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    Horses in Andalusia during the Palaeolithic

    The Arab culture in the medieval equestrian world

    The Medieval Cavalry

SÓLO, The false"Carthusian" horse Belonging to Vicente Romero García

THE SPANISH HORSE: the evolution of its morphology 

About the name "Spanish horse", or the importance of knowing its history




Horses in Andalusia during the Palaeolithic

By the end of the 19th century, zoologists had limited their sights to two groups of horses, the warmbloods (eastern group) and the cold bloods (western group), granting each different origins. Although Darwin based his studies of equines on a single species of wild origin, there is no consensus in terms of the actual horses from which species modern horses evolved, as some state that it derived from Przewalski and others from Tarpan.  There are also different theories in regard to which lineage the horses that eventually arrived in Andalusia belong.  Some authors have defended the theory that they are descendents of Przewalski, although these have 66 pairs of chromosomes, while the contemporary horse has 64, which makes them genetically different.  On the other hand, Juliet Clutton-Brok has written that Przewalski does not seem to be directly linked to the ancestors of domestic European horses.  She considers a more acceptable theory to be one which considers Przewalski to have been a “lateral offspring of the Pleistocene horses that survived extinction.”  Other authors are of the opinion that modern horses derived from Tarpan, or a crossbreed between both Przewalski and Tarpan.  It has been said that this crossbreeding could have begun on the Iberian Peninsula, as Przewalski is the predecessor of those horses that entered Spain from the North after having crossed the Pyrenees Mountains, and the Tarpan the predecessor for those that arrived from Northern Africa.

Thus, it can be stated that we know the most remote origin of the horse. It is also possible to note that, despite this knowledge, we have nevertheless failed to determine the exact origin of the contemporary domesticated horse.  The truth is that, with current knowledge, it is still rather complicated to state which is the true lineage of the modern horse due to the fact that humans have intervened for thousands of years in its evolution, first as a source of food and later in order to utilize it as a means of transportation.  As L. Adametz states: "Most of the European equine breeds and sub-breeds are of mixed origin and contain more or less breed elements, in a variety of proportions.”

During the Palaeolithic, horses were to have been found in Europe, as proven by the fossils found and also artistic representations of them in caves.  However, during this period, humans only observed horses and at most used them as food - until the Neolithic, at which point they were domesticated. 

Equine bones have been found throughout the Iberian Peninsula, although in limited numbers.  One of the oldest sites where bones have been found in Andalusia is Cullar Baza in the province of Granada, which dates back to 600,000 B.C.  In one of the more recent phases of the lower Palaeolithic, fossils were found in the Solana del Zamborino site between Guadix and Baza (in the province of Granada). These excavations exposed information published by Martín Penela, who states that thirty-eight percent of all the remains of animals that had been hunted and used for food were equines. 

With the onset of the last glacial period (100,000 – 32,000 B.C.), humans sought shelter in caves due to the drop in temperature.  There is evidence of equines from this time period, due to the bones found in the Carigüela, Cueva Horá and Zafarraya sites, all of which are located in the province of Granada.  Thanks to these bones, we know that the characteristics of these equines varied and were similar to those found at other European sites.  Between 32,000 – 8,200 B.C., the vegetation in Europe underwent drastic changes and, in spite of once having been a forest steppe, a shortage of vegetation forced the horses to migrate to the Asian steppes. The fossil remains found in Andalusia from this era decrease greatly, but not the artistic representations.  The Upper Palaeolithic could have represented a time in which humans utilized art as a means for cultural, social and even religious expression.  Of the drawings found in Andalusia, the most outstanding are the representations of horses found in the caves of La Pileta, Trinidad and Nerja (in Málaga), Malalmuerzo (in Granada), Palomas (in Cádiz), Castillo (in Santander), the horses of Ekain (in Guipúzcoa) and, of course, the Altamira cave drawings (in Cantabria), dating to 14,000 and 12,500 B.C.

There are a number of different opinions regarding the exact process of the emigration of equines from the Iberian Peninsula to Eurasia.  While some authors defend this emigration as fact, others, such as Uerpmann, contend that there were independent zones where horses could have been found in the south and eastern coast of the peninsula, based on the existence of both artistic representations and skeletal remains.  Jesus Altuna shares this same opinion, as he contends that horses did not disappear all together, although emigration greatly reduced their numbers.   Based on this statement, it can be deduced that the horses on the Iberian Peninsula were domesticated independently of the process that took place in Eurasia, as will be discussed later.  To accept this theory, it is necessary to first interconnect the wild horse breeds that remained in the region with those that arrived later, and then, above all, to prove that the cultural innovation of domestication had not diffused from Eurasia. 

From this emigration, as has been pointed out, various types of equines survived, among them, the Taran and the Przewalski, which are said to have been the common predecessors of all horse breeds existent today.  The former disappeared, and the latter - which received its name from the Russian official who discovered it in Mongolia, Nikolai Mikhaylovich Przewalski - was initially considered a new species until it was discovered to have actually been a sub-species of Equus caballus a short time later.  Due to pressure that occurred mainly because of a desire to display them in European zoos, Przewalski almost became extinct.   The last wild herd, with seventeen horses, was seen in Mongolia in 1967.   This equine is small (about 13 hands), caramel (dun) coloured with a lighter coloured belly and nose, has a short, erect mane, a narrow mule stripe, large ears, saint zebra stripes on its legs and head, and a scarcely populated tail.

Neolithic Period

The initial domestication of horses dates back to the Neolithic period, in the Caspian and Black Sea regions.  Chinese documents prove that there had been invasions on horseback in 4,000 B.C.  In addition, herding by nomads on the Asian steppe was based on the utilization of riding horses. During the second millennium, there also occurred intensive emigration caused by strong demographic expansion towards the south which in turn encouraged an economic growth that extended throughout the region and diffused to Iran and Iraq.  Up until that point, there had been virtually no selection of equines; it was as of that point the conformational variability grew almost constantly until it became what it is today.  Domestication favoured the appearance of various types of horse as a consequence of both the variables found in the species and the objective to which horses were destined, depending on the society to have utilized them.  At the same time, they were crossbred with each other as a consequence of the emigration of people and continuous warfare, which favoured the diffusion of the domesticated horse, as they had been valued as spoils of war.  Due to this, horses were deliberately re-located from one region to another by humans. 

The return of equines to Andalusia

If part of equine migration had its origins on the Asian steppes and then spread towards northern Africa through the Arab countries to the Iberian Peninsula, the other extended throughout all of Europe and crossed the Pyrenees Mountains to reach Iberia.  The Celts, an Indo-European people who conquered the Iberian Peninsula before the coming of the Romans (Carpetans, Vettones, Perendons, etc.), were the first to introduce horses to the Peninsula (1,200 – 1,100 B.C.) through the Pyrenees.  At that time, horses had been utilized to pull carts. These pre-Roman people settled in the north, northeast and west of the Peninsula by 1,000 B.C. and began to saddle horses.  In order to do this, they fixed upon their horses shoes with nails and also utilized spurs and metal bits.  From that point forward, the introduction of equines to the Iberian Peninsula from both other European regions and northern Africa was continual, lasting throughout the following centuries.

In 550 B.C., the Carthaginians brought an army of 2,000 riders on horseback to Hispania (Spain) and, two centuries later, after a treaty with Rome that limited their expansion within the Iberian Peninsula, they established their main headquarters in Cadiz.  In spite of what some authors have stated, Andalusia was not yet an important region for horse breeding.  Several centuries would pass before it would be recognized as such, regardless of the coming and going of Iberians, Carthaginians, Phoenicians and Greek colonizers, who had provided little knowledge about horses as a result of their seafaring nature.  Most outstanding was the new entry of Libyan horses at the hands of Hamilcar, who arrived in Spain in the 237 B.C. from Carthage accompanied by his son-in-law Hasdrubal and son Hannibal. More than 20,000 horses were imported under his rule, in addition to another 12,000 that were brought by Hannibal while he was preparing for the Second Punic War.  This marked the onset of Spanish horse breeding, especially in the Andalusian region.  

Hispanic riders made up of Celts, Celt Iberians and Iberians, all allies of Hannibal once he was proclaimed chief of the Carthaginian army, were already excellent riders.  Their systematic war tactics included continual, short attacks, followed by a quick retreat; they became the scourge of the Roman legions.

