In the 1970s, Mexican charros (cowboys), led by Spanish businessman and philanthropist Don Antonio Ariza Cañadilla, started developing a fast, light-footed horse breed to work on their cattle ranches, crossing Andalusian stallions with Quarter Horse and Criollo mares. The result ‒ the Azteca ‒ was a versatile, noble, intelligent animal displaying speed, heart, and stamina that became the National Horse of Mexico.

Bob Langrish photo

The origin story of this horse breed is well-documented. In the 1970s, Mexican equestrians grew nostalgic for a native breed. They had in mind a horse resembling the Mexican Criollo of Spanish descent which played a rich part in the country’s history, although it was not native and nearly extinct at the time. The stage was set for the wealthy equestrian Don Antonio Ariza Cañadilla to start the Azteca horse breeding program at his ranch near Texcoco, Mexico.

Administrators soon realized the need for a unified breeding program in order to produce horses that met the required characteristics. The Azteca Horse Research Center was created at Lake Texcoco, and in partnership with the country’s top breeders developed the phenotype of the breed today. This is where they still carefully track progenitors and bloodlines. According to the breed standard of the Mexican registry, Azteca horses cannot have more than 75 percent of their parentage from any one of the foundation breeds (Andalusian, Quarter Horse and Mexican Criollo); Criollo blood may be no more than 50%, and only from unregistered mares within Mexico. Horses are classified in one of six registration categories, designated with letters A through F, depending on their parentage.


Azteca horses have a broad forehead, expressive eyes, deep chests, well-muscled neck, a short to medium back, sloping shoulders, strong and well-muscled haunches and legs, and abundant manes and tails. They can be found in the same colour variations as Quarter Horses or Paints, and typically stand between 14.2-16 hands.

They are incredibly athletic and smooth to ride, with naturally-collected gaits and knee action that ranges from low and flowing to elevated and brilliant.


The Azteca horse can be used for a variety of activities including western working cow horse events such as cutting, reining, team roping and penning. They are also well-suited for trail riding, jumping, dressage, driving and reining. In mexico, Charrería is the national sport, and involves doing stunts on horseback.

For more information, visit:
American Azteca Horse International Assoc.
Asociación Mexicana de Criadores de Caballos de Raza Azteca (on Facebook)

Bob Langrish photo