Text: Marike Kotzé
The Lusitano is descended from the oldest riding horse known to history – the traditional Iberian horse, who in turn can be traced back to the primitive Sorraia horse. The Sorraia horse has been found depicted in cave paintings that date as far back as 20,000 BC, on the Iberian Peninsula (Spain and Portugal). Much later, at around 900 BC, horses who were brought over from Africa by Phoenician traders and Celts were bred with the Sorraia horse, giving rise to the Iberian horse.
A brief history
The Iberian horse was first used in war and then to herd the famous black fighting bulls found in Spain, Portugal and the south of France. The Portuguese national interest in horsemanship along with bullfighting on horseback were the biggest driving forces behind the development of the Lusitano in Portugal.
The influence of bullfighting on conformation
Lusitanos are extremely efficient for all sport activities, or as a working and pleasure riding horse. The spirited Lusitano is a highly intelligent horse and extremely agile. Usually grey but often bay, black or chestnut, the Lusitano has sloping shoulders, a thick neck, compact quarters and an abundant mane and tail. Combined with their good temperament, their natural talent for High School movements makes Lusitanos very easy to train. Over the past decade, Lusitano horses have become highly sought after in the discipline of dressage, and various breeders are including Lusitano blood in their modern sport horse lines.
Traditionally, Lusitanos were not exceptionally large horses, ranging between 15 and 16hh. With the advent of the Lusitano stud book around 30 years ago, and breeding focusing on the modern sport horse, today they stand between 16 and 17hh. The stud book has strict regulations as to which mares and stallions are allowed to be registered for breeding purposes. Each horse born to a registered mare and stallion has to be inspected by specially trained and qualified inspectors. A horse is judged on conformation and movement, with each small section receiving a score out of 10, to add up to a total of 100. Any horse with a score less than 65 is not taken up into the stud book. At the age of three, when the stallions are ready to be ridden, they are also subjected to a ridden test to test their aptitude.
In 2006, Carlos Raposo, originally from the Ribatejo Province in Portugal, established the first pure Lusitano stud in South Africa. This stud farm, called Monte Cavalo, is situated just outside Cape Town with a Portuguese-African fusion of Lusitano mares sharing their grazing with a herd of Nguni cattle. He selected some of the best horses to seed his breeding programme in South Africa.
Along with others, an association of Lusitano breeders in southern Africa has been formed, and each year the youngstock is graded according to Lusitano stud book standards. The stud book has strict regulations as to which mares and stallions are allowed to be registered for breeding purposes. This majestic horse, who accompanied the conquistadors throughout the world, will now grace the South African shores and showgrounds as a sport horse to be reckoned with.