The Roman Era

When Rome began to expand its borders in the Italian Peninsula, it had not possessed a cavalry; therefore, its legions were composed of what had already been available. With the Iberian riders as allies, they preferred to leave the breeding of mules to the locals, as they had more experience in both breeding and training equines.  Years later, the Romans began to breed horses in the southern Iberian Peninsula in order to have swift horses for chariot races.  Columella might very well have been one of the most influential Roman authors in the improvement and proliferation of the herds of equine centuries later in Andalusia, due to both his personal knowledge regarding horse breeding and recommendations. It is possible that it was his wisdom which had laid the foundation for the equestrian culture that arose in this region and would, centuries later, be diffused worldwide.   It was the invasion of the Gauss (in 390 A.D.) that made him realize the importance of horses and the mobility that they provided his legions.  Although very slow to have been established, the utilization of horses eventually became more common place within the Roman army and, from that point, horses travelled to any place that Rome conquered.  Due a shortage of horses in Italy, however, Rome usually delegated its cavalry to Barbarians, Scythians, Samaritans and Goths.  Even when the Empire was in danger due to the continual attacks of Germanic tribes, the Romans sought the help of indigenous, Romanized cavalries for defence.  The movement of armies, and commerce between the various peoples, favoured the dissemination of equine breeds, as well as genetic varieties, between continents. 

 Some authors have defended the theory that modern day horses are descendents of Przewalski, although these have 66 pairs of chromosomes, while the contemporary horse has 64, thus making them genetically different.   By 1,000 B.C., horses were used under saddle; horse shoes were fixed with nails, and spurs and metal bits were also utilized.   

 The Romans took a number of years to begin breeding horses; they preferred the Iberian riders as allies, and left the breeding of mules to the locals, as they had more experience in both the breeding and training of equines. 

The Arab culture in the medieval equestrian world

 Most sources lead us to believe that the Arabs took a great deal of time in understanding the importance of the horse as a weapon of war. Traditionally, they had used the dromedary because of their arid surroundings and the knowledge of the times. However, Mohammed was well-aware of the advantages horses provided in the battlefield.  Because of their scarce numbers, he promoted the breeding of horses in all the territories he invaded. But his great contribution to the spread of the horse was not his work as a breeder, but the inclusion of their promotion and their breeding in the Koran; thanks to that, the breeding of horses became a part of the religious teachings, while he established the regulations for their care.  Upon his death, his successors began preaching and expanding the faith throughout Byzantine, Syria, Palestine, Egypt, Iran, Iraq and the whole of North Africa, thus promoting horse breeding as they went. In northern Africa, they lived alongside Berbers, Libyans and Mauritanians, among others, and finally, after several Berber raids and with the help of some Hispanics, who did not accept Don Rodrigo as King, they crossed over to the Iberian Peninsula.

 The invading forces in Hispania, made up of seven thousand Muslims, led by Tariq, landed on the beaches of Gibraltar, defeating Don Rodrigo in the battle of Guadalete, on July 19th of that same year. This victory allowed the Muslims to advance rapidly through Andalusia, so that by October of that year, the city of Cordoba and Toledo, capital of the Visigoth Kingdom, fell, surrendering without resistance, while other cities such as Granada and Malaga also surrendered. The following year, having seen the spectacular Muslim advance, Muse, Tariq’s Chief, decided to join the invasion, and crossed the Strait with a huge army. It seems probable that he decided on the expedition to assure the route between Toledo and the Strait. Things went better than he could possibly have hoped, with the cities of Medina Sidonia, Carmona and Seville opening their gates to him without a fight. This rendition is attributed to the fact that those in favor of Don Rodrigo had fled and those of Witiza remained, or they were possibly aided by the Hispanic-Romans who received the Muslims as a civilized neighboring Mediterranean nation and, in certain way, as liberators.

 In 722, having dominated the peninsular, the Moorish general Munuza, governor of Oviedo, marched against rebel Asturians lead by Pelayo, with an army that was surprised and defeated by little more than three hundred men in the narrow pass of Covadonga.   The Moors saw no importance in a lost battle as they continued with the conquest of the Gauls, until Carlos Martel set them back hard, in 732, putting a halt to their advance.  As of that moment, the first political nucleus against Islam that was born in the Peninsula, located in the Cantabrian Mountains. This great movement was supported by two ideological beliefs: the restoration of the Visigoth Kingdom and the idea of the crusades, which arose in medieval Europe, which make knighthood, understood as such, show their highest values at the start of the reconquest.  As of then, the Church distinguished between fair and unfair wars.  Fair wars were those that defended those who were unarmed: women, children, the underprivileged and of course, the Church.  Later, this same philosophy was used for their own ends, with the promise of forgiveness of the sins of those knights who had made an undue use of their weapons. Penance also changed with the passing of the years; it no longer consisted of going on a pilgrimage, without weapons, to Jerusalem, but just the opposite: to use them against the Saracens in defense of the Church, reaching its most significant degree during the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula. The crusades favored the creation of the military orders that were increasing in number with the passing of time and becoming assimilated into the religious feeling of the Church.

 The initial invaders were followed by others from different nations, who all brought new types of horses to Andalusia. Until Abd Al-Rahman established an independent Emirate in 756, which would remain until 1031, the arrival of tribes was continual.  Therefore the passing of horses between the two continents was constant, but in very less numbers than those suggested by some authors, who calculate these at about 300,000 animals. However, it is also true that until this time, the horses existent in Andalusia were neither as numerous nor as recognized as some authors claim, and still less did they belong to a specific breed, with uniform characteristics. In fact, Albar Machmira wrote that: “at this time, horses were very scarce in Spain, and even the more distinguished chiefs still rode mules”. Abd Al-Rahman himself confirmed this when describing his return trip to Cordoba in July 757, accompanied by Somail: “From Elvira to Cordoba not even the head of his mule got ahead of mine....”

 In 773, the emirate of Cordoba established the political and administrative independence of Islam, although it maintained spiritual and moral unity. From that time on, the Arabs promoted the breeding of horses, having seen the need for their army to have sufficient cavalry to protect and guard the occupied territories. There were also deeper reasons for the Arab nation to promote the breeding of horses, such as the fact that it was detailed by Mohammed in the Koran. The fact that breeding horses is an undercurrent in the Koran is evident, as it promotes the use of the horse as a means of subduing the enemy. Horses ended up being so important in the Crusades that the laws of the time, which were in this period well extended throughout Al-Andalus, pointed out that in the allotment of plunder, “horses will receive two portions and the rider one”. The result of all this was that by 863, due to military necessity, from only three Andalusian villages, 2,900 riders could be found (from Cabra 1,800, from Priego 700 and from Fahs-al-Ballut 400).

 In 912, Abd Al-Rahman III ascended to the throne when the political decline of the emirate was already a fact. Trying to put an end to the rebellions and conflicts, he was proclaimed Caliph, opening the way to the Caliphate of Cordoba. That year he declared his religious independence of the caliphate of Damascus, which had a double purpose: on the one hand, it consolidated the opposition of the Ummayeds; and on the other, it assured him of the marine routes for trade in the Mediterranean, guaranteeing economic relationships with Byzantium. Twenty-four years later, the construction of the palace of Medina Azahara began, which housed the administration of the Caliphate. Curiously, this palace is located within the boundaries of the Cordoba la Vieja farm; as we will see later, it was the start of a project launched as of 1567, following the orders of King Phillip II, which would produce the Purebred Spanish Horse. Only two kilometers away, in the property known as the Almiriya, was the recreational palace belonging to Almanzor; even today, you can still appreciate part of the stables carved in the rock.

 With Alhaquem II, son of Abd-Al-Rahman III on the throne, Cordoba started to become the cultural center of the West.  As everyone knows, after the fall of the Roman Empire, the Greco-Roman culture was not lost forever thanks to the translation, assimilation and elaboration undertaken by the Arabs.  This cultural process is considered one of the most interesting events in the history of science and which, as it had a direct impact on horse breeding. The intellectual task carried out by the Arab nation meant that the fundamentals of philosophy, mathematics, architecture, medicine, cartography, agriculture and animal husbandry were rescued from the ancient Greek culture. This multicultural wealth, enriched by the thoughts of such philosophers and doctors as Al-Kindi, Al-Farabí, Ibn Sina (Avicena), and, above all, the Cordovan Ibn Rushd (1126-1198), known as Averroes, editor of the comments about Aristotle, was passed on to the Muslim Spain.  In Cordoba, the cultural spirit imported from the East was increased and translated in the heart of cultural circles made up of Muslims, Jews and Christians, in such a way that this city would become the scientific and cultural heir of Baghdad; thus, the cultural foundations were laid that served as a base for Cordoba, four centuries later, to become the world center of the horse breeding.

