Andalusian horses belong to a lineage of baroque horses originating from the Iberian Peninsula, a region of southwestern Europe that contains modern-day Spain and Portugal. Today, the Andalusian name is most commonly used in North America to refer to horses with Spanish ancestry.

Although many of these horses belong to the Caballo de Pura Raza Española (PRE) breed, not all Andalusians in North America are eligible for PRE registration.

Historically, PREs, Lusitanos, and Andalusians all come from one breed. While differences between Portuguese, Spanish, and North American breeders separate the breeds, these horses share similar characteristics that make them popular pleasure and competition mounts.

For centuries, Andalusian horses were renowned war horses and prized mounts of nobility across Europe. Today, Andalusians are admired by riders for their striking looks, charismatic personalities, and willing work ethics.

This article will review the history, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of Andalusian horses. Keep reading to learn how to care for and feed your Andalusian.

Andalusian Horse History

The Andalusian horse gets its name from the Spanish region of Andalusia and has roots that date back to prehistoric times.

However, the Andalusian breed originates from horses found throughout the Iberian Peninsula, and not just Andalusia.

Origin

Archeologists discovered depictions of horses in cave paintings dating from 20,000 to 30,000 BC in southern Spain. These prehistoric horses were likely the ancestors of modern Iberian breeds. [1]

According to historical evidence, local cultures in the Iberian Peninsula domesticated horses for riding as early as 4000 BC. The Iberian cavalry gained notoriety among ancient civilizations, and Homer even mentions Iberian horses in the Iliad. [2]

Xenophon, the famous ancient Greek cavalry officer who authored The Art of Horsemanship, praised Iberian horses for their role in the Peloponnesian Wars of the 5th century BC.

Carthusian monks began recording the pedigrees of Iberian horses in the 13th century. The Pura Raza Española name originated in 1567 under the breeding program established by King Phillip II of Spain. [3]

Historic Use

Iberian horses maintained their dominance as the preferred war horses of European soldiers until the Medieval Period when heavy armour required larger draft horses and warmbloods. [4]

However, the breed maintained popularity in royal courts and riding academies. Regarded as the royal horse of Europe, Andalusian horses were prized by European nobility for their beauty, charisma, and athleticism.

The Spanish government gifted horses to foreign rulers as a tool of diplomacy, and these horses went on to influence the development of new breeds throughout the world.

During the Renaissance, Andalusians thrived in military riding schools that provided the foundation for the modern sport of dressage. Today, the Lipizzaner horses of the Spanish Riding School can trace their bloodlines to Iberian ancestors. [3]

While Iberian horses likely accompanied Spanish conquistadors on expeditions across the Atlantic, the first recognized Andalusian horses weren’t imported to the United States until the 1960s.

This timing corresponded with the first formalized breed definitions that distinguished Portuguese Lusitanos from PREs. [5]

Breed Registry

The LG PRE ANCCE is the official studbook for purebred PRE horses maintained by the National PRE Horse Breeders’ Association of Spain and recognized by the Spanish Ministry of the Environment and Rural and Marine Resources. [3]

USPRE is the primary National Association of the PRE Horse in North America. This non-profit organization promotes PREs in the United States and assists breeders with PRE Stud Book Registration.

The Portuguese Association of Purebred Lusitano Horse Breeders (APSL) manages the official studbook of purebred Lusitano horses. The United States Lusitano Association (USLA) is the only association recognized by APSL in North America.

Andalusian breeders in North America founded the International Andalusian Horse Association in 1977. In 1995, the organization merged with the American Andalusian & Lusitano Association to form the International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association. (IALHA).

The IALHA registers horses with verified ancestry to the Spanish and Portuguese studbooks, including Half-Andalusians, and Half-Lusitanos. [5]

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Breed Characteristics

Andalusians have distinct features and personalities resulting from centuries of selective breeding. The ancient war horse bloodlines that produced the breed now allow the modern Andalusian to excel as a dressage horse for various levels of rider.

Conformation

Most Andalusian horses stand between 15 and 16 hands tall. The head should be average-sized with a straight or slightly concave profile, medium ears, a wide forehead, and expressive triangular eyes.

