The Andalusian Horse
by Bill Killingsworth

Although the population of the Andalusian horse breed in the United States is very small, the Andalusian has a reputation, image, and, yes, a mystique that is enormous. Many know of the breed, but few have direct contact with the Andalusian. As a member of the International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association, perhaps the most frequent comment and question I hear is "I've heard of the Andalusian horse, but I've never seen one. ..what is an Andalusian horse?" That question is then usually followed by the second most frequently asked query which is, "What do Andalusian horses do?" In the following article, I shall try to address these and a few other most often asked questions.

What Is An Andalusian Horse?

The Andalusian horse is one of the most ancient of horse breeds. It has lived on the Iberian Peninsula since pre-history and is represented in cave paintings dating back 25,000 years. In the United States, all purebred Andalusian horses can be traced back directly to the Stud Books of Spain, Portugal, or to a combination, or crossing, of those two stud books. Specifically, to register an Andalusian horse with The International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association, a paper trail of registration certificates and transfers must exist which trace the horse's pedigree back to Spanish and Portuguese papers. For a foal born to parents already registered with our Association that trail has, of course, already been established and the registration is straightforward.

Where Did the Name "Andalusian" Come From?

In Spain, the horses are known as the Pure Spanish Horse. In Portugal, the horses are known as Lusitanos. The term Andalusian is used in many countries to denote the Iberian horse. The term Andalusian arose from the region in southern Spain, Andalucia, in which many noted stud farms are located.

What Does an Andalusian Look Like?

The Andalusian is strongly built, yet extremely elegant. The typical Andalusian stands 15.2 to 16.2 hands. His head is of medium length, rectangular and lean. The head in profile is slightly convex or straight with a broad forehead and well-placed ears. The eyes are alive, oval, and placed within an orbital arch. The face is straight or softly convex, moderately narrow, and without excess flesh. The neck is reasonably long, broad, yet elegant and well-crested in stallions. The mane is thick and abundant. Well defined withers precede a short back; the quarters are broad and strong. The croup is rounded and of medium length. The tail is abundant, set low, and lies tightly against the body. About 80% of Andalusians are grey or white, 15% are bay, and 5% are black.

Why Haven't I Ever Seen An Andalusian Horse? or "Why Don't I See More Andalusian Horses Competing?"

Today, there are only about 7000 Andalusian horses in all of the United States. Each year, the International Andalusian Horse Association registers only 225 new foals in this country. These are very small numbers relative to other breeds. To put the annual Andalusian registrations into perspective, the table below presents the approximate number of recent annual registrations of selected horse breeds in the United States:

Horse Breed Annual Registrations

Quarter Horse 102,000

Thoroughbred 37,000

Paint 19,000

Arabian 13,000

Appaloosa 10,000

Palomino 1,600

Paso Fino 1,500

Hanovarian 400

Andalusian 225

As the above clearly shows, the Andalusian is one of the rarest breeds in the United States, and in some states, they are more rare than in others. For example, California has the greatest number with roughly 900 Andalusians. Texas has the second largest population with 450. Thus, these two states represent over one-half of the total U.S. population. No other state has even one hundred Andalusian horses. As a result, many Americans have never seen an Andalusian, or, perhaps, have seen only a very few.
Why Are There So Few Andalusians in the United States?
It must be first noted that the Andalusian horse has a small population not only in the United States but worldwide. There are currently only about 12,500 purebred Andalusian horses in Spain and only about 4,000 pure Lusitanos in Portugal. The reason for the rarity of this breed lies in history, and that history is largely the history of European wars and the important role of the Iberian horse in those wars.

How Did Wars Lead to the Rarity of This Ancient Breed?

Since the time of the Greeks, the Iberian horse was regarded as the war horse or cavalry horse without equal. Homer mentions the Iberian horses in the Iliad written about 1,100 BC. The famous Greek cavalry officer Xenophon highly praised the "gifted Iberian horses" and their role in helping Sparta defeat the Athenians around 450 BC. Hannibal, in the Second Punic War(218-201BC ), defeated the invading Romans several times through the use of Iberian Cavalry. The Romans, however, were ultimately successful in their conquest of the Iberian peninsula, and, in fact, the Romans subsequently established stud farms in Spain and Portugal to supply horses for their own campaigns in Britain and other fronts. This military use of the Iberian horse continued unabated with William the Conqueror ultimately riding an Andalusian horse in the Battle of Hastings in 1066.