During this period, the native and imported horses in Andalusia were differentiated. The natives were known as “well-bred” and the imported ones received the name of Idwi, (from the other bank), or Berbers.  Likewise, as has happened with the Purebred Spanish Horse, these horses were erroneously attributed to a specific breed. However, the term Berber was applied to all the horses that came from Africa, even though these were of different types. These horses, the same as those from the south of the Iberian Peninsula, showed a very diverse conformation due to the genetic variability inherent to the species and the crossings that were carried out.  In fact, Idn Hayyan, in the Annals of Al-Hakam, laid out those that were carried out in Cordoba with different types of horses, during the reign of Abd Al-Rahman III. He states that the horses that arrived in Cordoba were crossed with those of less quality in order to improve the quality “to strengthen and increase (the height), increasing the prestige and respect of the kings of the area”. According to what he stated, one of the reasons that many Berber knights and riders were attracted to help this Caliph at war, was the possibility of breeding horses in the meadows of Guadalbarbo (wadi-baebar), in lands of Villafranca of Cordoba. It was on this same land, six centuries later, as we will see the mares of the emperor Carlos V and of Phillip II grazing.

 Southern Al-Andalus became a center of equine reproduction thanks to the intervention of elements such as the climate, Cordoba being the capital, in which animal husbandry was very important, and the fact that the pastures of the area had not been plowed up because the land was not suitable for growing wheat as it gave a very poor yield. Another factor that had a great impact was the high-level of understanding and knowledge reached by equestrian culture, a consequence of the abovementioned cultural process. Ibn Hodeil, based on “History of Animals” by Aristotle (384-322 AD) demonstrated this when relating the bases of equitation:

 “Good equitation, equestrian art as a whole, consists solely of a good seat, in its firmness, in the equal length of reins, in the symmetry of the spurs and in their judicious use; that is to say, with the desired intensity when it is necessity for them to be felt. A good balance between the forehand and hind quarters is what must most concern us at all times”.

 Nonetheless, in Al-Andalus, the use of the mule was still well rooted, due to the convenience of these animals for journeys, an inherited custom from the Romans. Ibn Hawqual, a traveler who visited Cordoba in the mid 10th century, wrote that in Muslim Hispania, they had specialized to such an extent in high value mules, “that these are the object of curious rivalries to see who owns the most”.

 Under Islamic rule, the Iberian Peninsula boasted maximum splendor during this was the political era, despite its short duration as decline came by 1010. Officially, the Caliphate continued to exist up to 1031.  That year it was abolished to fragment into the various Taifas Kingdoms as a consequence of the civil war, provoked by those in favor of the last legitimate Caliph, Hixam II, and the successors of his Prime Minister, Almanzor.

 In 1085, Toledo capitulated to Alfonso VI, a crucial event in medieval Hispanic history, not only because it was capital of the Visigoth Kingdom but also because the translation works begun by the Arabs continued there.  Taking Toleda, a city that had been Islamic for 370 years, caused an influx of Mozarabes, Franks and Castilians, who were a part of the conquering army.  From then on, they live alongside the Jews and Arabs who populated the city. Upon their arrival, the Christians found libraries with thousands of works unknown to them, whose legacy, and the great quantity of Castilians who also immigrated to that city, created a cultural broth for an extraordinary cultural movement. In that social context, by the mid 12th century, the School of Translators was created.  A group of Christian, Jewish and Muslim specialists worked together on the translation of the Arab and ancient works, which spread them to the rest of medieval Europe. The arrival of Alfonso X, the Wise, in the 13th century, gave a new impulse to a school with a treasure of knowledge and whose translations went, on occasion, into Latin and Romance languages.  Understanding of this fact is imperative to understanding the Spanish cultural and historical reality as well as the equestrian understanding and horse breeding that was established in Andalusia following that coalition of cultures.

 The successive invasions coming from northern Africa, such as the Almoravids (1090-1102), the Almohads (1145–1146) and the Marinids (1224), at the same time as introducing more equestrian livestock, produced the progressive weakening of the Kingdoms, which caused Al-Andalus to be reduced to the Nasrid Kingdom of Granada by the mid 13th century.   


The Medieval Cavalry

  Humanity, as mentioned in other chapters, domesticated horses during the Neolithic period. While the Chinese were already raiding the Caspian Sea region by 4000 BC using horses as transportation, this fact does allow us to assume there existed a cavalry as we know it today. Although some authors have stated that it all began when the first man jumped on the back of a horse, the reality is quite different.  Centuries came and went before the contents of dressage were put into writing or equipment, such as stirrups, saddles, spurs, or reins were invented for riders to be able to go to battle in a safe and effective manner.  Moreover, the purpose of weapons, which had first evolved for use by the unskilled, would have to change, as would battle tactics. Finally, the concept of the cavalry evolved from a simple aid utilized at the onset of combat to an effective means for battle.  In 732, Charles Martel (also known as Charles the Hammer) stopped the advance of the Umayyads in Poitiers with his infantry, which fought against the waves of Moslems that crashed against them in modern day France. For centuries, horses were used solely as either a means of transportation or to reach the battlefield in better physical and strategic condition, as once the riders reached the field, they dismounted to fight on the ground.  Later, it became popular to have two riders on a single horse: one controlled the horse while the other fought. Thus, while one dismounted, the other remained seated on the horse to facilitate an escape route for both, if need be. 


The religious symbolism conferred upon the expulsion of Moslems from the Iberian Peninsula by the Church favored the social recognition of knights in re-conquered lands.  The mind of the Medieval peasant was filled with the dual concepts of saving Christianity—the religious spirit of their mission—and noble knights.  With their tales of heroic deeds, the minstrels found a way to earn a living by emphasizing the almost always over-evaluated virtues of the knights which, for the most part, were imaginary.  The symbiosis of knight errant and minstrel provided the impetus for the knightly legend to become myth, favoring fantasy and, once again, the distortion of historical fact.  


The term “knight” in 12th century vernacular evoked a warrior and did not suggest a high-ranking noble, as many believe.  The same holds true in German; the old word was Ritter. In England, the word used was knight, stemming from the old English word cniht, which described an armed pawn rather than a noble.  In Spanish, the word caballero refers to both the warrior and the elevation of the meaning to an elite fighter on horseback.  Initially, the term knight conferred no other meaning than armed service. It later become so idealized that it became almost mythic, even though, as S. Painter has said, mythic chivalry was never more than a “sweet dream.”

The concept of chivalry as we know it today could have originated in the rider-horse combination that was used as a special force in combat.  Prior to this, as was mentioned above, it had only been an aid for the infantry that covered lateral posts at the onset of a conflict. One of the first battle systems used in chivalry, effective only when the enemy was also on horseback, was jousting: the knights, dressed in armor, galloped against their enemy, tilting at each other with lances.  Once their lances were rendered useless, they continued to fight on the ground with swords.  Imposed by the monarchy, this system of battle had two purposes: the first was for the knight to encourage the foot soldiers to continue fighting after he had dismounted and the second was to hinder the retreat of the knight should he find himself in danger.  This battle strategy, in which both knight and horse were fitted with armor, established the social differences of the time as, in addition to the high cost of a horse, the knights also wore metal protection.  Armor, which evolved even more than did weapons, was an external symbol that peasants desired, but was only accessible for those with elevated purchasing power, as the cost was equal to that of two or three horses. Although the breastplate did not make the knight invincible, it did grant him advantages in the battlefield; moreover, although knights were a minority within the armed forces, they had fewer casualties than did other units.  It was they who generally received the honors of victory, becoming the exclusive receptor of noble tribute and an incipient wealthy middle class.

