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Spanish Barb - Horse Breed & Info

Spanish Barb Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below

The term Spanish Barb is most likely an American invention. It implies that there was such a breed, but there never was one.


The idea of a Spanish Barb is a misconception that is probably based on another misconception, namely, that the Moors had brought their Barb horses to Spain in great numbers, and proceeded to breed them on Spanish soil as well, which would have resulted in horses that one could have referred to as Spanish Barbs, that is, Barb horses bred in Spain.

The Moors, however, never bred Barb horses in Spain. Contrary to what many people believe, and what many authors perpetuated, they bred Spanish horses in Spain, and Portuguese horses in Portugal. How do we know? Because their own chroniclers recorded it.

If Iberian chroniclers (Spanish and Portuguese) had written this, one would take this information with a grain of salt and could simply consider them biased, but as it were Muslim chroniclers who wrote this, even those who think there were Spanish Barb horses ought to be compelled to accept this as a fact.


Long before the Muslim invasion of Iberia, Iberian horses, horsemanship, skills, and tactics in mounted combat were admired, so much so that the Romans, who ruled Iberia for over 500 years, adopted their weapons and military tactics and used these horses to improve their own breed.

When the Moors invaded Iberia, they found a cavalry which they described as better and more numerous than their own (Tarif Aben Taric, Ben Adhary, Al Makkari, El Doby, El Silense, Idacio, Isidorus, and others). The horses they found and liked, and fought on from then on, were Spanish horses, not Spanish Barb horses.

Abul-Cacim Tarif Aben Tarik wrote in the 8th century, that the Moors found the Spanish Christian horses bigger and better than their own and much more numerous, so much so that the Moors, after landing on the Peninsula with about 20,000 warriors but only 100 battle horses, mounted the horses they had captured from the Spanish in their first battle and thus converted their infantry into a cavalry.

So it is no wonder that the Spanish Arabian expert Castejon y Martinez de Arizala wrote: The big, fundamental mistake is to think that the Muslims had brought over 300,000 Arabian horses. It is completely evident that the Muslims came on foot, and did not make a single substantial import during their rule, but exported top (Iberian horses, and certainly not a non-existent Spanish Barb) to the royal courts of North Africa and Arabia which they found in the region of the lower Guadalquivir.

The Moors admiration of the Iberian horse later manifested itself in presenting gifts of Iberian horses to Arab royalty. In the 9th century, for instance, Caliph Omiadas of Cordoba sent in luxurious embassies gifts to Constantinople and to Bagdad, and such was the admiration and value of the Spanish horse, that he sent, among jewels, weapons, silk, embroideries, slaves, one hundred African horses, also ten Spanish horses as special gifts.

That again shows how much more valuable the Iberian horses were considered compared to the African horses. It is only natural then, that Iberian horses were bred in Iberia, not Spanish Barb horses, and there really was no reason at all to breed Barbs there, if the Barbs were considered inferior to the Spanish, or Iberian, horses.

Michael Schaefer, a German expert on Iberian history, wrote in Andalusian Horses:

“By and large, there was no Arabian influence and only insignificant Barb influence on Iberian horses during the eight hundred years of Moorish occupation. While chroniclers often reported exports of Andalusians, Barbs are seldom mentioned. Only one horse became of any importance, the stallion Guzm n. Regarding farming and livestock breeding, the Moors also did not bring anything new, To the contrary, they seem to have learned from the Christians they ruled so much in that respect, that they soon established their own blooming agriculture and livestock breeding. Obviously the Spaniards and Goths were particularly good teachers in horse breeding, because especially near their capitol Cordoba the Moors established huge stud farms, the like of which they had never had in North Africa.”


There was no attempt to breed Spanish Barb horses, as the main horse breeding stayed in the hands of the Iberians. Michael Schaefer:

“The most and best (stud farms) continued to be those of the Spaniards, as the upper class, which had converted to Islam, were allowed to keep their properties. It was a fortunate circumstance for the horse breeding situation that for almost a hundred years, lower Andalucia remained a Gothic state under Moorish sovereignty, because it was in this region where the most important stud farms were, and were operated with great nordic determination and commitment by the house of Witizas, the last Gothic king. Therefore, the fame of the noble Andalusian lasted undiminished during the whole of the Muslim reign.”

All this shows that there is no basis for the term Spanish Barb, and that there never was a breed by that name. And although the Romans had already shipped loads of Iberian horses to North Africa and possibly started the Barb breed there, the horses from Barbary, namely Morrocco and Mauretania, never became famous as Spanish Barb horses, either.


Some authors even speak of a considerable influence of Arabian horses in the Spanish, (aka Iberian) horse. This is because they confuse Arabs and Barbs, they do not realize that not all Muslims are Arabs, and that Moors and Arabs are ethnically quite different.

The Muslims started their invasions and occupations in 634, had overtaken Syria and Palestine by 638, Egypt by 642. After conquering Tripolitania in 643, their assault came to an abrupt halt, because then they entered the realm of the Barbs, or Moors, which proved to be very difficult to conquer, as they absolutely rejected the religion, culture, and lifestyle of the Arabs. Arabs speak a Semitic language, like the Isrealis, Barbs spoke many different dialects of what is basically a Hamitic language, like the Tuaregs of the Sahara desert. Mohammed had introduced a partriachaic system, hid the women under veils and took away their rights, but the Barbs kept mostly their matriarchic social structure, and even today their women are not veiled.

It took the Muslims all in all 76 years to conquer Barbary, and by the year 710, Ceuta, the last Roman city, fell into their hands. In 76 years, though, the first Arab generations of invaders had died, so there were hardly any Bedouins from Arabia that made it to Ceuta. The mission had always been carried on from the last country conquered, and only a few of the highest leaders may have still been Arabs. Thus, the first Muslims crossing the Strait of Gibraltar in 711 under Tarik were almost exclusively Moors.

Historian Michael Schaefer:
“In the beginning, the Muslim rule was very tolerant, first that of the Barbs, or Moors, from 755 till 1031 one of Moors under Arabian Omaijades. The natives of the former West Gothic monarchy were allowed to keep their Christian faith and their customs and traditions. Because recognition of the Koran meant liberation from slavery, many bondmen converted to the Islam, later even freemen did so. Only towards the end of the Omaijade rule and later, when the reconquista had made progress, was there more pressure from the Muslim rule. Then even the Moors revolted against the Arab leaders.”


In summary, there was very little influence of Barb horses in Spain and Portugal, and practically none of Arabian horses. So, the term Spanish Barb is fictitious and lacks a historical basis.

Article © HorseShowCentral.com Submitted by Hardy Oelke and Photos © Oelke or Oelke Archive. Reproduction of any portion of this copyrighted website without written permission of the publisher is prohibited and subject to legal action.

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