Over the next few centuries, however, the trend was for heavier and heavier armor for the mounted knights. As a result, the Iberian horse was gradually replaced as the premier warhorse by larger, slower moving draft and warmblood horses. This trend was later reversed in the fifteenth century with the development of firearms and the need for rapid and agile horses. The most devastating period for the Iberian horse began in 1492. Spain at that time began the conquest of the New World, invaded Portugal, attacked England, and was involved in the Dutch Wars. Following this period of sustained conflict, Napoleon invaded Spain and the horse was central in the country's defense. Finally, internal revolt against the Church (which owned major stud farms) in the 1830's and the revolution of 1936 continued the dispersal of the stud farms. After 2,000 years of European warfare and internal strife, the pool of purebred Spanish and Portuguese horses was very small and the horse was threatened with extinction. Consequently, exportation from Spain and Portugal was very restricted (some kings threatened execution for those secretly exporting mares) so as to give Spanish and Portuguese breeders the opportunity to develop and expand their stud farms.
In recent years, outbreaks of African Horse Sickness have severely restricted exports from Spain and Portugal to the United States because of the severe quarantine requirements. Moreover, last April, the United States Department of Agriculture declared that Spain and Portugal would join the rest of Europe and be considered positive for Contagious Equine Metritus. CEM also has substantial quarantine requirements that make importation quite difficult. As a result, the growth of the breed in the United States is largely established by the natural growth from the existing breeding stock. In addition to this natural growth, there are, however, perhaps fifty horses a year imported to the United States, primarily from Mexico and Costa Rica, with a few coming in each year from Spain and Portugal. 

What Made the Andalusian So Popular For Warfare?

The Iberian horse evolved in hilly and rugged areas of the Iberian peninsula. Fighting for survival and grazing over this rough terrain led to the development of a strong, arched neck, a short-coupled and powerful body, hindlegs positioned well underneath the body with strong hock action and impulsion, and small, round hoofs. These attributes made the horse extremely agile as well as forward moving. Some researchers believe that these horses were being ridden perhaps as early as 4,000 - 3,000 BC.
When the Phoenicians arrived in Iberia in 2,000 BC and the Greeks in 1,000 BC, the Iberian cavalry was already a formidable foe. Even at this early date, the horse was also well known for its trusting and kind disposition. These attributes of strength, natural collection, agility, impulsion, and kind temperament are still the fundamental characteristics possessed by the Andalusian horse.

How Do These Attributes Relate to the Horse's Utility?

The Andalusian horse today displays an amazing versatility, that has, in fact, been present for centuries. After the introduction of firearms, the Iberian horse once again became the premier mount for royalty and cavalry officers. No longer were the lumbering horses which carried heavily weighted knights into battle an effective war horse. New means of riding were introduced, often returning to the writings of Xenophon The Iberian horse was the favorite horse for this new, more rapid and agile mounted army. Soon thereafter, the Iberian horse became the royal horse of Europe with presence at every court. Grand riding academies were soon being formed all across Europe including Austria, France, Italy, and Germany. It was at these academies where dressage and high school riding began and flourished. The Iberian horse was the favorite at these academies because of its impulsion, collection, forward motion, and agility. In the United States today, the Andalusian horse competes in dressage, jumping, driving, trail, western pleasure, and English pleasure. In Spain and Portugal, the horse displays the ultimate in courage and cunning as it faces the fierce Iberian bull.

What's the Status of the Andalusian Horse in the U.S. Today?

The Andalusian horse breed is experiencing a rapid growth in popularity. Many new owners are discovering the wonderful attributes of this breed. Membership in The International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association has increased dramatically. Moreover, the number of horse shows has doubled over the last three years. Additionally, the Half-Andalusian Registry is growing strongly. The Andalusian is proving to be a very popular and successful cross with the Quarter Horse, Thoroughbred, Arabian, Morgan, Percheron and other breeds.


