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The Azteca - Carefully Bred to Meet Its Objective
by Heinz Reusser
























Our editorial contribution "The Azteca - The New National Horse of Mexico," introduced the Azteca horse earlier this year. The Article presented the short history of this new breed and the efforts and goals of the men behind it in the form of an interview with Don Antonio Ariza and Don Alvaro Domecq. The emergence of this new breed has since captured the imagination of many aficionados of Spanish horses. The following second article discusses the breed standards, breeding rules and qualification criteria for the Azteca horse.

The Azteca breed is being developed right before our eyes. The target end result of the first phase of this more than 20 year old breeding program, the level A Azteca, is being achieved literally one horse at a time. With this emergence of the new breed, the founders have realized their goal with the establishment of Mexico's own National Horse. Exact breeding rules and system of inspection for registration has been established by the breeders and enjoys the full support of the Mexican government. Don Antonio Ariza, the founder who's inspiration guided the breed, explains the need for a formal qualification system, "What we are working for is a Mexican horse which meets the established standards of conformation, not the random result of each breeder raising the horses that he thinks fit. There are certain lines and laid down rules to follow. The Azteca breeder that adheres to these rules has a guarantee that the animals he is breeding will be within the parameters approved by the Association and the government."

Being the National Horse of Mexico is of course not the only goal of the Azteca. The technical development of the breed has resulted in a horse that is noble and docile, agile, lively, arrogant and spectacular. The horses perform beautiful paces, are easy to break and train and respond well to the different equine high school disciplines requiring suspended and elevated gaited. Also, the Azteca horse has become revered as a skillful working cowhorse and excels in all ranch work. A horse to cut cattle, dance the Mariachi and perform the intricate reining exercises of the charro.

After much research, consideration and discussion, and based on the historic realities of Mexico, it was decided that the breed with the envisioned characteristics could be developed form a cross of Spanish (Andalusian) stallions to Quarter Horse and Criollo mares of certain specific types. Through this strategy and successive crosses, the desired breed would be established. The breeding plan for arriving at a pure Azteca (Azteca A) was determined and the different preliminary stages of crossing were classified as Azteca F, E, D, C and B. Several combinations of different level Aztecas (B, C, D, E, F) are being crossed to obtain the Azteca A level as long as the resulting offspring has the accepted ratios of breed contribution. The Spanish (Andalusian) horse contribution ranging from 3/8 to 5/8, the Quarter Horse contribution from 1/8 to 5/8 and the Criollo only up to 2/8.

Talking to Dr. Alberto Rojas, the official veterinarian of the Mexican Breeders Association and long time contributor to this new breed, will quickly reveal that the idea is not to breed just any Andalusian Horse with any type of Quarter Horse. Don Antonio Ariza remarks to the same subject, "We were not trying to breed another Quarter Horse, but wanted the Azteca to have its own conformation and characteristics. We decided that the Azteca should not be too tall, have a somewhat refined conformation and should meet a set of well defined breed characteristics. What makes today's Azteca Horse a unique breed by itself, is the fact that at the root there was a specific group of horses with carefully selected characteristics, cautiously bred until these specific traits were genetically fixed."

Dr. Rojas recommends to select Quarter Horses with specific characteristics. Quarter Horse stallions and mares to be used should show a smallish head, straight forehead profile, well placed small to medium size ears, large and flexible nostrils. Necks should be without fat deposits in the crest, with a straight underline and be well implanted high in the chest. The body must be short with a well muscled, large croup and medium low tail set. Shoulders are to be well slanted at 45 degrees with the angle parallel to the pastern angle. The horse must show a correct square and straight stance, so that he easily covers the front foot print with the hind foot at the walk. Hooves need to be of good size and cannon bones must measure 17 to 19 cm in circumference right below the knee.

Spanish (Andalusian) horses to be used in the breeding of Azteca horses should be of the quality selected and defined by the selection criteria used in Spain. For this purpose, 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. The Criollo mares chosen for breeding are not the stocky, short legged bull-dog type, which has now almost vanished, but the taller strain which reflects a more pure line. In respect to the Mexican Criollo horse, Dr. Rojas makes the following observations, "Within the Azteca project we have two objectives; one of course to obtain the Azteca breed and the other to improve the existing Criollo horse through free breedings with Spanish (Andalusian) stallions."

"As is well known, the Criollo is, like the Spanish Mustang, a direct descendant of the Spanish horse brought to the Americas by the explorers and settlers. Through bad feeding, bad management and many other factors he has lost size and substance but nevertheless still has not disappeared, mainly due to the rustic character of the Spanish horse. In it's large majority, the criollo horse of Mexico today shows the same characteristics as the Spanish horse; such as his coat or colors that are black (prieto), bay (castaño) and grey (tordillo), his straight forehead profile, triangular eyes, enlarged nostrils, large crest and more. According to the Azteca breeding rules, one may only cross criollo mares with Spanish stallions to obtain a level F Azteca. Level F Azteca stallions resulting from this cross are registered but with the specific reservation that they cannot be used to breed other Aztecas and none of their offspring can be registered as Azteca. If the Azteca F is a mare, she in turn can be crossed to a Spanish horse to produce Azteca E to be used for further breeding of Azteca horses."

Each Azteca horse born from qualified parents can be entered in the official studbook of the Mexican Breeders Association with a filing of the application by the owner. The horse receives a certificate of birth which does not qualify him for breeding purpose. The affiliated and approved Azteca registries in the United States, Canada and Spain will provide the service. To register the horse for breeding and to enter it in the registry, the horse must pass an inspection by approved and well qualified inspectors from the Mexican Breeders Association. The horse needs to be at least three years old to be considered for inspection and approval. Dr. Rojas, who is an approved and qualified inspector himself, has observed a number of faults that will prevent the inspected horse from being registered as a breeding animal: Over or under bit, convex forehead profile, low set neck (cuello de gato), monorchid or cryptorchid, very high tail set and legs of too little substance (less than 17 cm or 6 1/2 inches circumference at the cannon bone below the knee). Other major faults are a big and heavy head, large ears, oval shaped or slant eyes, poor neckline or crest, too high in the croup, crooked legs or cowhocked, and ewenecked horses.

The registration commission only qualifies the functional conformation of the Azteca horse and observes the horse at the walk and the trot. It cannot guess what level of performance the horse can reach through proper training and feeding; there are too many varying circumstances under which a morphologically speaking well conformed horse cannot achieve it's best level of performance. With a sound and already proven breeding program in place, a government supported breeders association and several international affiliates, supported by a growing number of enthusiastic breeders, and a demand that outstrips the supply, the Azteca horse looks at a bright future.

This horse is being bred to perform and work and has not been developed as a mere halter show horse. It has become the perfect mount of the Charro, quick off the mark, strong enough and well balanced to throw cattle, agile and fast turning for reining competition. Yet the Azteca also performs graciously at the Alta Escuela, the Spanish High School.

Read more about the Azteca horse in this new book: "El Caballo Azteca - The Azteca Horse"

For more information about the Azteca horse and it's organizations contact:

in the United States: Azteca Horse Association of the United States 
2613 Camino de Verdad, Mercedes, TX 78570
in Canada: International Azteca Horse Association, c/o Donald M. Caskie
RR 2, Paris, Ontario N3L 3E2, Canada. 
in Mexico: Asociacion Internacional de Caballos de Raza Azteca 
Av. Mexico 101, Col. de Carmen, Cayoacan, C.P. 042100, Mexico D.F.