The Andalusian horse is an intrinsic part of southern Spain. There is not a feast, pilgrimage or parade in Andalusia where people don’t saddle up and ride around as “caballeros.”
In village streets and alleyways, I hear the sound of hooves on cobblestones. At the coast, groups of riders race at full gallop through the surf both early in the day and at sunset. Fields of horses and foals stretch as far as the eye can see and the open air arenas where the horses and riders train are everywhere.
Rock paintings reveal that horses even played an important role in the lives of the first cave dwellers of the Iberian Peninsula. Around the time of the Moorish occupation, about 1,000 years ago, local horses were crossed with Berbers and a few Arabian breeds and out of this gene pool came a special horse. Much in demand among the aristocracy, they immortalized themselves with their horses in paintings and statues. The horse was also in demand with soldiers – Spanish knights won many a battle on horseback – as well as the horse breeders themselves who could use them to refine and improve other breeds.
In short, the Andalusian is a monumental animal that has left its mark in world history, not least as the foundation of all America’s horse breeds from the first few that landed with the Spanish Conquistadors.
“Full-blood Andalusians are few and far between: there’s maybe only 30,000 in the whole world,” says Sonja Galeazzi-Burger. “Here in southern Spain most of the horses have Andalusian blood but it’s my job to ascertain to what extent this horse has Andalusian characteristics.”
She has a rambunctious stallion on a long-reined gallop around her, encouraging him with words all the while. Then she very subtly changes position. The horse stops immediately and walks towards her with a soft whinny. At first defiant, now I see a miraculous change in him. All done in five minutes, without raising her voice or using force.