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History of the Lusitano Horse

The Lusitano, lesser known Portuguese cousin of the Spanish Andalusian, has only officially become a separate breed since the 1960s, having shared with the Andalusian a common history dating back thousands of years – North America is now the only country where Andalusians and Lusitanos are all still registered as one breed: Andalusians.

Along with their Spanish cousins, Lusitanos are probably the most ancient breed of riding horse alive today, pre-dating even the Arabian as we know it. Their ancestor is thought to be the Sorraía, a very primitive small horse that is native to the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal), which still exists in limited numbers there.

Prized as horses of war since Greek and Roman times, mount of the Conquistador, the Renaissance and de la Guérinière, they are the horse of choice even today for the mounted bullfights of Portugal, Mexico and Spain, where they are also used to work cattle. They had a profound influence on many of our modern breeds, not only here in the Americas, with the Quarterhorse, Appaloosa, Paint, Mustang and others, including the South American breeds, but also in the development of many of our modern sporthorses, for they were used as foundation stock for several of the warmblood breeds as well as Friesians, of course the Lippizans – their most widely recognized descendants – and many of the English breeds.

Bred for centuries as an agile warhorse for up-close, hand-to-hand fighting, the Lusitano and his warrior-rider of the Middle Ages required a training regime that would test their courage and hone the horse’s responses and athleticism in preparation for war. From the hunting of the fierce Iberian wild bull the mounted bullfight was developed, during which an unprotected horse and his rider defy death mere inches in front of the horns of an aggressive fighting bull. The bullfight of today is primarily a display of horsemanship demonstrating haute ecole movements in a functional setting and highlighting the exceptional courage, agility, intelligence and training of the horse.

When mounted bullfighting was banned in Spain in the early 1700s, the focus of the two countries’ breeding programs began to diverge. The Portuguese continued to use the bullfight as the proving ground for their breeding program, with function continuing to dictate form, while the Spanish turned to breeding for the Fiesta and other less warlike ceremonial activities, which encouraged appearance and style of movement to be emphasized. Nevertheless, this divergence of use did not prevent the inclusion from time to time of each other’s best bloodlines when it served their breeding programs. However, in the late 1960s the Spanish studbook was closed to Portuguese blood, although the Portuguese registry continued to allow the inclusion of certain Spanish lines until just a few years ago.

Characteristics of the Lusitano

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Last updated July 8, 1999
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