The Lusitano

The Lusitano – an ancient breed of horse native to Portugal – is increasingly popular in the United States.  Historically these majestic horses have strong ties to the military, bullfighting and the classical training methods of the “Alter Real” – the traditional riding school of Portugal.  Today Lusitanos are also recognized for their ability to perform well in a variety of modern-day equestrian disciplines and for their generous temperament, making them popular with owners who like to ride for fun.

Although the roots of the Lusitano can be traced back over many centuries, The Stud Book was only founded in Portugal in 1967.  Before that, registration was private, logged by individual breeders according to their own methods.  Today the International Andalusian and Lusitano Association represents the breed in the United States, but with a reciprocal agreement between Portugal and other countries, horses that are proven pureblood Lusitanos are entitled to registration in the Portuguese Stud Book.  Four basic lineages of the Lusitano horse are recognized: Alter Real (AR), Coudelaria Nacional (CN), Veiga (MV) and Andrade (RA) or (SA).  The latter refers to the breeding program of Dr Ruy D’Andrade who describes his horses as follows: “They are short strong horses, valiant with the bulls, changing from calm to ardent if spurred and from ardent to obedient if left in peace; fast when running and rapid on turns; with good walk, sensible to the spurs, submissive with a good mouth and endless strength in everything.”

In addition to bullfighting, the Lusitano breed is well-known for classical equitation.  The Coudelaria de Alter Real was founded in 1748 by king D. Joao V.  Since the beginning, the now government-backed stud in Portugal, has adopted a rigorous selection program in its breeding operation. “[It places] strong emphasis on the preservation of the purity of the breed, which is today considered as a national patrimony, a true race within the Lusitano race, so concentrated and consanguineous that it is very difficult to use it in cross breedings with the other main lineages,” writes Paulo Gavião Gonzaga in his book The Lusitano Horse – Basic Lineages.   These horses continue to perform the classical equitation of the Portuguese Riding School – a government-sponsored program that “is an extension of the ‘Picaria Real’ (The Royal Riding School), an equestrian academy of the Portuguese Court, whose teaching and traditions have always influenced horse riding in Portugal,” writes Guilherme Borba in Arsênio Raposo Cordeiro’s book “Lusitano Horse – Son of the Wind”.

The Lusitano plays an important role in the history of equitation, having survived as a pure race over centuries of political and social change in its native land.  Those who breed Lusitanos take it very seriously and intend to ensure the future of these horses. “Pure Lusitano Blood breeding,” writes Alfredo Baptista Coelho in his book on the Lusitano race, “is like entering into the magic world of intuition where the breeder, driven by passion creates a horse that is the image of his dreams.”

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