Andalusian and Lusitano


HEIGHT: 15–16 hands

PLACE OF ORIGIN: Spain and Portugal

SPECIAL QUALITIES: Exceptionally even temperament, elegance, agility, power, “cow sense”

BEST SUITED FOR: Dressage, all general riding purposes, ranch and cattle work, and mounted bullfighting

The differences between Lusitanos and Andalusians are a matter of time and geography. Both breeds sprang from the same roots and have a generally similar appearance. Both are noted for their splendid qualities. After several hundred years of selection in the countries, however, there is a difference in type, obvious to breeders in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), although subtle to most North Americans.

In Spain, the Andalusian was known even before the time of the Romans as a great warhorse that combined beauty, agility, strength, and fire with an even temperament. For centuries, it was known throughout Western civilization as both the finest horse breed and the finest warhorse in the world. Today Spain’s famous national horse is immensely popular for riding, ranch work, and dressage.

Lusitania is the Latin name for Portugal, which gained independence from Spain for the first time in 1143. This land is home to the Lusitano, the most popular riding horse in the country and the breed most commonly used in mounted bullfights. In these bullfights the bull is not killed, and it is considered a great disgrace for a horse to be injured. These highly trained horses must be extremely agile while remaining calm and responsive to the rider under terrifying circumstances.

The Andalusian (left) and the Lusitano (right) have a similar background and appearance.

Indigenous to Iberia

The histories of the Andalusian and the closely related Lusitano are long and exceptionally complex. Their lineage includes almost every breed of significance indigenous to Iberia as well as many others that arrived with a long string of invaders.

According to historians, one indigenous horse, Equus stenonius, still exists, represented by a small remnant band of horses known as the Sorraia breed. This horse migrated from Iberia into North Africa about two thousand years before the horse was domesticated. Most historians place the domestication of the horse at about 5000 BCE, yet cave paintings in Spain dating from 15,000 BCE or earlier appear to depict horses wearing rope halters, although some dispute this interpretation. In any case, these paintings clearly show the heavy-boned head and slightly convex profile that is typical of the ancient breed we know today as the Barb.

Not only does the Andalusian have stunning visual appeal, but it also has a gentle, willing disposition.

Celtic peoples came through Iberia in waves between the eighth and the sixth century BCE, bringing with them Celtic ponies, at least some of which were amblers. The Romans brought the Camargue horse. From Sweden came the Goths, who invaded the peninsula in 414 CE, which argues for the influence of the Gotland horse and, considering where else these visitors had been before Spain, probably some horses from central Asia.

Other old breeds and types of horses were still in Spain when the Moors arrived three hundred years later: the Sorraia in Iberia, as well as a type called the Asturian, which may have been in the background of the famous Spanish Jennet, a natural ambler. Some of these ancient breeds have passed into history; other contributors, such as the Galician, the Garrano, and the Basque pony, still exist in small numbers.

The Moorish Influence

The Moorish invasion of 711 CE brought horses from North Africa into Spain, actually returning these ancient bloodlines to their country of origin. The light, fast Moorish horses, which we know as Barbs, were derived from various desert-bred horses of the East, which had been crossed for many generations with the descendants of Iberian horses in North Africa. At the time of the Moorish invasion, the best Spanish warhorses came from Andalusia, near Gibraltar, the point where the Moors entered Spain. Spanish horses were heavier and slower than the horses of North Africa. Contrary to prevalent belief, the Barb did not stamp its characteristic convex profile on the Spanish horse, because the ancient Iberian displayed that profile centuries before the Barb even existed.

Crosses with the Barbs lightened the heavy Spanish horses and made them faster and more agile, an important development because in this same time frame the Moors were changing mounted warfare significantly. They rode with much shorter stirrups than did the Spanish, allowing them greater accuracy and power when throwing lances from the saddle, and they neck-reined their horses, which tremendously improved mobility during battle.

The lighter Andalusian was still able to carry a good deal of weight, yet it was pleasant to work around. This new version of the long-renowned breed was the type exported to the New World. Nevertheless, until the advent of gunpowder changed everything, the older, heavier Andalusian type was still used wherever knights in armor rode.

Breed Characteristics

Since the need for warhorses declined, Andalusians and Lusitanos have earned fame as stock horses that have a strong natural “cow sense,” a trait they seem to pass on when crossed with other breeds. In addition to use in the bullring, Andalusians and Lusitanos have performed in dressage throughout the history of the discipline.

Their disposition, admired since before the Middle Ages, remains one of the strongest characteristics for both breeds. Historically, the Spanish rode only stallions, a tradition that continues to the present day. The stallions are so gentle and tractable that children can ride them safely, even in the company of other stallions. If you have not seen or experienced the behavior of Andalusian stallions, it is hard to imagine how incredibly easy they are to work with.


Andalusians and Lusitanos average 15 to 16 hands. Typical weight is 1,000 to 1,200 pounds. The horses have a straight or slightly convex profile on a head of great elegance and character. They have a highly arched, sometimes cresty, neck. They are solidly built with short backs, wide chests, and rounded croups with low-set tails. The legs are strong and well jointed and the feet are well formed and strong. The mane and tail are profuse and often wavy.


According to the International Andalusian and Lusitano Association (formed in 1995 with merger of two existing organizations):

• The association registers more than 9,000 purebred Andalusians and approximately 4,600 half-breds.

• Figures are not available on the number of foals registered annually.


Both breed associations recognize only solid colors, the most common being bay, gray, and black. Chestnut is not accepted for the Andalusian breed but is recognized for the Lusitano.

The Lusitano is strong and muscular with a wide chest and a short back.

Leave a Comment