For many years the Lusitano was treated as an offshoot of the Andalucian breed and even today in some parts of the world, they are managed by the same breed society. In Spain and Portugal however they are now recognized as distinct breeds and the Lusitano is increasingly stepping out of the shadows of its more famous neighbour.
In some ways it is hardly surprising that the Lusitano was long considered to be essentially the same as the Andalucian. When the Muslims invaded the Iberian peninsula in the 8th Century they conquered what is now Portugal as well as what is now Spain. They brought their Barb horses with them and bred them to the best of the horses they found in their new territory. They also took quality Iberian-bred horses back home with them so the Andalucian, the Lusitano and the Barb are all closely related. Even after the Muslims left permanently, there was a steady traffic of horses in both directions between Spain and Portugal. This came to an end, officially at any rate, in the early 17th century after Felipe IV took the throne of Spain and Portugal, whereupon the Portuguese were banned from breeding cavalry horses. In reality, the development of the Lusitano was continued illegally and horses from Spain were smuggled or stolen outright as required. These horses played a vital role in the Portuguese Restoration War (1640-1668) as a result of which, Portugal freed itself from Spanish rule, which was, of course, exactly why the Spanish had tried to stop the breeding of these horses in the first place.
Over the next hundred years or so the Lusitano made its influence felt, literally across the world. Catherine of Braganza indirectly brought the breed to England as the Portuguese garrisons at Tangiers and Bombay were given to England as part of her dowry and these included many Lusitano cavalry horses. The Lusitano were also taken to places where Portugal had a strong colonial influence, most notably Brazil where it became the foundation for the modern Mangalarga (Marchador). Even when the colonies broke free of Portugal, the Lusitano and the breeds it helped develop still remained. The Lusitano also managed to survive the chaos this period of change caused in Portugal, the economic strength of which was decimated by the loss of the colonies and their resources. Part of the reason for this was their popularity with the Portuguese royalty and nobility and so the breed faced its greatest danger when Portugal became a republic at the start of the 20th century. The Alter Real strain in particular was under extreme threat due to its association with the royal family. Although the new Republic treated the horses better than other people have done in similar situations (for example stallions were gelded rather than killed), the population was severely reduced. Fortunately Ruy d'Andrade managed to save two stallions and a small herd of mares and was able to keep the strain alive until the new republic was more settled at which point the Ministry of Agriculture accepted the strain and took over responsibility for it.
The Lusitano has more of a Baroque horse look about it than the Andalucian, being clearly more muscular. Although it is still an elegant and well-proportioned animal, there is no missing its power, particularly in its sturdy neck and hindquarters. Interestingly the breed's head has more of an Arab look about it than the Andalucian's with a noticeably dished face (although not excessively so). The breed generally stands around 15.2HH although it is far from uncommon for them to be a bit larger, over 16HH is unusual. In theory they can be any whole colour, including Palomino. In practice they are typically grey, chestnut or bay, with the Alter Real stud only breeding bays.
The Lusitano is a breed which can keep its head while all about it are losing theirs, which is why they were traditionally used in bullfighting and in war. The Lusitano is still used by the Portuguese military and their police, but these days the breed is far better known as a competition horse. They have the intelligence necessary to learn complex dressage movements and the bravery necessary to tackle challenging jumps. They are also friendly horses who enjoy human company. Their sensitivity and refinement probably makes them unsuitable for complete beginners but riders who have reached a stage where they can use their seat, legs and hands independently and are ready to start taking competitions more seriously could find the Lusitano a good choice.
One of the advantages of the free movement of horses between North Africa and the Iberian Peninsula is that there was a wide gene pool from which horses could be bred. This has helped to keep the Lusitano a healthy animal with no recurrent genetic disorders. Obviously any animal used for serious competition work can be expected to pick up its fair share of injuries just as human athletes do and the vets' bills for these will have to be looked on as part and parcel of the expense of competition. It's also worth remembering that any individual animal can have a health issue and so regardless of the overall health of the breed, a vet's inspection is still strongly recommended as part of the purchase process.
Caring for a Lusitano
The Lusitano was bred in Portugal and even though the weather can be cold there, the climate is overall much gentler than that of the UK. This means that the Lusitano does need protection from the worst of the UK's weather. They can still be turned out in the daytime in winter, with rugs on, but will generally need to come in at night. In theory they may be able to spend some nights outside in spring and autumn, but since horses appreciate a routine it may be better just to stable them at night during these periods. Lusitanos can generally cope quite capably with summer heat, as long as they have constant access to clean water and shelter in the field. If, however, flies are a serious nuisance, it may be better to keep them in during the day and turn them out at night.
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