How do you get up close and personal with Andalusian horses when you visit Southern Spain? Of course, even if you’re not a horse-crazy girl like me, you’ll want to pat and nuzzle these gorgeous creatures and be nuzzled back. And maybe even ride a Spanish Andalucian horse. Here’s how to do all that…
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Although there are Andalusian horse shows and performances around Spain where spectators can watch, how can you get close to the magnificent animals? I’m telling you—it’s not easy to do because most places are open only on certain days and times of the year. Therefore, you must carefully plan your trip to Andalusia (pronounced ahn-dah-loo-thee-ah in Spain) around the restricted opening times to truly experience Andalucians horses.
But first, let’s look at…
What is the Andalusian horse?
Until I visited the rancheros of Jerez de la Frontera near the beachy Atlantic Coast of Spain, I thought Andalucian horses, sometimes called Iberian horses, were of Arabian lineage. From glances at the images depicting white-gray horses with flowing manes and tails, dark horses prancing along the beach, or bays standing compliantly amid fashion models in Spanish riding regalia for Vogue photo shoots, I thought they were of Arabian ancestry. But boy, I was wrong about that one! While in Spain, I learned that Andalucian horses have very little Arabian blood.
Names for Andalusian Horses:
- The Spanish Andalucian Horse,
- Andalusian Horse (as known in the US,)
- The Iberian Horse (an umbrella term that also includes Portuguese horse breeds,)
- Pura Raza Española, or P.R.E. (the Spanish title for pure-bred Andalusians,) and the
- Pure Spanish Horse (the English translation of the Spanish name.)
What kind of horse is an Andalusian?
The Andalusian horse is a breed of horse from Spain whose legacy goes back to when prehistoric humans painted its image on cave walls. Horses lived on the Iberian peninsula for centuries, isolated by watery geography until foreign armies such as the ancient Phoenicians and Romans invaded. The invaders were duly impressed with the Iberian horses’ stamina, strength and intelligence. (See ‘What they have to say about Andalusian horses’ below.) The foreigners bred the Iberians with their own steeds resulting in a new type of Iberian horse that “became the mount of choice for the Greek and Romans, as well as by the Carthaginians in the Punic Wars.” [https://www.horseillustrated.com] The Iberian horse was also in high demand by Roman chariot racers around the Empire.
Bred for the Battlefield
By the 15th century, Carthusian monks near Jerez de la Frontera in southwestern Spain were breeding Andalucian horses for the battlefield. The Andalusians, already proven warrior horses, were further developed by the monks. Trainers taught the animals to stand unafraid during the midst of noisy battles, leap over the advancing enemy, and balance on their back legs to protect their riders. Breeders promoted the bloodline of the Andalusian horses that exhibited characteristics such as intelligence, being quickly trained and eagerness to work.
And so, today, the Andalusian breed is known for its agility, elegant movement and ability to bond to its trainers. Until the invention of the combustible engine, the Carthusian bloodline was coveted by foreign royalty for smooth saddle riding and attention-grabbing parade and carriage horses. In 2018, the desirable lineage from the monastery was recognized as the Carthusian PRE lineage of the Spanish Purebred Horse (PRE.)
Today versatile Andalusian horses compete in dressage, jumping, trail riding, driving and Western and English pleasure.
What is special about Andalusian horses?
Andalusian horses’ unusual combination of fiery intelligence and kind temperament makes them a special breed that loves to work and bonds quickly to their handlers. They seem to enjoy their work, whether it be herding angry bulls in the ring, pulling carriages or riding in Spain’s rough terrain. In addition, they love people, which I can attest to after petting and scratching Andalusian stallions at Yeguada Cartuja stud farm in Jerez, Spain.
The physical characteristics of the Andalusian horses also make them exceptional. Their short, arched necks carry their heads high, while silky, flowing manes and tails magnify their ballet-like movement. As I mentioned, you can find them photographed for the cover of fashion magazines—they are natural fashionistas in their wavy manes and wonderfully proportioned bodies.
The Star Quality of Andalusian horses
In addition, the glamorous physical beauty of the muscular, high-stepping chargers is perfect for the big screen. The eye-catching Spanish Andalusian horse stars in movies such as:
- Interview with the Vampire,
- Lara Croft Tomb Raider,
- Lord of the Rings and
- The Chronicles of Narnia.
Characteristics of Andalusian Horses Spain
Strength, athleticism, affection and intelligence are all words experts use to describe Andalusian horses Spain or elsewhere.
“Wonderful proportions” is another term used. The Andalusian horse has larger hindquarters than the Arabian horse. When I read that “the height almost always corresponds to the length of the body,” I thought of the “golden ratio” used in the Middle Ages when building cathedrals. Were the Carthusian monks attempting that with their breeding program?
