The word 'Lusitano' is derived from the Latin word for Portugal. It is an ancient breed which originated in Portugal. Today the Lusitano is used in a variety of disciplines. In its own country, it is revered as a participant in the bull-fighting arena. Bull-fighting in Portugal is somewhat less blood-thirsty than in Spain and there are rarely any bull-fighting accidents. The bull is not killed and an injury to the horse is a grave disgrace for the rider.
The ancestry of the Lusitano goes back some 5000 years. An early ancestor was the Sorraian pony. This pony with the convex profile, compact outline and elevated action is under threat but is still bred in Portugal. It has passed on its traits to the Lusitano. Muslim invaders brought their Barbs and Arabians with them to the Iberian Peninsula and these horses crossed with local Sorraians producing crossbreds which were in high demand as war-horses.
During the 1960s, the Iberian-type horse was called the Andalusian by both Spain and Portugal. When the two countries adopted separate stud books, Portugal chose the name 'Lusitano' for its horses while the Spanish stud book documents the Pure Spanish Horse (PRE). However, the PRE is more generally known as the Andalusian.
The Portuguese stud book recognises five stallions and one mare that form the foundation members of the three main breed lineages. While each line meets breed standards, there are small differences between each type. The Alter Real is a strain of the breed bred only at the Alter Real State Stud. An Alter Real stallion which found its way to Brazil prior to the invasion by Napoleon was a foundation stallion of the Mangalarga Marchador breed.
Great efforts were made to improve the Lusitano. Horses which face the aggressive black bulls of the bull-fight need courage, power, acceleration and the ability to manoeuvre easily. Natural balance and elevated paces are necessary. The Lusitano has all of these plus a natural presence and charisma. The breed has retained a more convex profile than the Andalusian. Although calm, they are capable of great displays of fire and energy.
The gaits are easy and comfortable giving an exceptionally smooth ride. The nature is gentle and affectionate. Elegance and balance combine to form a very attractive animal which is used locally for all pursuits from dressage to hunting and farm work. The Lusitano also excels as a carriage horse.
The basic body shape is a square with the height at the withers approximately equal to the length from chest to tail. Grey and bay are the most popular colours but any solid colour is acceptable. Most are between 15hh and 16hh with a few going over 16hh.
The overall impression is of strength and nobility. The long head has large, almond-shaped, expressive eyes. The ears are small and curve inward at the tip. There is a definite arch to the muscled neck which flows smoothly into well-defined withers. There should not be a dip in front of the withers. The shoulders are sloping and muscular and the chest broad and deep. The body is close-coupled with well-sprung ribs and powerful loins. The croup is rounded and sloped gently to a somewhat low-set tail. The mane, tail and forelock are silky, abundant and often wavy.
The fine, clean legs have substantial bone. The cannons have well defined tendons with relatively large fetlocks. There is very little feathering. The hooves are strong and solid but not too open. The hind feet should track past the forefeet. Balance and suspension during the trot and canter are important.
The back is short and the legs long giving the Lusitano the wherewithal needed to collect quickly and accelerate just as quickly. This ability to collect easily serves the Lusitano well when faced with an angry bull but also serves him well in most equestrian disciplines. He is particularly suited to dressage and haute ecole (high school) movements. He has a great willingness to cooperate with his rider and is very sensitive to the aids.
The Lusitano is making a mark in the show-jumping and carriage driving disciplines. The breed now has representatives in many countries including the Americas (especially in Brazil), Great Britain, Australia, South Africa and Mexico. Crossed with Arabs or Thoroughbreds the progeny have substance and kind temperaments making them very suitable as sporthorses.