The Carthusian horse, or Cartujano, is the purest form of the Andalusian breed. It is also considered the oldest branch of Andalusians, making it a very prestigious horse to own. With one of the oldest stud books in the world, these horses’ roots can be traced to Old World Spain. It is a beautiful and magnificent horse, fluid and graceful in motion. It has awe-inspiring athleticism, amazing limb action and extension, and can perform feats such as trotting in place with ease.
Combine this with its long and flowing mane and tail and admirable physique, and you have a truly breath-taking animal.
As one of Spain’s oldest and purest horse breeds, it goes without saying that the Carthusian has a rich history. This line began with two brothers named Zamora. They owned several mares of Spanish breeding. One day, Andres Zamora, recognized a stallion pulling a cart as one he had ridden in the Spanish Calvary. He immediately purchased the horse and bred him to some of his mares. One of the mares produced a colt which they named Esclavo. It was this colt which became the foundation sire of the Carthusian breed.
According to legend, Esclavo was considered the perfect horse. He had an excellent temperament and conformation. He sired many outstanding foals. He was the apple of his owner’s eye and was worth a great deal of money. Legend has it that Andres Zamora left the horse for a short time. During Andres’ absence, his brother sold Esclavo to someone in Portugal. Andres returned to find this turn of events and was stricken with grief, so much so that he died shortly after.
Esclavo was a unique horse with a distinct conformation. Some of his traits set him apart from other horse breeds. One of these traits was warts under his tail. There was a time when a horse was disregarded as Esclavo’s offspring if it did not have warts under its tail. Another unique and identifiable trait is the presence of small bony protrusions on the forehead that resemble horns. His gray color was also dominant (though chestnut and black horses can now be found in the breed).
Around 1736, some of the mares from the Zamora herd were given to the Carthusian monks. The monks were credited with the main development and breeding of Esclavo’s offspring which became known as Carthusians following Andres Zamora’s death. They worked to keep the breed pure, even defying state orders to cross breed with Neapolitan and European horses.
After the monks disbanded, many of the purebreds were taken by a man named Juan Jose Zapata. Zapata lived well into his nineties. The wisdom he acquired in his long life kept the bloodlines pure while keeping outside genetic influence to minimum. He is credited with the survival of the Carthusian breed following the monks’ influence.
Currently, the breeding of these horses in Spain is under the jurisdiction of the government. The government maintains three studs for perpetuating this lineage: Badajoz, Cordoba, and Jerez de la Front era. This strict breeding policy has maintained this rare strain of Andalusian, with only about 1000 purebreds in the world today.
The Carthusian is beautiful in appearance. It has a small, refined head, a muscular arched neck, shoulders that slope nicely; a strong wide chest and back and nicely proportioned hindquarters. Most specimens of the breed have excellent conformation. They stand from 15 to 16 hands tall and are usually gray in color. They can be black or chestnut, however. Even today, the horny growths on their heads and rear end warts of their ancestor, Esclavo, can be found on this breed.
They are extremely athletic which makes them desirable for many disciplines. Among the activities they excel at: distance riding, dressage, eventing and driving. They are also being used for English and western pleasure. They are very intelligent and easy to train. They possess the prowess to perform complex movements. Their knee action is high which allows them to fully extend the front limbs. They are very eye-catching thanks to this gait. They have a calm demeanor and respond to very slight cues.
It was recently reported on a popular blog devoted to this breed that one of these Carthusian’s selected for the Spanish Olympic team for 2012 died in September 2011. The horse was identified as Jade de MV, a Grand Prix Dressage champion. This is very distressing news for the Spanish team.
The Carthusian horse has made its way to Australia where it has ardent fans, however though the horses breed in Australia may well be 100% Carthusian , their breeders lack access to the Carthusian stud book and they can not be registered as “true” Carthusians though they are registered in Australia as being as being purebred Carthusians, read more about it here.