Not only has a distorted vision of chivalry on the battlefield reached us, but the concept of knightly ethics, too, is mythical.  The chronicles and writings (which were generally written by the winners) provide a distorted image of reality that favored the expansion and proliferation of historical mistakes in knightly novels and more or less historical films, in which the objective is to catch the attention of the spectator or reader through manipulating their thoughts and emotions. This mythical view has also affected our understanding of the investiture of knights: the simple act of granting weapons, those included in the orders of the noble Lord, have reached us with ethical and religious connotations. However, the origins of the ceremony were not at all connected to having become a knight but, as stated by Jean Flori, were actually related to the coronation of the Frankish Monarchs, which might have begun at the end of the 9th century, prior to the creation of what we know today as knights and chivalry. It was a century later that the investiture appeared, following a profound development in which it was transformed into a ceremony almost exclusively for knights. The objective of this ritual was to endorse the actions of knights in battle and to differentiate them from simple bandits, and by no means was the purpose to recognize or elevate their social status.  The Church, which initially refused to honor the religious character of the event, had qualms about requesting help from barbarian knights when it felt threatened.  The cavalry gained importance in the 10th century, when it became utilized as a means to alleviate possible barbarity at war (death, rape, mutilation, etc.) which, in many cases, turned against them. Religion permeated the investiture through embedding religious rituals into the concept of a warrior - the same religious rituals that had been so successful for monarchs. With the passing of time, these became unnecessary as nobility became inherited, transitioning from an almost royal institution to a simple protocol for the sons of noblemen.  Likewise, royal dispensation allowed commoners to be invested in times of need.  This happened quite frequently, as monarchs would overlook protocol norms to have as many warriors as possible at hand during times of possible military confrontation. In come cases, this honor was granted after a battle in compensation for fidelity and having been a good warrior.

From that point onward, the Church differentiated between just and unjust wars.  Just wars were those that defended the unarmed: women, children, the defenseless and, of course, the Church itself.  Later, war was used for more self-serving reasons with the promise of forgiveness of sins for those knights who had made undue use of their weapons.  Penitence, the concept of which also evolved over time, no longer consisted of going on pilgrimage to Jerusalem without weapons, but was instead to use those weapons against the Saracens in defense of the Church, thus achieving greater significance during the reconquest of the Iberian Peninsula. It was then that the two different methods of fighting on horseback appeared, demonstrating two different styles of riding, known as “jineta” and “brida”.

In the first edition of the Royal Dictionary of the Spanish Language, published in 1737, the “jineta” style is defined as: “a way of riding a horse, with legs collected in stirrups similar to the Africans.”  However, the term “brida” refers to “(riding) a horse with a pommel on the saddle and long stirrups.”  These definitions, repeated in latter editions of the dictionary, differentiated the two styles only by the length of the stirrup leathers.   Nevertheless, it is possible that the actual definition was written by individuals with little to do with the equestrian world, as the length of the stirrup leather was not the only difference between the two riding styles.  The difference between both styles lies in other aspects, such as the use of the bridle, type of saddle, curb bit and spurs.   The bottom line is that these names, rather than identifying two different types of training, represent two differentiating riding and fighting styles.  Interestingly, centuries later, these two variations became known as Doma Vaquera and Spanish High School.  This latter, Spanish High School, is based on “brida” and founded on the studies of the classical Greeks.  One of the most outstanding classical Greek horsemen was Xenophon; his teachings proliferated throughout the Renaissance, and were one of the main reasons why King Phillip II, as we will see in future chapters, launched his project on November 28th, 1567, which would lead to the creation of the Purebred Spanish Horse.  


     // It will continue… //


SÓLO, The false"Carthusian" horse Belonging to Vicente Romero García


It is generally believed that branding was created for cattle. The truth, however, is quite different. By the time man began using branding irons on cattle, this system had already been used to brand human beings.

The Cobarrubias Dictionary (1611), the first dictionary of the Spanish language states that term "to brand" is applied to the definitions that find "its origin coming from iron". When explaining the origin of this word, it states that the Samians, who used a ship as an emblem, placed this sign on the forehead of the Athenians when these were defeated. Similarly, the Athenians, whose symbol was an owl, collected revenge by branding the Samians when they were victorious. This slave identification caused long-term social problems because, later on, some of these slaves became lords and, consequently, were forced to hide these marks. They used to do so with bandages on their heads complaining of terrible headaches. Years later, Constantine prohibited the branding of human beings, except in the case of the incorrigible slaves (1).

As we all know, nowadays this term defines the action of branding cattle and shoeing.

The exact commencement of horse branding is unknown, but there is some evidence that it was already an identification practice in the 2nd century BC and it seems to have become commonplace by the 2nd century, although this last date is not clearly verified (2).

It would be too tiresone to list the ordinances referring to the branding of horse in Spain, so we exclusively center this report on the branding and re-branding of a specific horse from the latter part of past century. This horse was SÓLO and it belonged to Vicente Romero García. It has been chosen for its genetic incidence in the horses of the Bocado lineage, to which many breeders mistkenly tried to find direct descendents of the "mystified" Carthusian horses from Jerez de la Frontera.

We have already explained the meaning of the term "to brand", but the term re-brand has different connotation. It defines the action of branding with the same brand or shoeing horses again with the same horseshoes. Finally, the word rebrand has still another meaning that interest us today: branding a mount with an iron that differs from that of its original stock farm. The custom of re-branding was deep-rooted in Andalusia not only as the wat of identifying the owner or origin, but to identify horses that were born below "The Line"(3) and even as a way of identifying the horses belonging to a particular municipality. We can find an example of this in the exposition that I made of the Bocado branding iron in my book "Historia de los caballos cartujanos"(History of the Carthusian Horses) when it belonged to the breeder José Antonio Retamales, from Arcos de la Frontera (4). He is first breeder to be registered as owner of this branding iron once the Jesuits and the former owners of the brand had been expropriated and expelled from Spain (1767). This breeder appears in the register of Arcos de la Frontera of the year 1780 owning six mares with different brands. Three years later, these same mares were registered as re-branded with his own brand; the Bocado brand:

"Aquisgan del real on behalf of José Antonio Retamales, registered the following mares:

LA CACHORRA, graysh, with permanent teeth, re-branded with the branding iron indicated at the margin (clean bit), with a portal.

LA CARBONERS, black, right back hoof white, with permanent teeth, re-branded with the said branding iron, with portal.

LA CORDOBESA, dun, white hair on the forehead, with permanent teeth, re-branded with the said iron, not pregnant.

A two-year-old colt, liver bay with this brand"(5).

The horse mentioned above named "SÓLO", dark gray, belonging to Vicente Romero García was duly praised throughout its lifetime and, even more, after its death because it was the horse that this breeder rode till his death. Portuguese Ruy de Andrade incluided this anecdote in his book:

"The picture in which he appears riding SOLO the day that he came from Colonia del Valle to Jerez de la Frontera, which is around 30 kilometers away, he was just under 90 year-old and the horse was 23"(6).

Years later, the fact that this book was copied by various authors helped propagate the anecdote. "SOLO" was the sire stallion at the "Bocado" stud farm during the lifetime of Vicente Romero. At its death, 10 of the 27 mares at the stud farm had been sired by "SOLO". Many of the mares that were sold to Vicente Llaguno, from México, prior to its death had been covered by "SOLO"(7).

In my new book titled The Spanish Horse: The Evolution of its Morphology, in chapter VI (Coats), section 2, I talk about the repercussion this horse had on Spanish horses at the end of the 19th century and beginning of the 20th century, in terms of the proliferation of this coat during that period. This horse won first place for stallions at the Jerez de la Frontera Exhibit celebrated from the 25th to the 27th of April, 1894 at the Arrecife de Capuchinos Instruction Camp. The prize was a gold pocket wath donated by the Regent Queen. The horse competed against other stallions, including two that also belonged to Vicente Romero y Romero called "GENERAL" measured 1,60 cm. The horse "DOTADO", belonging to Bartolomé Bohórquez y Rubiales, also competed in this section. It was a 9-year-old measuring 1,61 cm. high that earned second place. There was also another horse with the brand of Antonio Piña y Guerra, named "ESTANQUERO".