Most Andalusians horses are white or a shade of gray, about 80%, in fact. Bays make up 15% of the breed, while less than 5% are black, dun or palomino.
You can also look for a broad forehead as a defining feature.
“Andalusian horses also have much straighter faces,” says Patricia Sibajas Narvaez of Yeguada Cartuga stud farm. So now, upon closer look, I can definitely see the differences between the two breeds. Can you?
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Differences between Andalusian and Arab horses
How big is an Andalusian horse?
The average Andalusian stallion or gelding stands 15.1 1⁄2 hands (61.5 inches, 156 cm) at the withers and weighs in at 1,129 lbs (512 kilograms).
Compare that to the average Arabian that stands between 14.1 and 15.3 hands (57-61 inches, 145-155 cm) and 800 to 1,000 lbs (360 to 450 kg).
The average Andalusian mare stands 15 1⁄2 hands (60.5 inches, 154 cm) and weighs 908 lbs (412 kilograms).
Where can I see Andalusian horses in Spain?
As I said at the beginning of this article, there are many places to see Andalusian horses perform in Southern Spain, but it is tricky to find a place where you can get up close and personal to the majestic mounts. While I was in Spain, I found the little-known Yeguada Cartuja-Hierro del Bocado , a stud farm where you can experience PRE stallions, foals and brood mares in an intimate setting. Yes, if you are a qualified rider, you can even reserve a riding lesson on one of the amazing Andalusians.
The warning here is that the government stud farm is only open to the public on Saturday. But I am telling you now, that the experience is worth scheduling your whole Andalusian holiday around this!
Check accommodations now for your stay:
My experience at Yeguada Cartuja-Hierro del Bocado
“Come this way,” beckoned Patricia Sibajas Narvaez at the palm-lined entrance to Yeguada Cartuja-Hierro del Bocado, a stud farm in Southern Spain. Purple jacaranda that I’d mistaken for wisteria in Malaga when I’d first started this Andalucian adventure lent a festive welcome. The morning air of the country was filled with the aromas of green things, the purple flowers and something else. Maybe it was straw…or could it be horses? We walked past a small pop-up food stand surrounded by red checked table cloths on the tables that offered breakfast, but I’d already eaten at the hotel in Jerez.
“Mind your step,” our guide warned as we got to a wide accessible stairway that led us down through the manicured landscape to broad landings and then, finally, a long two-story white structure with tiled roofs. Ahead at the bottom of the brick stairs, a hefty metal gate painted green was swung full open as an invitation to come into the hacienda. Over the entrance was a marquee in white and yellow ochre, the color so prevalent in this part of Spain. On the marquee, a shield of the hacienda in royal blue and yellow tile sported a silhouette of a dancing horse.
Halfway down the steps, I felt like a debutante making my entrance on a grand staircase towards waiting gentlemen admirers. However, in this case, the waiting admirers were Andalusian horses.
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What to expect when visiting the Spanish Andalucian horse stud farm
Once through the gate, we stepped inside a courtyard decorated with potted trees and black metal lighting fixtures reminiscent of vintage gas lights. The immense court was flanked by stables on two sides, a covered arena and views of the countryside to the front. The traditional white houses of Andalusia peeked out of the trees on the hillsides in the far distance. Although we had walked down to the facility, it was clear from the views that we were still high on the side of a wide-cut hill. The location caught the winds coming from the unseen Atlantic less than fifteen miles away and afforded natural air conditioning for the horses and us.
Ringing the courtyard were shade trees, which at the time dropped yellow blossoms, creating a soft carpet of nature’s confetti. Under the trees, a walkway passed by the stall doors, which were open to the courtyard giving unobstructed access to the horses’ heads. Yes, I could smell straw and the aroma of horse sweat that I could almost discern at the entrance.
As we turned towards the stalls, a whinny went up, almost as a greeting, and soon other horse noses began appearing from the Dutch-style stall doors with drop-down yokes that allowed the horses to stick their heads out. It was as if the waiting gentlemen were greeting the bashful debutants. I enjoyed this setup much better than the stables at the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art the day before, where I looked through iron bars on the closed doors of the stallions’ stalls.
Extraordinarily well-trained Andalusian horses at Yeguada Cartuja
The day was clear and hot, as most are in Southern Spain. So, I was thankful for the shaded walkway that took us by the stalls facing the courtyard. The stallion that had started the whinny fest stuck his nose at me, and I moved closer to him. While he sniffed me, I checked him out to see if he was OK to touch and scratch. Ilicitano II was surprisingly affectionate for a stallion, which is known to be aggressive and territorial by nature.
But one of the characteristics of Andalusian horses is that they are docile, loyal and bond well with humans. That was surprising for me because I owned a stallion of my own as a kid. Thunder, a Shetland pony, was feisty and clever and knew how to outmaneuver grade school, Stacey. However, my time with him is probably one of the driving forces behind shaping me into “UNSTOPPABLE” Stacey.