Arched and muscular necks lined by long, silky manes are characteristic features of the breed. These horses should also have broad withers, muscular backs, short loins, rounded hindquarters, and low-set, full tails. Legs are strong, clean, and average in length. [3]

Colours

All coat colours are permitted according to the PRE Rules and Regulations. But grey and bay are the most common colours seen in Andalusian horses. [3]

Temperament

Andalusian horses are known for having excellent dispositions. The breed is noble, docile, and energetic. In addition, Andalusian owners often praise the breed for their generous natures and willing work ethic.

While the breed’s gentle temperament makes the Andalusian popular for many riders, personalities can vary between individuals. These horses can also be more sensitive and forward going than other breeds.

Disciplines

Andalusians have harmonic, rhythmic, and agile movements that complement their pleasing personalities. Riders often find these gaits smoother and easier to ride than big-moving warmbloods. This makes the Andalusian an ideal amateur dressage horse. [6]

Iberian horses can also succeed at the top levels of the sport, with several PREs appearing at Olympic Games and World Championships in the past decade. While Andalusians may not match the power and swing of modern warmbloods, the breed is talented at collected work.

However, the striking appearance and willingness of the Andalusian allow the breed to stand out in several disciplines. Some Andalusians even find their calling as movie stars, with Spanish horses playing central roles in films such as Braveheart, Lord of the Rings, and Gladiator.

Andalusian Horse Health

The selective breeding that produced the modern Andalusian horse also contributed to health problems in closed populations. Andalusians also have unique characteristics that require different management than some other breeds.

Genetic Diversity

Unlike some breeds, Andalusians don’t have an exceptionally high risk for certain genetic diseases. However, genetic studies of Spanish horses reveal that purebred PRE horses have an increased inbreeding depression load due to their closed breeding population. [7]

Inbreeding depression load refers to the negative impact or burden that arises from the accumulation of genetic traits in a population as a result of inbreeding. This leads to a higher concentration of genetic defects and risks of health problems in the offspring of related individuals.

Breed registries are now collaborating with scientific teams using genomic technologies to assist breeders in producing horses with greater genetic diversity. [7]

Health Problems

Andalusian breed standards tend to favour horses with heavier builds, but obesity can increase the risk of health problems. And some owners can confuse signs of an underlying medical issue with desirable conformation characteristics.

The cresty necks of some Andalusians have been linked to equine metabolic syndrome. One study of Andalusian horses found many horses had elevated plasma leptin levels, confirming the breed’s tendency to have excess fatty tissue. [8]

In the same study, an ultrasonographic assessment of fatty deposits in the neck revealed increased fat thickness correlated with higher plasma insulin levels. Insulin resistance in Andalusians can heighten the risk of laminitis. [8]

Another study linked equine motor neuron disease to poor vitamin E absorption caused by eosinophilic enteritis (infiltration of the bowel wall by eosinophils) in Andalusian horses. [9]

A retrospective analysis of colic surgeries in Andalusian horses also revealed that this breed has an increased risk of developing inguinal hernias. Also referred to as scrotal hernias, this condition occurs when part of the GI tract moves into the inguinal ring in stallions. [10]

Since many Andalusians are grey, the breed has a higher incidence of melanoma. This type of skin cancer affects 80% of grey horses over 15 years of age. While many melanomas never pose a significant risk to horse health, owners should monitor tumours with their vet. [11]

Care and Management

Andalusians need the same quality basic horse care as other breeds. Owners should work with their veterinarian to develop a preventative wellness program that includes routine vaccinations, deworming, and dental exams.

Regular turnout is also important for keeping your Andalusian happy and healthy. Although melanomas are associated with sun exposure in humans, grey-horse-melanoma in Andalusian horses is linked to genetic markers and not UV radiation. Time outside won’t increase the risk of the condition in grey Andalusians. [11]

Andalusian owners should monitor grass intake during turnout, especially during spring grazing. High-sugar grasses can lead to pasture laminitis in this breed. [12]

Hoof & Coat Health

Iberian horses often have significantly more upright feet than other breeds, with a slightly higher position of the coffin bone in the hoof capsule. [13]

Improper farrier care can alter hoof angles and increase the risk of musculoskeletal injury in Andalusians. Owners should seek out skilled farriers with Andalusian experience to maintain hoof balance.

Upright hooves with deep frogs can also hold bacteria and increase the risk of thrush. Managing environmental moisture and mud accumulations, as well as regularly picking feet can help keep Andalusian hooves healthy.