To that point, everything seems to be normal, as it was a contest amongst breeders from Jerez who provided the Spanish breed with so many improvements after the French invasion. Fortunately, for the improvement of the breed, by the end of the 19th century, breeders from Jerez strove to be the very best at morphological contests not only with their horses, but with other farm animals, including cows, donkeys, mules, turkeys, rabbits, hens, etc. But then, something significant happen and it was registered in the Minutes of the horse contest. On April the 28th, the scribe wrote in depth details about "SOLO", he wrote:

"For this award, a Purebred Spanish, dapple-gray sire stallion was inscribed, measuring six fourths and ten fingers (1,63 cm) in height, seven years of age, named SOLO, with the brand of its stud farm (H) on the right flank and double gg on the left, owned by Mr. Vicente Romero y García"

After reading this we can ask ourselves How is it possible that the horse had the brand of Vicente Romero in the right flank and the double gg on the left? Did Vicente Romero brand with this iron? The answer seems to lie in the fact that he did brand with the "el bocado" brand with a C and, also, it is the only horse belonging to this breeder which is described as being re-branded in this way. In fact, this gg brand is inscribed by breeder Gregorio García from San Roque in the province of Cadiz. Then, we could ask ourselves whether SOLO was a horse from the "el bocado" or a horse belonging originally to another breeder but re-branded by Vicente Romero. What is sure is that this bloodline, in opposition to what has been written by many authors, was crossed with other horses. Once again I say crossed because, in the letter written to Ruy de Andrade on September the 22nd of 1909, Vicente Romero himself confirms that he crossed his two stock farms. One of these farms had been inherited from his father and branded with a crowned heart iron, which had been bought from Zapata:

"After having mixed the two stock farms, the result has been so many remarkable horses with so many awards that it would be too much to list them"

From this, we could deduce that the horses of this line not only were not Carthusian horses, as proven in my book History of the Cartusians Horses  but neither were they "pure" within their line, as some would try lead us to believe.



1 Cobarrubias Orozco, S. de. Tesoro de la Lengua castellana o española. Ed. Turner, Madrid, 1979, p. 683.

2 Altamirano Macarrón , J.C. Diccionario Ecuestre Español. A.M.C. Ediciones ecuestres, Málaga, 1994, p. 156.

3 The approximate area from the Tajo River to the southern area of the peninsula was know with this name.(meaning the line).

4 Municipal Archives of the town of Arcos de la Frontera. Agriculture and cattle section. 1780 Breeder Register of Arcos de la Frontera. Caja nº 428, legajo nº 16, expediente nº 10, folio 49 recto y vuelto.

5 Municipal Archives of the town of Arcos de la Frontera. Agriculture and cattle section. 1780 Bredeer Register of Arcos de la Frontera. Caja nº 428, Expediente nº 13.

6 Ruy de Andrade. Alrededor del caballo español. Lisboa, 1954, p. 88.

7 Llamas Perdigó, J. Caballo español, caballo de reyes. Talleres del Servicio Geográfico del Ejercito. Madrid, 1985, pp. 191-192.

8 Municipal Archives of Jerez de la Frontera. Cattle Section. Legajo nº 172, Expediente 5.359, (1894).

9 Huesca, Federico. Libro de hierros. (Separata del Diccionario Hípico y del Sport). Imp. J.M. Pérez, Madrid, 1881, p. 705. A breeder in Jerez also registers a branding iron forming a GG.

10 Op. cit. Lisboa, 1954, p. 71.

* Translator`s note: In Spanish, the word for iron (hierro), horseshoe (herradura), to brand (herrar) and branding iron (hierro) all stem from the same root.)


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THE SPANISH HORSE: the evolution of its morphology 

Extracted text of the section 1º of the chapter IV of the book

4.1 The frontonasal profile

The term frontonasal refers to the shape of the forehead73 and of the nasal part of the head74. Its shape is precisely one of the most controversial present day issues regarding the Spanish horse. The cause of the debate is the belief that a breed of horses should only present one type of profile with an exact degree of curvature or straightness. Whilst some authors insist that the profile should be "subconvex", both in the nasal and frontal parts, others uphold that there are three types of profiles depending on the degree of curvature: minimum, medium and maximum.75 For some, the profile should be subconvex, but only to a minimum degree; others claim it should be "medium" and call it "classic"; and still others state that the profile indicating greatest purity is the "straight" one (profile which was upheld in the former rules of the Spanish breed, the Reglamento de la raza española). It has also been generally claimed that the convex profile, better known as "Roman-nosed", does not correspond to the Spanish horse, allegedly because it is the result of cross- breeding of the Spanish breed with horses imported from Europe at the beginning of the 17th century. This theory, however, lacks credibility, as I stated in my book History and Origins of the Spanish horse: the Royal Stables of Cordoba.76


Several authors have defended, in an almost unanimous fashion, the belief that the morphology of the Spanish horse is due to the Andalusian geographic environment and to the natural correlations associated with its frontonasal profile.77 At present the debate centers on the geographic origins of the different types of profiles present in Spain; some argue that the origins are European, others oriental, etc. If it were really possible to geographically locate each one of the profiles, as these authors claim, and if it were true that the morphology of the Spanish horse is due to a correlation with the type of profile, then, how can one also uphold that its morphology is the result of the Andalusian geographic environment? The logical thing to do, according to this theory, would be to claim that it is due to the geographic environment in which the type of frontonasal profile defended originated, and not to the environment of Andalusia.

We know that on occasions the cephalic profile tends to coincide with the shape and direction of the legs and with certain morphological characters. But an intent to defend on such a basis an alleged racial purity by means of the correlation of conformation with the frontonasal profile is not coherent, given that man has intervened in the selection of the species for thousands of years.

Studies carried out regarding the correlation which exists between certain morphological characters and the types of profiles in equines have been naively applied to the conformation of the Spanish horse. As we have pointed out, these studies superimposed the concept of breed on that of subspecies. If the conclusions of these studies were in fact correct, they would be attributed, in any case, to the species or subspecies that existed before human manipulation. Furthermore, the correlations which appear through natural selection mainly occur from the global perspective of the species and not from the point of view of individual specimen. As a matter of fact, man has frequently used the genetic variability of the species (heterozygosis) to obtain different breeds:

The results of artificial selection of domestic animals revealed the enormous, though often hidden, variability which exists within a species.78

It is easy for man, if he so desires, to genetically distort the possible natural correlation which may appear since intervention in reproduction can easily change the rules which at times occur in nature. If we consider that even in natural reproduction the correlation does not always appear, then it is obvious that it will do so even less since man has been selecting for thousands of years according to specific parameters. That is why one can see horses with a subconvex, concave or straight profile that have the same type of croup, shape of the hocks, back, neck, tail set, etc.79

It does not seem very coherent to uphold that the parts of the body of all members of a breed of horses should be exactly the same, and in case they differ, claim that cross-breeding is the cause. It should not be forgotten that identical conformation only occurs with animals that have been cloned and only at the moment of birth, since later variations can appear due to illnesses, differences in nutrition, exercise, etc.

In all species that reproduce bisexually, individuals differ in one or in many genes. Homogeneous genetic material only exists in monovular twins and in those groups which have been formed vegetatively or parthenogenetically from one sole individual (clones).80

In general, most breeds present several forms for each trait and cross- breeding should not be adduced as the cause of different characters in one given breed. The frequency of existence of a trait is precisely the usual basis for creating new breeds. Man uses the genetic variability of animals, in this case of horses, to obtain types that can be of use. For that reason

One can not say that an individual does not belong to a breed if it has an isolated trait which is used to define another breed. The individuals of a breed do not have to have exactly the same morphology. What they should have in common are the characters which distinguish the breed as such.81

It is curious that many authors who claim to uphold the true frontonasal profiles which correspond to the Spanish horse use previously selected cave paintings to document their theories. If one intends to base a thesis on the study of prehistoric cave paintings, then all should be used, and not only those that correspond to the type of profile being defended. In the caves from which these authors take their paintings there are all sorts of profiles to be found: convex, subconvex, straight and even concave. Obviously these paintings are prior to the Arab invasion or to the importation of central European horses. It is also important to note that prehistoric paintings should not be used as an indicator of the type of profile which corresponds to the Spanish pure breed. Prehistoric artists were not interested in showing the nuances which we use today to distinguish the Spanish breed. They simply expressed in a vary schematic manner equine specimen of their times, and as we have said, those animals had different types of profiles. In his article, The horse in pre-roman times: representation and function, Diego Ruiz Mata referred to the issue of cave paintings:

The fact is that regarding this matter there exists a great deal of misunderstanding, largely due to efforts to identify the species shown in the engravings, resulting in a great diversity.

