The Lusitano is an Iberian horse breed that originates from Portugal. These horses are closely related to Spanish PREs, with both breeds sharing the same studbook until the two countries established separate registries in the 1960s.

The Lusitano name comes from the ancient Roman name of the region where these horses originated, Lusitania. The Iberian ancestors of Lusitanos rose to fame as war horses, but today most Lusitanos are recreational sport horses.

Known for its exceptional qualities as a riding horse, the Lusitano’s history is as captivating as its graceful movements in the dressage arena. The breed’s intelligence, versatility, and natural ability to collect contribute to their enduring popularity.

This breed profile will discuss the history, conformation, characteristics, health problems, and nutritional needs of the Lusitano horse. Keep reading to learn more about feeding and caring for the Lusitano breed.

Lusitano Horse History

Iberian horse breeds have a rich history spanning millennia. The ancestors of Lusitano horses helped shape the development of several modern breeds, but many traits that make the breed popular today have ancient origins.

Origin

The story of the Lusitano breed begins in the ancient lands of the Iberian Peninsula, present-day Portugal and Spain

Fossil records indicate horses and their early ancestors inhabited the Iberian Peninsula since the Pleistocene period, which lasted until about 11,700 years ago. Paleolithic cave art in Portugal includes depictions of horses, revealing an ancient history of human-horse interactions. [1]

Genetic studies comparing the DNA of ancient Iberian horse remains with modern breeds found lineages tracing back to the Neolithic and Bronze Age. This research supports the ancient origins of Iberian breeds and the early domestication of horses in the region. [2] But not all Iberian lineages contributed to the genetic makeup of domestic horses. [3]

The Lusitano’s development was significantly shaped by various outside cultures, including the Romans and Moors. Research shows strong links between native Southern Iberian breeds and North African Barb horses.

While the Moors introduced Barb horses to the Iberian Peninsula in the Middle Ages, it’s unclear whether the flow of genes primarily went from Iberia to North Africa or vice versa. [4] Human migrations could have facilitated the exchange of genetic material between African and Iberian horses well before the Moorish invasions of the 700s. [4]

Historic Use

The origins of domesticated horses are a matter of ongoing research. While researchers believe that horses were independently domesticated in the Iberian Peninsula, the prevailing view is that domesticated horses were introduced to this region by humans migrating from other areas where domestication had already occurred. [3] [3]

By the Iron Age (1200 – 550 BC), many civilizations relied on horses for war. Horses bred by Iberians during this era were renowned cavalry mounts. Homer refers to these horses in the Iliad, and Xenophon describes his admiration of the Iberian horsemen in his writings from 370 BC. [5]

Barb bloodlines introduced to the breed in the Middle Ages further improved the Iberian horse’s capabilities as a war horse. Some of these horses accompanied Spanish conquistadors across the Atlantic, where their descendants helped found New World breeds. [1]

Military riding schools train Iberian horses in the high school dressage movements once used in battle. In Portugal, some Lusitano horses still carry on Portuguese bullfighting traditions on horseback.

In the 20th century, breeding directions diverged between Spain and Portugal, and the Lusitano became a distinct breed. Until then, many referred to all Iberian horses as Spanish or Andalusian, regardless of their birthplace.

Now, the Luisitano has its own breed registry that is separate from the Spanish Pura Raza Española (PRE), also known as the Purebred Spanish Horse.

Breed Registry

Portuguese breeders began keeping pedigree books for Luisitano horses in 1824. In 1967, Portugal established the Portuguese Associated of Selected Horse Breeds, allowing breeders to register horses as a Lusitano if they met selection criteria.

The Portuguese breeders focused on preserving the traditional characteristics of their native horses, leading to the Lusitano we know today.

In 1989, the Portuguese Association of Pure Blood Lusitano Horse Breeders was formed and closed the studbook for the breed. The United States Lusitano Association is the official North American breed organization.

Modern Lusitanos descend from six foundation sires recognized as heads of lineage:

  • Agareno
  • Primorosa
  • Destinado
  • Marialva
  • Regedor
  • Hucharia

These stallions are from four leading Lusitano stud farms in Portugal:

  • Andrade
  • Veiga
  • Alter Real
  • Coudelaria Nacional