Breeds Native to Portugal
The Alter Real
The Alter Real horse is endemic to Portugal. Alter do Chao is a town where the royal House of Braganza established a stud. The original stud was established in Villa do Portel in 1748. This national stud began with 300 Spanish Andalusian mares and Arabian stallions. Breeding focussed on providing both riding horses and good carriage horses for the royal family. Horses were selected for their potential for classical equitation.
Eight years after the stud was first established, the move was made to Alter do Chao and the name Alter Real (Real = royal) was given to the breed.Credit: Wikimedia
The country round Alter is mineral-rich and the grazing is nutritious. Between 1804 and 1814, during the Peninsular War, the French troops under Napoleon plundered the cream of the Alter Real horses. The rest were dispersed. In 1834, the Royal house of Portugal closed and King Dom Miguel I de Braganca abdicated. The stud then closed.
A number of breeds were crossed with the Alter Real including Hanoverian, Norman, English and Arabian stallions. The Alter Real was one breed that did not benefit at all from the influence of the Arabian and it was not until the late 1800s when the reintroduction of Andalusian blood helped restore the Alter Real to its former splendour.
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However the Alter Real's troubles were not over. Following the Portuguese revolution early in the 20th century, archives and stud records were destroyed, stallions gelded and mares sold. Thanks to the intervention of Dr Ruy d-Andrade, two stallions and a few mares were salvaged. A third foundation sire was also found. From this nucleus, d'Andrade began to resurrect the Alter Real. He line-bred to the two stallions. D'Andrade was a zoologist, author, paleontologist and equestrian authority and the Alter Real owes its existence to him.
In 1932, the stud was taken over by the Portuguese Ministry of Agriculture. Only the very best of the stallions were used and inferior mares were culled.
The modern Alter Real has a conformation and temperament similar to the early breed. It differs in several respects from other Iberian breeds. It is more refined than the Lusitano and in general slightly smaller. The head is carried high on a short, arched, muscular neck. The mane is silky and flowing and the forelock full. The Andalusian, Lusitano and Alter Real all have straight or convex profiles. The jaw is pronounced.
The Alter Real has a square frame and strong back. The withers are prominent and the shoulders sloping. Although the cannon bones are slender they are strong. It has powerful hindquarters and a short, muscular body. The hocks are carried well underneath the body. The croup slopes off to a low-set tail. The chest is particularly wide and deep. The action is extravagant with high flexion of the knee and hock. This elevated action makes it suited to high school movements.
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Most Alter Reals are bay or brown although an occasional grey or chestnut is seen. They stand between 15.1hh and 16.1hh. The breed is intelligent and quick to learn. However it is fiery and excitable and needs sensitive handling by competent horsemen.
Today the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre continues to assess the government-bred Alter Reals as possible exponents for the age-old art of Haute Ecole. The breed is culturally significant to Portugal and is no longer in danger of becoming extinct.
The Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre (Portuguese School of Equestrian Art) is to Portugal and the Alter Real what the Spanish Riding School is to Vienna and the Lippizana. Similar dressage movements are taught including the airs above the ground.
The Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre (Portuguese School of Equestrian Art) provides ample evidence of the suitability of the Alter Real for high school work.