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Perhaps it was when Rafael Sotto Andrade and the Spanish team gained a team silver at the Athens Olympics in 2004 that the Andalusian really shot to prominence in the UK. The love of the Spaniard for his horse, the sheer exuberance of his performance, was such a refreshing change from the dominance of the Germans and the Dutch in dressage and some might say, suddenly an alternative to big moving warmbloods and the serious Germanic nature of the sport – a breath of fresh air and Spanish vibrancy and colour.
That is not to say that Andalusians were not around in the UK prior to that. In June 1982, a rally was held at a stables in Sussex designed to bring together all promoters and enthusiasts of the Spanish horse and the British Andalusian Horse Society was born, now known today as the British Association for the Purebred Spanish Horse, “BAPSH”. This is a good starting point if you are interested in finding out more about the breed and buying an Andalusian. They are particularly helpful if you are considering importing a horse from Spain and can advise on the procedures and legalities of such a process. However there are also plenty of studs and breeders in the UK which may be an easier option as it avoids the import process. Do be careful when buying from Spain as it is usually better to have a horse that has not been used in the bullring; the transition to the English way of life is not always so easy for these horses.
The Andalusian has gained in popularity not just because of the Spanish success in international dressage but because it is such an accessible horse for so many riders. Not everyone is suited to the size and range of movement of a large warmblood so the Andalusian offers a smaller, compact alternative with no concession being made to athletic ability or prowess simply because it is smaller. Stocky and strong of body, this horse has changed little since its first origins in the fifteenth century. Resistance to crossing the horse with heavier draught breeds to provide an animal suitable for battle resulted in some horses being hidden by Carthusian monks for several centuries, allowing the breed to remain largely unchanged in terms of outside influences. For a while though, there were two types of Andalusian; the light Jennet ideal for moving stock and the bullring and the heavier Villanos more suited as an animal of war.
From the Iberian Peninsula and sometimes referred to as the Iberian horse, the Andalusian has a close relative called the Lusitano from Portugal. These are two distinct breeds now, although sometimes they are referred to collectively as the Iberian horse and do have great similarities and some Andalusian horses will have bloodlines which trace back to Portugal.
Despite the Andalusian’s short, compact body, athletic frame and obvious elegance, they do have a fantastically docile temperament and are noted for being a calm and intelligent horse. The distinctive head which comes from the horses’ Barb ancestry is heavier and Roman looking but nonetheless proud and noble. The horse’s short back and compact frame really lend it to the collected movements of advanced dressage and the elevation of traditional High School work although Andalusians are popular across the disciplines and not confined purely to dressage. Grey is still the most common colour although black and dark bay can be found and more recently chestnut, buckskin, palomino, cream, dun, grullo which is a variation of dun, a sort of mixture of dun and black and finally, rare isabellas. The average height is around 15.2hh although they can make up to 17.2hh; this coupled with their shorter stride, agility and balance make them very versatile as a riding horse.
In the UK, there are groups and yards who promote the horse and also the art of classical equitation which dates back to the 17th Century with Pluvinals “Training of the King”. Classical equitation has its roots in the skills and movements required for training the horse both for battle and for the bullring, and this has now developed into a modern discipline called working equitation which is a recognised worldwide equestrian discipline. Think of a fusion of dressage, gymkhana, American quarter horse training, bullring techniques and, old fashioned skill-at-arms and you might have an idea of what is involved. Riders perform either individually or as groups and often in traditional Spanish or Portuguese costume, they make popular choices for displays at county shows and other equestrian events.
An Andalusian is a breed which will slot nicely into British equestrian life purely as a riding horse and family friend if that is the remit but clearly also an equine able to really perform across the disciplines, capable and versatile.