Debris can also quickly accumulate in their thick manes and tails and cause skin problems. Thorough grooming is vital for detangling hair and supporting coat health.

Nutrition Requirements

Proper nutrition and a balanced diet can help manage risks associated with metabolic health concerns in Andalusians. Restriction of sugar and starch intake is especially important for these horses to avoid manifestations of insulin dysregulation such as cresty neck, obesity and laminitis.

Weight Maintenance

Andalusian horses are easy keepers and prone to metabolic syndrome. As a result, these horses can quickly become overweight on high-energy diets.

You can learn more about feeding easy-keeper horses in this article and get tips on designing a diet plan for weight management.

Unexplained weight loss in Andalusians can indicate an underlying digestive issue. This breed should not have difficulty maintaining weight on a balanced diet, so consult your veterinarian to investigate potential medical causes of weight loss.

Sample Diet

The following sample diet is intended for a mature Andalusian horse with normal body condition at maintenance.

Feed Maintenance Diet
(Amount / Day)
Mid-Quality Hay (10% crude protein) 10 kg / 22 lb
Salt 30 g (2 tbsps)
Omneity Pellets 200 g (2 scoops)
Diet Analysis*
Digestible Energy (% of Req) 109%
Protein (% of Req) 145%
ESC + starch (% Diet) 8.9%

 

*These values are estimated based on NRC requirements and average forage values. For a more precise assessment, analyze your forage and submit your horse’s diet for evaluation.

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Forage

Forage should be the foundation of your Andalusian horse’s diet. The Iberian breeds evolved to survive on sparse grasses, so they generally do best on mature, low-starch hay. Managing sugar and starch intake is also vital for reducing laminitis risk in these horses. [14]

The average 1100 lb (500 kg) Andalusian needs at least 22 pounds (10 kg) of forage daily. Provide free-choice forage to support your horse’s digestive function and prevent boredom.

If your Andalusian needs to lose weight, consider feeding hay in a small hole hay net to slow consumption. Rationed access and/or adding straw may be required to avoid inappropriate weight gain. Grazing muzzles can also help reduce calorie intake from grass in overweight Andalusians turned out on pasture. [14]

Check out these articles to learn how to choose the right hay for your horse and how much hay to feed on a daily basis.

Protein & Energy

Feeding adequate protein supports muscle development to achieve the characteristic robust build of the Andalusian breed. The arched necks of these horses should come from topline muscle, and not fat deposits.

Andalusian horses in light exercise will typically get enough protein from forage to meet their daily requirement. However, horses in dressage training or heavy work may need additional protein and energy supplied by their diet.

Alfalfa hay is a palatable, high-quality protein source that is easy to add to your feeding program. [15] A 2:1 mixture of alfalfa pellets and wheat bran has an acceptable calcium: phosphorus ratio and starch content. However, alfalfa causes hoof pain in some horses with metabolic syndrome (for reasons that are unclear).

If your Andalusian needs additional calories, choose easily fermentable fibre such as beet pulp or soy hulls as a safer source of calories than commercial grains.

Research shows that replacing grains with fat supplements and high-energy forages may improve markers of metabolic health in performance horses, however high inclusion of fat may alter muscle glycogen content and performance over time. [16][18]

If you are feeding concentrates or commercial feeds, split grain into multiple small meals throughout the day to reduce the risk of digestive problems, such as colic and gastric ulcers.

Vitamins & Minerals

Most Andalusians easily maintain body condition on a forage-only diet. However, these diets are typically deficient in one or more vitamins and minerals, including zinc, copper, sodium and Vitamin E.

Nutrient deficiencies can contribute to health problems in Andalusian horses, including:

  • Poor hoof health and weak hooves
  • Impaired immune function
  • Reduced exercise performance
  • Rough or dull hair coat
  • Weak topline and muscle dysfunction

A comprehensive vitamin and mineral balancer can fill these nutritional gaps to ensure your horse meets their requirements.

Omneity by Mad Barn is an ideal choice to balance the diet of your Andalusian horse. This vitamin and mineral supplement is formulated with high quality ingredients and helps support hoof quality, skin and coat quality, metabolic function and overall health.

