Iberian Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
The Iberian horse developed on the Iberian Peninsula where the earliest domestication of horses took place. However the Iberian Horse migrated into North Africa several thousand years before the domestication of horses.
The Iberian Peninsula is at the southwestern tip of Europe and includes Spain and Portugal. To the south and east of the Peninsula is the Mediterranean Sea, and it approaches the northern coast of Africa at the point of Gibraltar. To the north and west of the Peninsula is the Atlantic Ocean. But in the northeast there are the Pyrenees mountains which not so much connect it to the rest of Europe, as they form a barrier between Iberia and France, that is, the rest of Europe.
Traditionally, historians claimed that the domestication of the horse first took place in the Ukraine. However, there is the evidence of cave paintings in Iberia, showing the Iberian horse existed as early as 25,000 B.C. Mesolithic horses are portrayed in cave paintings in Spain which are being led by people by a rope or something similar, indicating that one of the earliest, if not THE earliest, domestication of the horse took place in Iberia. Then there are the archeological finds of weapons considered to be used in mounted battle, which again point toward a very early domestication event in Iberia
Some early cave paintings in Spain and Portugal depict an undeniable likeness to today’s Sorraia horse, and are quite different from the chubby horse portrayed in cave paintings elsewhere. Research indicates that the Iberian Horse migrated into North Africa several thousand years before the domestication of the horse, when the Strait of Gibraltar did not exist and there was a land bridge instead
The existence of an Iberian wild horse was documented from B.C. and well into the Middle Ages, named zebro or zebra in Portugal, and encebro in Spain, which is thought to have been the main ancestor of the Iberian breeds, the Andalusian and the Lusitano -- this wild horse is now called “Sorraia horse”, a remnant population that survived in Portugal.
The Iberian horse may have been influenced over the centuries by various peoples and cultures who occupied Iberia throughout its long history, although there is no hard evidence that this took place before the Middle Ages, which is when we find a certain amount of North European influence documented.
The Celts, migrating through France between the 8th to the 6th century B.C. (when the name Celtiberian was created), seem to have brought their small, often refined, ponies with them. However, these ponies populated the mountains in the green north of Iberia, where the climate is cooler and wetter. Such ponies can still be found in those regions, but even though they live in Iberia, they are not to be confused with THE Iberian horse, which became world famous.
The Carthaginians and Romans admired and imported the Iberian horse, which became popular at all royal courts in Europe and far beyond. The Iberian was the greatest war horse of its time, and was marveled at in the bull-fighting arena. This was the horse that enabled the Spaniards and Portuguese to conquer new continents. That horse lives on in the two classic Iberian breeds, the Andalusian (PRE) and the Lusitano (PSL).
When the Phoenicians arrived in Iberia around 2,000 B.C. and the Greeks by 1,000 B.C., the Iberian cavalry and the Iberian war horse were already without equal. Iberian horses were mentioned in Homer’s Iliad and again by Zenophon. Later in history, Hanibal used the Iberian cavalry several times to defeat invading Romans.
Through Iberia also came some Germanic tribes; to what degree they brought horses, and to what degree those may have had an influence on the Iberian horse, is speculation. The most often cited invasion was that of the Moors, and here it is an often repeated myth that the Moors had brought thousands of their (Barb) horses into Iberia. They did not. They themselves recorded that they found the Iberian horses “more plentiful, bigger, and better” than their own, that they mounted themselves with Iberian horses, and they bred Iberian horses once they had taken over the country. Iberian horses in turn were taken to all these other areas of the world, though. Through all this, the Iberian horse remained true to type, and is even today easily recognized as such -- not necessarily the champions of today’s greatest shows in Iberia, but certainly the horses out in the country.
INFLUENCE ON OTHER BREEDS
In Spain, the heritage of the Iberian Horse produced the world-famed Andalusian, who in turn made Spain more famous. The Andalusian in Spain is called “Pura Raza Espanola” (PRE), “pure Spanish breed”, and the Andalusian has influenced a large number of other breeds globally.
In Portugal the Iberian horse is today known as the Lusitano. Here, too, one speaks of “Puro Sangue Lusitano” (pure-blooded Lusitano).
The Iberian breeds, the Andalusian and the Lusitano, are a blend of the unique characteristics of the indigenous Iberian horse and some pony characteristics which make the whole package more pleasant to the eyes of the general horse lover.
In Europe the Iberian horse was used to improve and create many breeds, including the Thoroughbred (using Iberian mares and Italian mares of Iberian blood) and helped to create the famous Lipizzan horses. Many of the German and Dutch breeds carry the blood of the Iberian horse.
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For information regarding the Sorraia horse, the Vale de Zebro Wild Horse Refuge, and the Sorraia Mustang - visit www.sorraia.org
Photos from left to right
1) Prehistoric cave painting in Spain, showing a completely different horse than the chubby pony type depicted in many other, mostly French, caves - lighter of build, with a slender, longish heck. The dark on the neck may indicate a dun marking (stripe), or a falling mane.
2)Celt-Iberian horseman or warrior, dated 400 B. C.
3) A bronze sculpture found a cave in southern Spain, dated 300 years B.C., showing again the strong and continued type of the Iberian Horse. The Lusitano head study at the top of this page displays true and classical Iberian type.
4) The Iberian horse was used as a war horse even before recorded history. It was bred and trained to charge in combat, and as such, never had a rival in all the equestrian world. Most all maneuvers in classical dressage were originally developed as combat maneuvers, to propel the rider foreward into an advantageous position, protecting him at the same time with his body mass, to strike and kick to keep opponents at bay, to whirl around and stay under control in close quarters. Later, the mounted bullfight substituted as a testing ground for the horses’ abilities.