I had to remember that the stallions at Yeguada Cartuja were extraordinarily well-trained and handled almost daily. They were fed well, not overworked, and kept away from the breeding mares. It was hard as heck to get a selfie with the affectionate Ilicitano II, but fortunately, one of my travel writer colleagues took a video and snapped a picture.
Experiencing Andalusian horses up close and personal
“Are you ready to see the mares?” beckoned Patricia. “We have over 500 Andalusians mares here.” We followed her past a mounted rider dressed in the traditional garb of a caballero, a Spanish cowboy. A gust of that Atlantic wind flipped his horse’s mane. The young rider lovingly fixed the stray hair back to the right side of the magnificent animal, which stood still and tall.
“The stallions live in freedom for their first three years,” explains our knowledgeable host. “But the mares always live in freedom.” Some of the mares are rounded up once a week for the Saturday tour we were part of. We walked to the corral where the mares waited backstage for the show we would soon experience as the grand finale of our visit. They had been separated from their foals in one of the covered barns.
“It’s just like kindergarten,” Patricia laughed. “The mothers are waiting outside for their young ones.” Almost every mare had her nose pointed straight at the barn door where the colts were kept.
Afterward, we passed the quarters for the two full-time veterinarians on staff at the stud farm that the government now runs to preserve Spanish heritage and the Purebred Spanish Horses (PRE) lineage. Finally, I enjoyed seeing the displays of traditional wagons and royal carriages in the carriage house. No, these are not museum pieces but actual working coaches, some we would see in action during the upcoming exposition.
After a whirl around the Carriage House, we're off to the show
The show was like a theatrical production with many acts, each set to music that pulled at the audience’s emotions. We sat in comfortable seats next to the action in the shaded arena.
In one of the acts, a riderless Andalusian horse performed complicated movements that seemed like dancing, including holding a pose with its head and forelegs in the air while balanced on its back two feet. In another act, an unbridled horse followed voice commands to back up for a long distance and later trot forward with legs extended.
My favorite performance was the cobra de yeguas where a caballero controlled eight haltered mares of like color in a repertoire set to flamenco music.
Later, and I don’t want to ruin the show for you, but if you can imagine a herd of 18 bucking and kicking colts rounded into the arena by two Andalusian caballeros to the theme song for the Last of the Mohicans, you might get a sense of it. After the energetic young ones showed off for a bit, the caballeros herded them back to the barn. Next, out came the mares, running free around the area and set to more sweeping music that triggered imagination and mood.
The grand finale
[Spoiler alert!] After that emotional act, the running mares filled the arena. Then out of the blue, the colts were herded back into the arena, mixing with the mares. The mothers ran to reunite with their young ones. I’m not sure there was a dry eye in the place. The horse exposition lasted for an hour and incorporated many more acts than I can describe here. Regardless, I highly recommend a day at Yeguada Cartuja-Hierro del Bocado. Even if you’re not a horsey girl like me, you’ll love the action, history and peek into this essential element of Spanish culture.
Where to Visit Andalusian Horses
As I said earlier, there are places where you can see Andalusian horses perform, but one-on-one experiences with the Spanish Andalusian horse must be prearranged and carefully planned. The days when such opportunities exist are limited.
But I hope that after reading this article, you are convinced that it is worth the extra effort to plan around the opportunities. You can always contact me to help with your travel plans.
Activities with Andalusian horses
- Carretera Medina El Portal CA3109, km 6.5 11400
- Jerez de la Frontera
- Saturday only
- horseback riding
- 11640 Prado de Abajo
- (My favorite place to stay in Cadiz is Planeta Cadiz Hostel)
- Avenida Duque de Abrantes S/N. 11407
- Jerez de la Frontera
- Caballerizas Reales, 1, 14004
- Check their event calendar for open times
- horseback riding
Ride and Stay
You can stay at ranchos that offer horseback riding.
Organizes weekends or stays that include three hours of riding, food and accommodation for two and more people. Recommended by local horse people, although I have not stayed here…yet!
- Carretera Cortes, Km 10 Cañada Albadalejos – Cuartillos,
- 11593 Jerez de la Frontera
Stay at a beach hotel for this riding holiday. I’ve not tried it, but I hope to someday!
- C. Luis Braille, 21, 3A, 11160
This outfit has outstanding Andalusian horses and inexpensive apartments with kitchens.
- Francisco Perez Sanchez & Andrea Leimer
- Conil de la Frontera
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Hi, I’m Stacey
UNSTOPPABLE Stacey Travel is a travel blog focused on immersive travel that highlights food, wine and the spirituality of place. I also occasionally write about life as a Camino de Santiago pilgrim. I hope you enjoy what I post here. Feel free to leave comments! Read more…
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