The Old Spanish Horse
(The Moorish Horse)

***

     The Barb is for the hippology an interesting breed, not only with his breeding and the incredible ability to adjust to the living conditions but also in the fact that some of the Barbs took part in the foundation of breeds like the English thoroughbred, American trotter and his blood also circulates in all the breeds derived from the Old Spanish horse.

    The more refined horses were entering Hispania already during the ancient times. As far as is known the Phoenician, who had settlements on the northern coast of Africa and in Hispania, were importing from the east among other merchandize also horses. After them the Greeks came with very refined horses of the eastern type. Finally when Hispania became one of the most important provinces in the Roman Empire the Romans were importing from the neighboring Africa the Numidian horses which they called ”barbari”; however, the largest import of horses to Hispania came during the early medieval ages by the Moors who then occupied the peninsula for five centuries.

    On the walls from the glacial caves in the northern Spain are depicted heavy, wild horses of the western type with “Roman” noses. In the Spanish museums can be found quite a few bronze, Iberian statues of horses from the prehistoric times with the “Roman” nose and relatively steep hindquarters. Antonius therefore was correct when he assumed that Spain was the center of the domestication of the western variety of wild horses with long, narrow and “Roman” nose heads. Hence, it is fair to assume that this type of a head and the rounded form dominated the indigenous horses with which the Moors worked as they came, conquered and occupied the Pyrenees peninsula. The testimony to the Moors being already advanced horse breeders can be seen in the fact that they did not liquidated this very much strange (when compared to the Barb horse) type of horse, but that they've refined it by crossbreeding it with the Arabian and Barb horses; they valued the body figures of these crossbreds, as well as, the higher gaits, which they more likely inherited from some of the Barb horses.

    With careful selection, training and living conditions of the crossbreeds the Moors laid the foundation for the Old Spanish horse, which was in it’s purest form bred in the southern Spain, in Andalusia, where the Moors had huge stud-farms, especially around Cordoba; hence this horse is/was also called the Andalusian.  Their name was “villanos” or “genetti”, Italian “crosier”. We are relatively well informed about their exterior thanks to the contemporary famous Spanish master painters. Especially mastering the type of the Old Spanish horses was the master of the figural painting Velasquez (1599-1660) on old rider portraits of Philip IV, when he was the king’s court master painter.

    From these paintings we can recognize that these horses were of medium size, relatively round build, with lightly “Roman” nose, with large, sparkly eyes and fine shaped facial features, strong, long and high set neck that was nicely curved, deep and wide chest, but small withers, softer back that was well tied in the loins to the long, muscular and wide hindquarters necessary for the rearing needed for the exercises/work on the ground or in the air. Hence, the common seen sickle hock were not considered a fault, because it made these exercise figures easier on the horse. The legs of the Spanish horse were shorter, “dry” with prominent joints. From the paintings it is quite apparent that their temperament was “fiery” (hot) which was necessary to their (required), high, energetic gaits. The high gaits were preferred all throughout the medieval ages till the 19th century.

    In color the Old Spanish horses were bays, grays, blacks, palominos, buckskins, less chestnuts, times even paints or "hermelins" (spotted/"tiger"). In the Old Spanish horse can be seen some residue from the western horse (Roman nose, strong neck, rounder build, longer torso) mixed with the typical characteristic of the eastern horse, whose blood is obviously dominant in the exterior. It is a mistake in the literature, that the Old Spanish horse was bred in the XV. – XVI century, because he was already well established/finished during the Moors times in the VII century. (Hence, the “Moorish Horse” above)

***

***

***

    The Moorish rule, over the greater part of the Pyrenees peninsula, meant a great cultural bloom/development, because the Arabs, already in the early medieval ages, have taken front place among the cultural nations and help to the essential cultural development of Europe. They practiced science, introduced the experimental methods and showed interests in the scientific problems, especially medical, mathematics, astrology etc.

    However, when the Moors spread their rule over vast of Europe and entered France, they were beaten badly by Charlemagne in 732 near Poitier and for the second time in 738 near Narbon, their rule began to decline. Finally when there were declared the Christian crusades against the Arabs (1086 - 12660), who then began to lose territories by territories, limited to the most southern Spain, Granada, Portugal, Arnues and Austrii; the final defeat of Granada in a 9-year long campaign caused the end of the Moorish rule in these countries.

    The world famous riding school of the XV and the XVI century, from which came the trainers and teachers of horse riding, was in Neapoli. The director of this school was Federigo Griso, who described the riding and training in details in quite comprehensive book that was then translated in various languages and served as an example for following books of this sort. To a similar fame also came in Paris a teacher of riding Antonius Pluvinel. (The individual exercises are pictured and commented on the Horsemanpro website).

