The Lusitano is a
Portuguese horse breed, closely related to the Spanish Andalusian horse. Both are sometimes called Iberian horses, as the breeds both developed on the Iberian peninsula, and until the 1960s they were considered one breed, under the Andalusian
name. Horses were known to be present on the Iberian Peninsula as far back as 20,000 BC, and by 800 BC the region was renowned for
its war horses. When the Muslims invaded Iberia in 711 AD, they brought Barb horses with them that were crossed with the native horses, developing
a horse that became useful for war, dressage and bull fighting. In 1966, the Portuguese and Spanish stud books split, and the Portuguese strain of the Iberian horse was named the
Lusitano, after the word Lusitania, the ancient Roman name for Portugal. There are three main breed lineages within the breed
today, and characteristics differ slightly between each line. There is also the Alter Real strain of Lusitano, bred only at
the Alter Real State Stud.
Lusitanos can be any solid
color, although they are generally gray, bay or chestnut. Horses of the Alter Real strain are always bay. Members of the breed
are of Baroque type, with convex facial profiles, heavy muscling, intelligent and
willing natures, with agile and elevated movement. Originally bred for war, dressage and bullfighting, Lusitanos are still
used today in the latter two. They have competed in several Olympics and World Equestrian Games as part of the Portuguese and Spanish dressage teams. They have also
made a showing in driving competitions, with a Belgian team of Lusitanos winning multiple international
titles. Members of the breed are still used in bloodless bullfighting today, where it is expected that neither horse or bull
will be injured.
Horses were known to humans on what is now the Iberian Peninsula as far back as 25,000 to 20,000 BC, as shown by cave paintings in the
area. Among the local wild horses originally used by humans were the probable ancestors of the modern Lusitano, as studies
comparing ancient and modern horse DNA indicate that the modern "Lusitano C" group contains maternal lineages also present
in wild Iberian horses from the Early Neolithic period. These ancient horses were used for war, with clear evidence of their use by Phoenicians around 1100 BC and Celts around 600 BC. It is believed that these invaders also brought horses with them, contributing outside blood to the ancestry of the
modern Iberian breeds. By 800 BC, the alliance known as Celtiberians had been formed by the Iberians and Celts, and from this point on the
horses bred in this area were renowned as war horses. Xenophon, writing around 370 BC, admired the advanced horsemanship and riding
techniques used by Iberian horsemen in war, made possible in part by their agile horses. Legend claimed that mares of the area were sired by the wind (hence their amazing swiftness,
passed onto their foals), and one modern hypothesis suggests that the bond between Iberian
humans and horses was the initial inspiration for the centaur, which was believed to come from the area of the Tagus River. Later invasions into the area by Carthaginians and Romans resulted in these civilizations establishing stud farms that bred cavalry horses for the Roman army from local stock.
When the Umayyad Muslims invaded the Iberian peninsula in 711 AD, their invasion brought Barb horses, which were crossed with native Iberian horses. The cross between these
two breeds produced a war horse superior even to the original Iberian horse, and it was this new type that the Conquistadors introduced to the Americas. Called the Iberian war horse, this ancestor
of the Lusitano was used both on the battlefield and in major riding academies throughout Europe. Bullfighting on horseback and displays of high school dressage were common entertainment for the Portuguese gentry.
Mitochondrial DNA studies of the closely related modern Andalusian horse, compared to
the Barb horse of North Africa, present convincing evidence that Barbs and Iberian horses crossed
the Strait of Gibraltar in each direction, were crossbred with each other, and thus each influenced
the other's maternal bloodlines. While Portuguese historian Ruy d'Andrade hypothesized that the ancient Sorraia breed was an ancestor of the Southern Iberian breeds, including the
Lusitano, genetic studies using mitochondrial DNA show that the Sorraia is part of a genetic cluster that is largely separated from most Iberian breeds. One maternal lineage is shared with the Lusitano, however, Sorraia lineages in Iberian breeds are relatively recent, dating to the Middle Ages, making the Sorraia an unlikely prehistoric ancestor of the Lusitano.
Prior to modern times, horse breeds
throughout Europe were known primarily by the name of the region where they were bred. The Lusitano takes its name from Lusitania, an ancient Roman name for the region that today is Portugal. A very similar horse, the Spanish Andalusian, originally described the horses of distinct quality that came from
Andalusia in Spain. Some sources state that the Andalusian and the Lusitano are genetically the same breed, and the only difference is
the country in which individual horses are born. The Lusitano is also known as the Portuguese, Peninsular, National or Betico-lusitano horse.[
During the 16th and 17th centuries, horses moved continually between Spain and Portugal, and horses from the
studs of Andalusia were used to improve the Portuguese cavalry. Portugal's successful restoration war against Spain (1640–1668) was in part based on mounted troops
riding war horses of Spanish blood. During the reign of Philip III of Portugal (also Philip IV of Spain), Portuguese horse breeding reached its lowest
point. The Spanish passed laws to halt the country's production of cavalry horses, and what stud farms did exist were run
in secrecy with horses smuggled or stolen from Spain. These secret farms, however, provided the base for the modern Lusitano. In 1662, when Charles II of England married Catherine of Braganza of Portugal, the royal dowry included Portugal's Tangier and Bombay garrisons. These garrisons included large groups of Portuguese
cavalry, mounted on Iberian horses.
Prior to the 1960s, the Iberian-type
horse was called the Andalusian in both Portugal and Spain. In 1966, the Lusitano name was adopted by Portugal after a studbook
separation by the two countries. The revolutions of Portugal's African colonies resulted in the near economic collapse of Portugal. The landed class
attracted political agitators, estates were vacated, and stud farms were broken up and their horses sold to Spain. However,
the best lines were saved through the efforts of breeders, and breeding soon increased. Today, Lusitanos are bred mainly in Portugal and Brazil, but maintain a presence in many other countries throughout
the world, including Australia, the United States, Great Britain, South Africa, and other European countries. Crossbred horses of partial Lusitano blood are popular, especially when crossed
with Andalusian, Arabian or Thoroughbred blood.
Portuguese stud book recognizes six horses (five stallions and one mare) that are called the "heads of lineage". These six horses are the foundation horses of the three main breed lineages: Andrade, Veiga and Coudelaria
Nacional (Portuguese State Stud). Although each line meets breed standards, they differ from each other in individual characteristics.
The six foundation horses are:
Agareno, a 1931 Veiga stallion, out of Bagocha, by Lidador
- Primorosa, a 1927 Dominquez Hermanos stallion, out of Primorosa II, by Presumido
- Destinado, a 1930 Dominquez Hermanos stallion, out of Destinada, by Alegre II
- Marialva II, a 1930 Antonio Fontes Pereira de Melo stallion, out of Campina,
- Regedor, a 1923 Alter Real stallion,
out of Gavina, by Gavioto
- Hucharia, a 1943 Coulderaria
Nacional mare, out of Viscaina, by Cartujano