In 1972 the Mexican Charros (cowboys) began a quest to produce a horse with the agility, quickness, and cow sense to work on their cattle ranches. For this they chose the Andalusian to cross with their Quarter Horses and Criolla mares. The results were astounding, a horse with speed, heart, stamina, grace and an outstanding disposition and ability to learn. That horse not only possessed the ability to work on their ranches but also the versatility to have many other uses. The Azteca was born, and in the years following has acquired so much recognition it has earned the title of the “National Horse of Mexico”.
The Andalusian used to breed with their mares , is an Ancient and rare breed . They are very sturdy with a long sloping shoulder , natural collection , extremely sturdy legs and hooves. Sought after for their quiet temperament they are easily handled yet have a reserve of energy when called upon. They are the horses that through out history, were revered for their abilities when used as warhorse. These same skills were used in Spain and Portugal to work the cattle and the notorious fighting bulls and still are today. In the bull ring they carry their riders with unimaginable grace and speed.

Today, 80 percent of all modern breeds , including the Quarter horse, trace back to the illustrious horse of Spain and Portugal. The American Azteca combines both the new and the old world, resulting in a noble, docile, agile, proud spectacular horse. The breed is very easy to train and once taught, never forgets.


Although the Azteca, as a breed, originated in Mexico, it was felt that the American culture demanded a little different type of horse to fit their need, thus the American Azteca. We in no way want to offend the Mexican standards as they are the original developer of this magnificent breed. We feel that to be successful in "America" the American people need and want a little different type of horse than the horse that is desired in Mexico. Our American Azteca Horses will be modeled closely after their Mexican cousins but with a little more diversity to fit the American market.
     We still base the breed on the combination of Quarter Horse and Andalusian blood and intend to promote a high quality of horse. Because of our efforts to make this breed a success in America , we are not calling our breed "Azteca", but rather "The American Azteca Horse". This signifies that we are the American version of the fabulous Azteca which was originally created in Mexico .
This breed inherits beauty, temperament , pride , agility, and Spirit from their Andalusian blood and strength heart and speed from their Quarter Horse Blood. The breed requires there be no more that 3/4 Andalusian or Quarter Horse blood . The American Azteca should be a good balance between the two breeds with qualities of both. The intention is to create a new type that exhibits the best of both breeds .
The recommended characteristics of the American Azteca are as follows. Some variations are seen.
Size ranges from 14.2 to 16.1 . Both Quarter Horse and Paint horses proving no more than 1/4 TB can be used for breeding American Aztecas.

All AQHA and APHA markings and colors are acceptable. The head is of medium size with a straight, slightly convex or slightly concave profile with a broad forehead, expressive eyes and medium ears which are mobile and well placed. The neck well muscled, shapely, and slightly arched with a medium crest and a broad base where it joins on to a long sloping shoulder. A long flowing mane and tail are often seen. The withers broad and slightly muscled, yet defined. The haunches, strong and well muscled leading to a well set medium to low tail. The legs are well muscled with dense bone, good joints and strong hooves. Retained from the Andalusian is a free shoulder and hip which allows them to be incredible athletic and smooth to ride. Their movement is naturally collected with a variance of knee action from high and brilliant to long and flowing.  All of this creates a horse anyone would be proud to own.


American Aztecas respond brilliantly to the different equine high school disciplines requiring suspended and elevated gaits and the qualities passed on from both parent breeds make them also, a skillful working cow horse or western horse. They can and do excel at many events making them an extremely versatile horse.

So whether you like English or Western, you need a graceful dancer or cow horse, you enjoy jumping, dressage, cutting, reining or penning or just desire a wonderful companion for trail riding , take a look at the American Azteca they can do it all and do it well. We hope you will take the time to learn more about this unequaled athlete that will win your heart as well. And we hope you will choose to own and love and American Azteca Horse. They have an exciting and promising future ahead and they truly are . . .

“The Horse of your dreams”

<Back to TOP>