    Throughout all the occupied territories of the Spanish empire, to which by the end of the XV century belonged the discovered part of America, Sicily, Sardinia and southern part of Italy - Neapoli and further more the greater part of Netherlands, was implemented the Spanish rule as well as the breeding of the Spanish horses, which actually managed to survive into the second half of the XVIII century in Neapoli when everywhere else the breed vanished by that time. The largest Spanish stud farms were in Neapoli region near Salerno, from which only Persano survived till today. Of course they do no longer breed the Old Spanish horses today, most likely the Arabians, Angloarabians and lighter English halfbloods.

    Many of the Spanish stallions were purchased from the Neapoli region for Lipizza and till this day only the lines of Neapolitano and Conversano managed to survive.

    The Spanish stud-farms in the Neapoli region had not only influence the domestic breeding in southern Italy, in which there was plenty of the Oriental blood, but they greatly influenced the breeding in the central and northern Italy as well. In the northern and central Italy was raised crossbreed of the Spanish horse with more or less of the western blood of the older Noricer type.  This type of breeding was practiced on the smaller, private farms. In the central and the northern Italy was thus bred heavier type of horse than the south Italian Spaniard. The lighter southern type was mainly used for the saddle, whereas the north Italian type was used to pull the “heavy wheelers” (carozza), which were the forerunners of the carriages. In those days of bad roads, there was a need for the heavier type of a horse for the pull. The most known for the breeding of the Spanish – Italian, elegant, high stepping horses (carosiers) were among others the northern parts of Italy around Verona, the whole Venetian region, also stud-farms around Pisa in the central Italy etc. Everywhere were purchased from the private farms these stallions and mares to be exported to other countries for breeding of the carriage horses, which were then the foundation of the transportation industry.

    Also in Holland, where the Spanish managed to stay till the beginning of the XVIII century, were set up stud farms for breeding of the Spanish horses, which had a great influence on the indigenous breeds; their blood then circulated in the old Dutch trotters (“hardravers”).

    The flame of the fame of the Old Spanish horses went out at the end of the XVIII century, when the French revolution limited the excessive overindulgence of the aristocrats, when the life style speeded up and when to the European continent came the thoroughbred and with him the horse racing. This new sport quickly spread into other countries: the tempo of the old, high stepping horses seemed too slow, thus the demand for them decreased because more quicker/faster horses were desired. The old breeds were crossbred with the thoroughbred to the point that they were completely ruined and eventually permanently pushed out of existence there, were once their breed was blooming. The French naturalist Buffon, who claimed that the crossbreeding is the only method for improving domestic animals, also influenced this downfall. Buffon was not a horse breeder, hence he was not aware of the fact, that not all breeds are suitable for crossbreeding and that any successful crossbreeding requires certain environmental change and that there is a necessity for selection by exteriors, the use/practicality and finally the inbreeding to solidify the characteristics of a particular breed.

  By the end of the 19th century in Spain, this kind of crossbreeding managed to finish off the breeds of the genetts and corsiers, which then vanish forever without a trace. Only in Mexico remained the old style of these horses, which were imported by the Spaniards when discovering the New Continent. Before the European influx, there were no horses in the Americas. The Indians did not even have name for such animals, yet in the diluvial age there were living one-toed wild horses (Equus Scotti). These however, during the prehistoric age died out from the continent for unknown reasons, probably from some disease. Many of the imported Spanish horses ran away and went wild, living free on the Pampas in South America. These wild Pampas horses that the Argentineans called “criolos”, are showing by descriptions the Old Spanish horse, because there was no other blood mixed in with them.

    In Europe the type of the Old Spanish horse managed to survive in relatively pure from, due to conservative rules and regulations of the Austrian Royal Court stud farms, in two very close breeds of the Lipizzaner and the Old Kladrubian. The Old Spanish horse also had a great influence in the foundation of the Russian bred trotter on the Orlov stud farm in Chernovoye (Tchernovoye) in Voronezh governance/province.

Lipizzaner

Kladrubian

Orlov

Translated by Ludvik K Stanek a.k.a. Lee Stanek from the 1953 Special Zoo-Technique - Breeding of Horses
Published in 1953 by the Czechoslovakian Academy of Agricultural Science and certified by the Ministry of Agriculture.
Written by: MVDr Ludvik Ambroz, Frabtisek Bilek, MVDr Karel Blazek, Ing. Jaromir Dusek, Ing. Karel Hartman, Hanus Keil, pro. MVDr Emanuel Kral, Karel Kloubek, Ing. Dr. Frantisek Lerche, Ing. Dr Vaclav Michal, Ing. Dr Zdenek Munki, Ing. Vladimir Mueller, MVDr Julius Penicka, pro. MVDr Emil Pribyl, MVDr Lev Richter, prof. Ing. Dr Josef Rechta, MVDr Karel Sejkora and Ing. Dr Jindrich Steinitz.