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by Susan Paulton


Literature and art of post-renaissance Europe have immortalized the Spanish War Horse. This breed has a definite and unique appearance that sets it apart. Its breed type is what made the breed. The breed is the breed type. One cannot exist without the other. Yet today, this ancient breed type is rarely seen in 'Spanish' or 'Barb' horses in any country.

Mounted European and New World combat of the Renaissance Era required that a horse perform, with ease, all the strenuous, balanced leaps and jumps that we know today as those performed by the Lipizzans of Austria. These fundamental war maneuvers of instant stop and accelerate, whirl and leap, and kickout with both hind legs while in the air were used to intimidate the enemy as well as place the rider in position to either save his life or harm the enemy.

Such maneuvers required a special horse conformed to accommodate agility and soundness as well as great stamina. There is a distinctive build inherent to the Iberian/Barb horse that allows the "circle of power" to be in complete balance from poll to hocks. This is a full neck, deep and arched, that extends upright from an exceedingly long, sloping shoulder, a strong back that couples into a completely rounded croup with a low snug tail set, a point of buttock that sets directly perpendicular below the dock, and hind legs that are placed forward of that point of buttock.


The striking correlation between breed type and ability, natural collection, poll flexion and a temperament of 'fire & feather' (fierce when at war, gentle when at home) has created an equine unlike any other in the world.

Other distinctive characteristics of the Spanish Barb War Horse are a lean head structure with a convex face profile; flat muscling throughout; long legs that are free of feathering and fetlock hair; a rather narrow build as viewed from the front; and very hard, upright hooves. The average height is 14 to just under 15 hands. Solid bay, black and buckskin are the predominant colors, the only white, if any, is a small star.

The unique arched croup structure of the ancient Iberian/Barb horse prevailed in Europe and the Americas during the time when this was the dominant horse. As alien blood was infused into the Iberian and Barb horses, true breed type changed and was lost. The first characteristic to disappear and the hardest to breed back is the arched croup with its low, snug tail set. The great infusion of Arabian, Thoroughbred, draft and pony blood quickly erased the noble convex, well chiseled head structure, the shapely full neck, the almond shaped eye, the exquisite shoulder and leg action, to name a few.

Even one cross with a non-Iberian/Barb horse will introduce genes that will contaminate the genetics to the extent that breed type is changed and lost. If two horses that carry only half Iberian/Barb blood are mated, the odds are that only 1 in 16 will carry the true breed type.

With every successive generation of foals, the trademarks of the original Spanish and Barb horses are disappearing. Breeders are simply not aware of this unique breed type that should be displayed in every one of their horses. Registration papers are used as criteria for breeding. Personal opinion also dictates what is bred because the registries allow for so many "types" of horses to be registered to accommodate the influence of contaminate blood.

Since 1878, Spain purposely crossed her Spanish horses with Arabians. To use the Arabian to "refresh" the Spanish breeds can only be an error of the highest magnitude, for the breeds pertain to two completely different families of the horse kingdom bred for completely opposite purposes, therefore entirely opposite in their characteristics.

The Spanish horse was bred to round and gather its body for leaps, jumps, sliding stops, quick starts; the Arabian was bred to stretch out and run. The Spanish horse has a convex head; the Arabian concave; the Spanish horse's croup is very rounded with a low tail set; the Arabian's croup is horizontal (straight lines) with a high tail set. The Spanish horse's tail trails low and quiet behind; the Arabian flags its tail. The Spanish horse's neck is strong and heavy; the Arabian's neck slender and light. The Spanish horse's shoulder is exceedingly long; the Arabian's shorter.


The Spanish and Barb horses owe nothing, absolutely nothing, to the Arabian horse. Since the time of the Romans, 1,000 years before one finds any mention of the Arabian, the Berber War Horses (Barbs) of the North African nomads were famous. Long before the birth of Christ, the Numidians introduced the Greeks to the excellence of Barb horses. The Spanish War Horse owes its renowned excellence to the North African Barb horse re-introduced into Spain by the Moors in 711 AD. During this accelerated development of the Spanish War Horse in Spain, the exchange of horses between Spain and North Africa was so frequent and complete that the North African Barb and the Spanish War Horse were considered one and the same.

Obviously, an exacting re-creation effort must be made if the Spanish Barb War Horse as a pureblooded breed is ever to exist again. The task of piecing together an extinct breed from remnant genetics is almost overwhelming because of the genetic complexity involved.

Progression of Re-creation through Genetic Selection:

The three primary remnant bloodlines occasionally threwback to a horse with the ancient Spanish Barb breed type. The progression moved in 5 generations (5 pictures) from a total lack of breed type to close to breed type, requiring a span of about 30 years.