He agrees with Altuna regarding the mistake of identifying present-day equine breeds with the animals represented in cave paintings:

There has been an intent to identify the different types of prehistoric horses on the basis of the phenotypes of modern horse breeds, forgetting that these have undergone deep transformations as a result of domestication. They have thus become false references and can not be used as models of morphological comparison for the purpose of identifying horses of cave paintings.82

Madariaga de la Campa is another author who has expressed disagreement regarding the relation between prehistoric horses and present-day breeds:

Our horse breeds do not originate directly from those that existed in the Paleolithic era. 83

However, the rejoneador Angel Peralta, who like others does not agree with this theory, states without proving it that the Spanish horse already existed in the tertiary era:

The simple and revealing analysis of its origins, from the tertiary era to the present, without gaps in time or in its evolution...84

The Spanish horse was born in the second half of the 16th century and attained maximum splendor at the time of Baroque culture. The predominance of curved lines and exuberant forms in Baroque art had a decisive influence on the definite conformation of the breed and especially on the frontonasal profile. With regard to the theory of profiles I wrote the following in my book, mentioned earlier:

The Spanish horse attained its peak as a breed at the time of predominance of what has come to be called the Baroque. Just as the pompous architectural and pictorial style of the times —much used by the Catholic Church— impressed and overwhelmed the masses, the horses that had been selected in Andalusia, where the Baroque was very successful, caused a similar impact, especially when in motion. For this reason, stallions with curved forms were used for reproduction and the roman-nosed profile was considered the most appropriate.85

The spread of the Baroque culture and the morphology of the Spanish horse followed parallel paths for centuries. The Spanish horse had the roman-nosed profile, which became a representative trait in all of the equestrian iconography of the times and favored its proliferation in the Spanish pure breed. Thus for centuries the roman nosed profile was one of the most representative characters of the Spanish breed. Since these horses were considered the most perfect of the times, the roman nosed profile had a great influence in the orientation of the selection of many other existing breeds and in newly created ones, such as the Lusitano, Kladrub, etc.

As we have already mentioned, there has been great controversy in recent years regarding the different theories of profiles and the divergent conclusions of many studies of this matter. Too much importance has been given to the profile and too often it has been used as the sole criteria to determine the pureness of the Spanish horse. Such an attitude could be based on the belief that the head is the most conservative part of the horse in the process of natural evolution. But due to the lengthening of the jaw the cranium is, in fact, one of the parts of the body of equines that has changed most, together with variations of front and hind feet.

At present, many discussions focus on the head because it is the part of the body with the largest number of characters considered representative of a breed, such as the eye, the ears, the profile, the forelock, the jowls, the nostrils and the face, and because these characters are not always the same. Even though the beauty of a horse’s head is of great importance to enhance the rest of the body, a breed of horses like the Spanish one is not only determined by the type of frontonasal profile but also by its other conformation characters.

In this controversy history is always used to defend the present state of affairs, despite the fact that in Ancient times it was not the profile but the size of the head that was considered important. One of the characters most highly considered for a horse was a small head, as revealed in the writings of Simon of Athens, Xenophonte (4th century B.C., Columella (1st century) or Saint Isidore of Seville (7th century), amongst others. It is possible that said trait was not a matter of aesthetics but instead of awareness of the fact that an excessively heavy head could cause the horse to lose balance and fall on its forelegs, producing the opposite effect sought with schooling, which is to lighten them. The same trait was sought for the Spanish horse, since the instructions given to the Governor of the Breed (Gobernador de la Raza) in 1567 stated that the horses to be bred should have "small heads".86

All of this controversy regarding profiles has its origins in theories on the anatomical differences between human groups which were expounded towards the end of the 18th century. Carolus Linnaeus (1704-1778) claimed there were four types of human groups characterized by different types of skulls. Some years later Johann Friedrich Blumenbach (1752-1840) added a fifth group to the classification. Unfortunately, manipulation of these studies led to racist attitudes which Blumenbach himself, aware of the conflict he had created, addresses in these terms:

The Ethiopians do not have a single trait which is so specific that it cannot be seen all over the world in all sorts of people.

Other late 18th century authors who contributed to the problem with erroneous speculations were members of the school of Gall and Spurzheim in Germany and in France. They based their theories on the belief that aptitudes for mathematics, the arts, music, love, etc. could be located in certain parts of the brain and as a result could be forecast on the basis of the shape of the skull. These theories became fashionable as justifications of certain behavior and even of the superiority of some races over others, until they were abandoned by scientists as mere speculation. But books expounding these theories had been published and some of their claims, particularly regarding the location of certain aptitudes in specific regions of the brain, were upheld in some social circles. From the manner in which these studies were presented one could deduce that behavior was directly proportional to cranial differences. Furthermore, they related the size of the brain to intelligence, concluding that the brain of men had to be larger than that of women, and the brain of white people larger than that of black people.87 Now we know from anatomy and physiology that the size of the brain has nothing to do with intellectual capacity. But at that time the theory that had the greatest influence was that of Moleschott, according to which "the brain segregates thought just like the kidney segregates urine", and the determinist idea that all in nature, human beings included, should be governed by a theory of behavior. As a result the head was chosen as means of differentiating between races and became the center of all scientific research.88 Unfortunately, the conclusions of these theories had a decisive influence on studies of different human races and later on animal ones. At the end of the 18th century, and during the 19th, when the conclusions of Blumenbach and Linnaeus became fashionable, the first affirmations regarding the type of profile used for horses, and specifically for the Spanish pure breed, were made. This favored the use of the frontonasal profile as an identifying character for horse breeds, which in turn led to greater uniformity of this character in the different breeds and to its use to distinguish one breed from another.

Although these studies were questioned by scientists, they were not ignored nor were they forgotten. In retrospect it seems hard to believe how such pseudoscientific speculations, which had nothing to do with reality and which have not yet been totally eradicated, were able to gain such prominence. The correlation mentioned earlier was used to construct a theory which held that thieves, rapists, criminals, etc. could be recognized according to the shape of their skull and even on the basis of their handwriting. Cesare Lombroso, an Italian, claimed that:

By nature criminals have a weak cranial capacity, a heavy and prominent jaw, protruding eyebrows, and abnormal and asymmetric skull (...) large ears and often a flat or crooked nose. Criminals are color-blind, they are frequently left-handed, are weak (...). Their moral degeneration corresponds to their physical appearance; their criminal tendencies are reflected in childhood in (masturbation) cruelty, a tendency to steal, excessive vanity, an impulsive character. Criminals are by nature lazy, depraved, cowardly, remorseless, having small foreheads (...) a peculiar handwriting (...) and very diffuse speech (...) They are (...) the survivors of a type of inferior race.89

Lombroso and his school elaborated a program with which "problematic" individuals could be identified. A set of curious characters were to be used to recognize such people. It was thus claimed that criminals had:

Cold, glassy, bloodshot eyes, abundant curly hair, strong jaws, large ears and thin lips.

Forgers, on the other hand, would be:

Pale and pleasant, with small eyes and a large nose; and they have gray hair and are bald at an early age.

Whereas sexual criminals would have:

Sparkling eyes, strong jaws, thick lips, abundant hair and larger ears.90

Once they had established their criteria, they set out in search of persons who had these characters in order to control them and thus avoid later problems. After some time they realized that well known persons with excellent reputations, both socially, culturally and economically, such as nobles, business men, priests, politicians, etc. could very well be included in the category of persons considered dangerous. As a result these studies were disqualified and rejected. But as we mentioned earlier, the theory was embedded in part of society and has survived to this day. Thus José Sanz Parejo, perhaps due to ignorance regarding the origin of the theory or because he is convinced of the correlation between the shape of the skull and behavior, has said regarding horses that:

The study of the head enables us to know the temperament, character, nobility, etc. 91

On the basis of this type of speculation some people still believe in the existence of some hereditary "criminal chromosomes". They believe that the behavior and acquired knowledge of one’s parents can be inherited, without considering that the behavior of human beings is not a consequence of the type of skull but rather of a series of social and cultural interactions. A person may have a physiological trait from the moment of conception which will remain unchanged until his death. He may be born with one type of ear, eyes or nose or another, inherited from his ancestors, but his behavior will be the result of social and cultural conditioning. If we think of two children born in two different ethnic groups, for example in a central European country and in a sub-Saharan one, where the cultural, social and moral values, the resources and the vital needs are completely different, their behavior in their different habitats will also differ. What makes them different is the environment in which they live, and not the fact that they have inherited certain genes which determine their behavior.

It is possible that acceptance of this theory of morphological and behavioral correlations may be partially due to the fact that when it was first proposed in the 19th century it seemed to be based on solid scientific research. It quickly became the cause of many myths assimilated by the collective thinking of the times, enhanced, as in this case, by well-known horror novels. An example of such literature is the Agatha Christie novel The Secret Adversary:

The man walking up the stairs with silent steps was a complete stranger for Tommy. He obviously belonged to the scum of humanity. Low, joined eyebrows, a criminal jaw: the bestiality of the face was new for the young man, although it was a type of person Scotland Yard would have identified at first sight. 92

And as Lewontin, Rose and Kamin say in their book No está en los genes: Crítica del racismo biológico: "Lombroso would have identified it too."