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  • Complete B-vitamin fortification
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Like all horses, Andalusians also need constant access to clean water and free-choice loose salt. Your horse may not get enough sodium from a salt block, so add 1 – 2 ounces of salt to his daily ration to support electrolyte balance and hydration.

Every horse has unique needs. Consult an equine nutritionist for personalized recommendations before changing your horse’s diet.

Nutritional Supplements

Depending on their health status and typical use, your Andalusian horse may benefit from other nutritional supplements to support digestive function, joint health, muscles and overall-wellbeing.

Adding fats high in omega-3 fatty acids helps support normal regulation of inflammation in Andalusians. Omega-3’s provide benefits for respiratory health, exercise performance, skin and coat quality, joint mobility and more. [17]

Mad Barn’s W-3 Oil is a fat supplement that provides high levels of the omega-3 fatty acid DHA, along with natural Vitamin E.

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  • Promotes joint comfort
  • Helps to fight inflammation
  • Skin & coat condition
  • Palatable source of Omega-3's

Amino acid supplementation can support muscle development in exercising Andalusians who need additional protein. Feed Mad Barn’s Three Amigos to provide pure lysine, methionine and threonine – the three most common limiting amino acids in the equine diet.

In addition, adequate vitamin E and selenium are essential for maintaining muscle health in exercising horses. These antioxidant nutrients are required in higher amounts by horses in heavy exercise.

Andalusians with competition careers as dressage horses may also need extra gut support to manage the stress of travel and training. Mad Barn’s Visceral+ is a veterinarian-recommended supplement that provides comprehensive gastric and hindgut support for performance horses.

Finally, consider adding a joint health supplement to support your horse’s skeletal tissue. MSM is a natural compound that helps maintain healthy bone and joints.

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References

  1. Pruvost, M. et al. Genotypes of predomestic horses match phenotypes painted in Paleolithic works of cave art. Proceed National Acad Sciences. 2011. View Summary
  2. Lira, J. et al. Ancient DNA reveals traces of Iberian Neolithic and Bronze Age lineages in modern Iberian horses. Mol Ecol. 2009. View Summary
  3. The PRE Horse. ANCCE. 2015.
  4. Small, C. Warfare in Later Middle Ages. Canada J Hist. 1996.
  5. Sausman, K. IAHLA Registry and Studbooks. IAHLA. 2016.
  6. Sole, M. et al. Evaluation of conformation against traits associated with dressage ability in unridden Iberian horses at the trot. Res in Vet Sci. 2013. View Summary
  7. Poyato-Bonilla, J. et al. Genetic inbreeding depression load for morphological traits and defects in the Pura Raza Española horse. Genet Select Evol. 2020.View Summary
  8. Martin-Gimenez, T. et al. Endocrine, morphometric, and ultrasonographic characterization of neck adiposity in Andalusian horses. Domest Anim Endocrinol. 2016. View Summary
  9. Diez de Castro, E. et al. Eosinophilic Enteritis in Horses with Motor Neuron Disease. J Vet Intern Med. 2016. View Summary
  10. Munoz, E. et al. Retrospective analysis of exploratory laparotomies in 192 Andalusian horses and 276 horses of other breeds. Vet Rec. 2008. View Summary
  11. Heidemarie Seltenhammer, M. et al. Comparative Histopathology of Grey-Horse-Melanoma and Human Malignant Melanoma. Pigment Cell Res. 2004.View Summary
  12. Bailey, S. et al. Metabolic responses of horses and ponies to high and low glycaemic feeds: implications for laminitis. Anim Prod Sci. 2013.
  13. Cano, M. et al. Kinematic characteristics of Andalusian, Arabian and Anglo-Arabian horses: a comparative study. Res Vet Sci. 2001.View Summary
  14. Watts, K. Forage and pasture management for laminitic horses. Clin Techniq Equine Pract. 2004.
  15. Zeyner, A. et al. Effect of feeding exercised horses on high-starch or high-fat diets for 390 days. Equine Vet J. 2010.View Summary
  16. Jansson, A. et al. A forage-only diet alters the metabolic response of horses in training. Animal. 2012.View Summary
  17. Hess, T. et al. Omega-3 fatty acid supplementation in horses. R Bras Zootec. 2014.
  18. Geor, R.J. and Harris, P.A. Nutrition for the equine athlete: above and beyond nutrients alone. In: Equine Sports Medicine & Surgery. Saunders.2014.