Living Link to Mexican Conquistadors: Andalusian Horses
Looking back from our present society, it’s easy to romanticize the time of the Spanish conquistadors in Mexico. But one must remember that the goal of the European invaders was to find gold, claim new territories for the King, and convert new souls to Christianity, all for the glory of their country. As these soldiers explored the new lands, they gained personal fame and wealth by taking a share of the riches they could plunder from the indigenous people. Rather than settle, their desire was to make a quick fortune, and the Conquistadors often stopped at nothing to accomplish this.
The Conquistadors had overwhelming military advantages over the native peoples. They belonged to a more advanced civilization with better techniques, tools, firearms, artillery, steel and domesticated animals. Horses and mules allowed the foreigners to move faster than the Indians, while the imported pigs fed the soldiers without the need for hunting. Records from the 1519 invasion of the Yucatan peninsula state that when the Aztecs first saw Cortez, they thought the white man with gun and sword on horseback was a “type of supernatural beast.” When Spain went on to claim the New World, she took her horses with her. On Columbus’ second voyage in 1493, he brought the Andalusian to the Americas. Thereafter, every expedition to the New World included the horses in its cargo. Breeding farms were established in the Caribbean to provide mounts for the Conquistador as they explored and settled the New World.
The attitude of the Spanish conquistadors towards the natives was that the indigenous people were savages and pagan. The Encomienda system was totally abused – the Conquistadors were thousands of miles away from Spain and they behaved as they saw fit. The natives were oppressed, exploited, ill-treated and decimated by the Spanish Conquistadors. The Indians lost their freedom, their rights, their culture and their religion.
The Spanish government had decreed that the Encomienda system should be established in the New World. This system of rule came to signify the oppression and exploitation of the New World tribes. The Encomienda system was similar to the Medieval Feudal system-consisting of a few ruling the subjugated working masses. The Spanish Conquistadors were feared and hated and the very name ‘Conquistador’ still conveys oppression to the Mexicans. It wasn’t until about 1542 that the Encomienda system was replaced by new laws. Ironically, it was the use of the imported animals by indigenous groups that later became a factor in native resistance to the subsequent foreign governments. The Mexicans became expert horsemen and ranchers.
Despite the negative circumstances of the introduction of the horse and mule to the county, the native people quickly adapted to using these animals. The indigenous people learned horsemanship, cattle raising, and sheep herding. Perhaps it was because the native tribes had long respected the natural power of animals, as indicated by the many animal gods in their religions, or perhaps it was fueled by the realization that the horse gave its rider an advantage. Perhaps the reason that Mexicans totally bonded with horses was simply because of the magnificence of the animal itself. Regardless of the reason, the Mexican culture has been indelibly intertwined with the horse since the early 1500s. The horse and cowboy (vaquero) are still revered as a symbol of Mexican pride in overcoming invaders and revolutions while retaining national dignity.
Superior Andalusian: King of Working Horses
As a breed, the Andalusian dates back to the Moorish invasion of Spain. The Moors were the finest horsemen of their times and they brought with them their magnificent Barb horses which they crossed with the native horses of the Iberian Peninsula. When Spain reclaimed its territory, the Spanish breeders in the Southern province of Andalucia continued to develop an unmatched warhorse. The horse they developed was sturdy, with a long sloping shoulder, short back, rounded, strong hind quarters, wide chest, with a well-crested, naturally arched neck and very sturdy legs. The Andalusian horse, which in ancient times carried the royalty of Europe, fought the fierce Iberian bulls, and carried Crusaders and Conquistadors, is now facing its future head-on.
These original Spanish horses provided the foundation stock for all American breeds of horses. The American Mustang, the Pasos of Central and South America and the Criollos are the very obvious descendants, but Morgans, Foxtrotters, Walking Horses, Saddlebreds and the famous Quarter Horse, can all trace their heritage back to the Andalusian. It is not surprising that in the 20th century when establishing the Mexican National horse, the Azteca breed, the process began with Andalusian stallions. (See previous article for more on Azteca horses.)
Andalusians are high-spirited in their movement, but docile in nature. In color they are mostly grey but black and bay are also common. Buckskin and chestnut are rare. Because of its versatility, intelligence, agility, beauty and willing nature, Andalusians are making its way into all disciplines of the modern equine world. The Native Mexican horse is extremely hardy and tough with strong limbs and feet. The agility and stamina of the breed make it ideally suited for the Mexican ranches where it is used as a saddle horse.
The courage and athletic ability of the breed may be seen in the Mexican bullring and competing in the Mexican rodeos, Charrerías. Several local horsemen in the Riviera Nayarit area proudly ride Andalusians and dance their way through parades-absolutely beautiful to watch. The premier Mexican breeding farm of Andalusian horses, Rancho San Antonio in Texcoco just outside Mexico City, stands a number of outstanding pure bred Andalusian stallions obtained in cooperation with the house of Domecq. Its stud services and horses are sought after by serious Andalusian fans worldwide.
Even if you are not a horse aficionado, one can’t help but to be impressed with the history and tradition that the Mexican native horse-the Andalusian-as a symbol of Mexican culture.