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What is an Iberian Horse?

By Soo Owens
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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The term "Iberian horse" refers to any one of more than a dozen horse breeds as well as some breeds of ponies that originated from the Iberian Peninsula in southwestern Europe. The more well-known Iberian horses include the Andalusian and Lusitano breeds as well as the Balearic breeds. Considered to be some of the oldest existing horses, the origins of the Iberian horse can be traced back as early as 20,000 B.C.

There are a total of 17 breeds of horses belonging to the Iberian horse family. Three of those 17 are the Balearic breeds Menorquina, Cavall Mallorquí, and Mallorquina. Some of the 11 Spanish breeds are Pura Raza Española, better known as the Andalusian horse; Pura Raza Gallega; Asturcón; Hispano-Arabe; and Hispano-Bretón. The other Spanish breeds are Pottoka; Caballo de Monte del País Vasco; Monchina; Burguete; Jaca Navarra; and Losina. The three remaining breeds — Lusitano, Sorraia and Garrano — are native to Portugal.

Throughout antiquity, Iberian horses were prized for their sturdy but athletic and agile bodies. This led to early Iberians adopting these breeds as warhorses. The Iberian horse is mentioned by the Greek authors Homer and Xenophon, the latter of whom regards the Iberian horse as a gifted breed and claims that Iberian horses were used by the Spartans during their sack of Athens. In the Second Punic War from 218-201 B.C., Hannibal utilized his Iberian cavalry to defeat the Romans. Since then, the Iberian horses, in particular the breeds Andalusian and Lusitano, have been highly prized throughout Europe and the Americas.

The Iberian horse plays a specific role in the lineage of modern domestic horses. The existence of wild stocks of Iberian horses precede the earliest instances of domesticated horses. The oldest domestic horses date as far back as 46 centuries and are believed to have inhabited what is now Ukraine. These domestic horses share similar genetic markers with Iberian breeds, indicating that horses native to Iberia have contributed to the domestication of horses.

The two most famous modern descendants of Iberian horses are the Andalusian and the Lusitano. Iberian breeds range in size from small and pony-like to larger horses such as the Andalusian. Historically, Andalusian horses were used as war mounts because of their strong, sleek form.

Many modern horse lovers prize Andalusian horses for their docile temperament, strong physique and lithe movements. They also have been used to develop the breeds of other modern warmblood horses from Europe. Its close relative, the Portuguese Lusitano, is thought to more closely resemble the convex silhouettes of the earlier Iberian horses.

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