From that moment on, all studies on race, both of human beings and of animals, were based on these theories, and led to endless measurements of skulls to defend alleged natural racial pureness. When applied to equines, and to the Spanish horse, the aim of "research" work was to discover the true shape of the Spanish horse’s skull in prehistoric times. It was believed that once this was discovered, the type of profile would by correlation reveal specific morphological characters, which all together would embody the alleged "morphological pureness" of the Spanish breed. On the basis of the results obtained, it is obvious that the only thing these studies have provided is a tremendous waste of time.

If it were possible to implement the theory that claims that the Spanish horse is the result of natural evolution and that it has had the same conformation since prehistoric times, when all horses were exactly the same, it is likely that it would no longer exist, having been destroyed by its inability to develop. We must remember that the prehistoric horse was a 40 centimeter tall animal totally different from the Spanish horse or any other horse breed. The Spanish horse owes its existence to evolution in so far as a member of a species: but its morphological conformation does not stem from evolution. Instead, as a prefabricated breed obtained in the second half of the 17th century, it owes its morphology to selection carried out by man on the basis of combinations of traits, including the profile, which pleased its creator Diego López de Haro, and later, the breeders and institutions that have controlled it. A similar case is that of the Doberman dog, whose racial characters are due to the combinations of traits of different dog breeds carried out by its creator, Louis Doberman, from 1834 to 1894. 93

If we were to uphold that the "purest" profile of the Spanish horse is the oldest one, we would have to say, contrary to what has been stated in the many studies published on the matter, that the convex profile (roman-nosed) is the one that has greatest "pureness". But this statement, based on the historic documents consulted, does not imply that all the horses existing at the time in the Iberian Peninsula had a roman-nosed profile. It does mean, however, that in order to create the Spanish breed, horses and mares with that kind of profile were selected because it was considered the most appropriate given the cultural and artistic context of the times.

When the Neoclassical style, which came to Spain from France in the 18th century with the dynasty of the Bourbons, replaced the Baroque, straight forms were preferred to curved ones, then considered vulgar. This new conception of beauty affected architecture, sculpture, painting, clothing, etc., as well as the Spanish horse. Straighter profiles were sought to soften the convex forms which no longer pleased the Court. As a result, exaggerated roman-nosed profiles began to disappear little by little, and they were no longer seen in paintings. In 1786 Robichon de la Guérinière, influenced by the new style in fashion, said regarding horse profiles:

The perfection of the forehead of a Horse consists in being straight and wide, with proportions. 94

But in Andalusia, where the Baroque style had been so popular that it had lead to the creation of "Andalusian Baroque", the style continued to appeal and in the countryside the roman-nosed profile for horses was maintained. For that reason centuries later there still existed in Andalusia references to the presence of that profile, including the comments of a traveler called Curri, who after witnessing a horse show in the bull ring of Seville, concluded that "the roman-nosed head was essential for a pure breed".

Spanish judges like everything we reject in a horse: they do not like a straight head...

In the 19th century, another traveler called Thomas Rice described the profile of the Spanish horses in these terms:

The Spanish horse stands between 15 and 16 hands, has a fairly large, bony head the shape of a merino ram.

At the beginning of this century the roman-nosed profile was still popular in Andalusia. In 1805, Francisco de la Iglesia, who was from Cadiz, wrote on the subject of horses heads:

They must be in proportion to the size of the horse, in other words not too large and not too small, and above all fine and thin. Short, thick heads are always ugly, and those that are long and thin are called old woman’s head. The term ram head is used when it looks like that, and this is something which adds great beauty to a horse. (...) The width of the forehead must also be proportionate. Whenever it is convex it makes the head be roman-nosed, which makes the animal much more beautiful.96

On the other hand, Hidalgo Tablada, from Madrid, criticized the roman-nosed profile of a four year old colt born in 1853 at the royal stables, son of the stallion Miño and of the mare Viajera. The colt appears a drawing which can be considered one of the graphic documents which most closely reflects the prototype of the Spanish breed around the middle of the 19th century:

Having examined the overall appearance and the specific characters of this animal, which was awarded a prize in the exhibition of 1857, the defect of the roman-nosed head is noticeable, and even though the rest is pleasant, it is obvious that the limbs are a little too long, which is a defect of the painting and not of that stock of horses. 97

But the breed at that time generally had roman-nosed profiles. Julián de Soto describes the mid-19th century horse as having:

Large roman head, long, separate, low set ears (...) thick neck, full and straight shoulders, short back (...) short, round croup, fine limbs, long and oblique pasterns, and not very good conformation of the legs.

Criticism of the Baroque style and the profile associated with it continued to increase. Some authors argued that the roman-nosed profile originated in cross-bred horses, but the fact was that its shape was no longer fashionable. References to classic authors were used to demonstrate that it corresponded to inferior breeds, such as this statement by a 12th century Arab author:

The aquiline nose, after which the horse is named, should be rejected; it is one of the defects of the nose, common in horses of poor stock and in work horses. 98

To put an end to such incongruity, a contemporary of ours, Juan del Castillo, wrote that:

In order to clarify errors, in our present day Spanish-Andalusian horse and that of all times, the extreme gradation of approximation from maximum subconvexity to an almost straight profile has nothing to do with the much discussed but unfortunate idea that it is due to racial impurity arising from crosses, at any given time, with Aryan blood.99

The fact is that both profiles were present in the Spanish breed at the beginning of the century, concerning which opinions differed. Lieutenant Colonel José Maria de la Concha believed that the Spanish breed "was of Arab origin, characterized by a straight, oriental type profile"100. It is possible that this opinion influenced the decision taken in 1926 at the National Livestock Exhibition to devote sections 1 and 9 to the "Spanish breed with straight profile"101. Six years later Rafael Castejón, professor of the School of Veterinary Studies of the University of Cordoba, stated:

Firmly convinced that the convex line, with its subconvex or ultraconvex variations, is the ethnogenomic characteristic of our horse population, we reject the idea of an oriental type Andalusian horse with straight profile, which has never existed.

There is also a diversity of opinions regarding the concave profile. Before this profile became characteristic of the pure-bred Arab, the shape of the skull that led to convexity was called "hammer head":

(It is called) Snub head when it is flat; and hammer head when instead of being convex, the lower part of the forehead is concave and hollow.102

If we chose to use painting as a documentary source we could claim that three centuries before De la Guérinière’s statement, the horses in Spain already had different frontonasal profiles. This diversity is clearly evident in Mexican paintings depicting the horses of the first conquistadors.

The selection of stallions with straighter profiles during the first half of the 20th century caused a decline in the frequency of the roman-nosed profile in each generation, with a corresponding increase in straighter profiles. At present the tendency is towards moderate subconvex profiles which will favor, in the relatively near future, an increase of colts with roman-nosed profiles. 103

If breeders and institutions representing the Spanish horse are interested in having only one frontonasal profile which would identify the breed from now on, such a decision should only be used, as I stated in my book, History of the Spanish horse: the Royal Stables of Cordoba, to "unify breeding criteria but not to determine its historic pureness". The Rules of the Spanish breed allows both types of profiles and thus neither can be considered more or less pure. If the Spanish horse had not evolved and if we wished to return to the type of horse that existed just after its creation in the 16th century, we would have to accept, as already stated, that the roman-nosed profile is the one which has the greatest degree of "pureness".

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73 Se puede enmarcar en el espacio comprendido entre la línea superior de los ojos y la unión del tupé con la nuca.

74 Zona comprendida entre la altura de los ojos y la zona de los ollares.

75 Castillo Caracuel, A. La cabeza y el cuello del pura raza español. En: Libro de Méritos de PRE. ANCCE, Sevilla, 1997.

76 Altamirano Macarrón, J.C. Historia y origen del caballo español: las caballerizas reales de Córdoba. A.M.C. ed., Málaga, 1998, pp. 209-229.

77 Se relaciona el perfil subconvexo con un mayor tamaño corporal, cuello bastante arqueado y masivo, cruz destacada, dorso largo y grupa redondeada. El perfil recto, por el contrario, se relaciona con la rectitud de las formas siendo más visible en el dorso, la grupa y en los aplomos; al presentar una grupa recta el nacimiento de la cola, lógicamente, es alto.

