rider can act with sensitivity and simply lacks experience, an Andalucian may be a suitable mount.
Overall Andalucians are a fairly healthy breed. It is worth noting however that for various reasons they has been a smaller breeding pool than for other breeds and this may be the reason why the breed does currently have some health issues worth noting. They are prone to conditions of the small intestine related to reduce blood flow. Stallions are also particularly prone to inguinal hernias. Treatment of hernias in general is becoming more efficient in general; however if the hernia is severe enough to require surgery then it is a reasonable assumption that the horse will need significant recovery time. Andalusians are also more prone to laminitis than other horses, although this can generally be avoided with good management. As the breed is now flourishing and there is more breeding stock available than in previous years, it may be that these issues will be reduced or eliminated in future.
Caring for a Andalusian
During the warmer months, Andalusians can largely live out, but they will need to be watched carefully for laminitis. In cooler weather they will still need turn-out time, which will usually require them being well rugged-up. Even with rugs on they will also need access to shelter in the field as they have relatively fine coats, which provide very little protection from winters in the UK. If there is no natural protection, a man-made field shelter can be installed. At night, however, they will almost certainly need to be stabled. In winter there is a strong likelihood they will need hard feed even if they are not working. Throughout the year they will need constant access to clean water, daily grooming and regular foot-care and worming. They will also need something to do. Andalusians are intelligent and energetic horses, who can become bored if given insufficient attention. In addition to being turned out regularly, they should also be given plenty of ridden exercise, even if only hacking.
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