78 Smith, J.M. La teoría de la evolución. Ed. H. Blume, Madrid, 1984, p. 33. Sobre la variabilidad genética de las especies puede verse: Tellería Jorge, J.L. Zoología evolutiva de los vertebrados. Ed. Síntesis, Madrid, 1991, pp. 24-26.

79 Altamirano Macarrón, J.C. Historia y origen del caballo español: las caballerizas reales de Córdoba. A.M.C. ed., Málaga, 1998, p. 160.

80 Remane, A. Zoología sistemática. Clasificación del reino animal. Ed. Omega, Barcelona, 1980, p. XIV.

81 Altamirano Macarrón, J.C. Historia y origen del caballo español: las caballerizas reales de Córdoba. A.M.C. ed., Málaga, 1998, p. 49.

82 Ruiz Mata, D. El caballo en tiempos pre-romanos: representación y función. En: Al-Andaluz y el caballo. Lunwerg ed., Barcelona, 1995, pp. 31-47.

83 Madariaga de la Campa, B. Origen y características de las primitivas razas caballares de la Península Ibérica. Inst. Estudios Agropecuarios, Santander, 1975.

84 Sanz Parejo, J. Por las sendas del caballo de pura raza española. Ed. Siruela, Madrid, 1999, p. 9.

85 Altamirano Macarrón, J.C. Historia y origen del caballo español: las caballerizas reales de Córdoba. A.M.C. ed., Málaga, 1998, p. 160.

86 Recomendaciones al Gobernador de la Raza. Este fue uno de los cargos que creo Felipe II para conseguir al caballo español. En el inicio de la raza, este cargo estuvo en manos del caballerizo real.

87 Gould, E. J. The Mismeasure of Man, Ed. Norton, Nueva York, 1981. En la actualidad, estas teorías decimonónicas tienen su continuidad en las investigaciones sociobiológicas que pretenden relacionar determinados comportamientos con la base genética que supuestamente los determina.

88 Lewontin, R.C.; Rose, S., Kamin, L.J. No está en los genes: Crítica del racismo biológico. Ed. Grijalbo Mondadori, Barcelona, 1996, pp. 69-70.

89 Cit. en Lewontin, R.C.; Rose, S., Kamin, L.J. No está en los genes: Crítica del racismo biológico. Ed. Grijalbo Mondadori, Barcelona, 1996, pp. 69-70.

90 Chorover. From Genesis to Genocide., p. 180.

91 Sanz Parejo, J. Por la senda del caballo de pura raza española. Ed. Siruela, Madrid, 1999, p. 190.

92 Christie, A. El adversario secreto. Ed. Molino, Barcelona, 1984.

93 Wyman, T. Como criar el Dobermann Pinscher. Barcelona, Hispano europea, 1987, pp. 17-18. Las características de esta raza fueron prefijadas con anterioridad por su creador en Alemania; para ello realizó cruces entre el gran danés, el setter, el daschsund y el terrier de pelo suave.

94 Robichón de la Guèriniére, F. Escuela de a caballo. Madrid, 1786. (Ed. Facsímil: C. Villanueva, Madrid, 1998. p. 27).

95 Sidney. The book of the horse. 1874-75. 2ª ed., 1893, p. 134.

96 Iglesia y Darrac, F. de la. Teoría de la escuela de a caballo. Imp. Real, Madrid, 1805, p. 72.

97 Hidalgo Tablada, J. de Curso de economía rural española. Establecimiento tipográfico de Eduardo Cuesta. Madrid, 1865, p. 249.

98 Soto, J. de. Cría caballar. Imp. M. Palacios y J. Viñas, Madrid, 1863.

99 Cit. en Hidalgo Tablada, J. Curso de economía rural española. Establecimiento tipográfico de Eduardo Cuesta. Madrid, 1865, p. 243.

100 Cit. en Castillo Caracuel, A. del. Libro de meritos del P.R.E. Perfil fronto-nasal. A.N.C.C.E., Sevilla, 1997, p. 41.

101 García de la Concha, J. Fomento de la ganadería caballar. Talleres del Deposito de la Guerra. Madrid, 1926

102 Memoria del Concurso de Ganados de 1926. Imp. Mateu, Madrid, 1927, p. 22.

103 Robichón de la Guèriniére, F. Escuela de a caballo. Madrid, 1786. (Ed. Facsímil: C. Villanueva, Madrid, 1998. p. 27).

104 Es muy frecuente ver este tipo de perfil en los caballos lusitanos o en los caballos de Kladrub razas, ambas, procedentes de cruces con el caballo español.

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About the name "Spanish horse", or the importance of knowing its history


In conversations about the Spanish horse, it is normal to hear people insist that it should be called Andalusian, perhaps as a result of a strong regionalist sentiment and because that is the name often used in other countries. The official name is presently purebred Spanish (pura raza española or PRE in Spanish), and it is informally referred to as the Spanish horse (caballo español). The conclusions we are going to present in this article regarding the Spanish horse are the result of many years of study of original documents, which I have explained in detail in my book Historia y origen del caballo español: las caballerizas reales de Córdoba. (History and origins of the Spanish horse: the royal stables of Cordoba).

During the Middle Ages and in more modern times many authors considered all horses bred in Southern Spain as belonging to one single breed. No references were made to the different types of horses bred, such as hacas (hacks), "hacaneas", frisones (Friesians), "cuartagos", trotones (trotters), etc. It is possible that as a result of this oversight present day authors erroneously attribute certain characteristics to the Spanish horse, and even insist that it is a cross-breed.

Such simplification is understandable if we consider that since ancient times and before the word breed acquired its present-day meaning, horses were named after their place of origin. Any horse coming from Andalusia, regardless of its breed, was thus called Andalusian. For those who lived outside Andalusia, both the haca (hack) bred there and the most indigenous animal of the region were Andalusian. When references to foreign horses were made, they were named after the country they came from. Thus, when a horse came from Friesland, it was called frisón (Friesian); if it came from Portugual, Portuguese; from Naples, Napolitan, etc. Even today it is common to hear that someone has "bought a German horse", without specifying its breed. If one were interested in distinguishing the different regions of a country, the same principle was applied: horses coming from Extremadura were called extremeños; from Galicia, Galicians; or from Asturias, asturcones (Asturians). And at the local level or geographic area of origin, horses were distinguished according to their class: those of the Carthusian Order were carthusians; those from the region of the swamps (marismas) were called marismeños; from la Valenzuela, valenzuelas. And within each class, aninals were differentiated on the basis of their pedigree, like the famous ones of Rucio, Esclavo, Soldado, etc.

The use of the name Spanish to denominate our horses dates back to 1567, year in which the king Philip II decided to indulge in his passion for horses and cross breeds existing in Spain at the time, in order to obtain a new and better type of horse. The reasoning, or excuse, used by the monarch to justify such a costly project for the Public Treasury was that it would bring great benefits to the public in general. The success of the project represented the culmination of a thousand year search for what had been considered to be the perfect morphology for a horse, as described in the writings of Simon of Athens, Xenophon or Columela.

The place considered to be the best to carry out the project, and chosen for that purpose, was the Andalusian city of Cordoba. On November 28th, 1567, the royal secretary Francisco Eraso sent a Royal Decree to the chief magistrate of the city, Franciso Zapata de Cisneros, ordering that stables be built and that parts of the uncultivated common land be set aside as pasture for the 1200 mares which were to be bought. An initial sum of 1,500 ducats was earmarked for the care of the mares, along with 500 for beginning the construction of the stables.

The results of the project were so spectacular that these horses were never bred to the mares kept on the municipal pastures, and they remained the exclusive property of the crown, to be used at its discretion and as gifts to nobles and kings.

The outstanding qualities the Spanish horse captivated the rest of the world. It became the symbol of an empire and of a culture that had achieved what everyone had longed for, the perfect horse. In recognition of such a feat the breed was officially admitted and given the name Spanish horse. For the purpose of preserving its purity, a stud book, called the Registro de caballos españoles (stood-book), was created to record the pedigree of all Spanish horses.

It would be ridiculous to diminish the importance of Andalusia in the creation of the Spanish horse, just as it would be to refuse to accept that the name used for this breed from its very beginning was Spanish horse. They say that a people who ignores its history is condemned to repeat it: this is what happened with our breed. The steps recently taken to define it and to create a stud book had already been taken 400 years ago.

Above all, we should not forget the reasons why our race came to be considered the most perfect of all. Its beauty, its nobility and its elegant gait set it apart from the other breeds of that time and made it truly worthy of a king.


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