The Origins and Evolution of the Lusitano

The attached is a résumé of a long history that unfolds itself over a period of more than four thousand years. Knowing it will avoid the repetition of many past mistakes. There is nothing to innovate on a several thousand-year-old race, but a lot to preserve. The race alone by itself, if properly bred will take care of its own evolution.

Cavalry’s introduction as a war weapon in the Iberic Peninsula – which is modern-day Spain and Portugal or Iberia – dates back to the second millennium BC – much older than all that was recorded by historians of the rest of the Ancient World on this subject. There is no evidence of the use of mounted horses in Antiquity, the iconography of Egypt and Babylon showing only chariots and carts.

The domesticated horse existed in Iberia even before the Neolithic period. Archeological findings, such as the tomb of ancient warriors in the South of the Peninsula, prove that cavalry battles happened during the Bronze Age and that infantrymen carried halberds – a weapon used to dismount the enemy in open combat.

Homer in the Iliad, Chap XVI, refers to the Iberian horses, fast as the wind and sons of Podargo, the harpy that was impregnated by the wind Zephyr while grazing at the borders of the River Oceanus – in modern terms, the Atlantic.

“The description of the Punic Wars by Strabo is full of references to the eximious Lusitanian riders who could easily climb escarpments where no other mounted armies would dare to try.”

Iron pieces such as bits, horseshoes and weapons, dating back to the Celtic invasion in X and V Centuries BC indicate the continuous use of cavalry in the Iberic Peninsula. Thucydides and Xenophon wrote about the Iberian Horsemen sent by Dyonisius of Syracuse to help the Spartans during the Peloponnesean Wars in IV BC.

In the invasion of Spain during II BC the Carthaginians suffered heavy losses inflicted by the Iberian Cavalry. Hannibal’s father, Hamilcar, died in this campaign. When the former departed from Spain to invade Italy he took with him some 12,000 horses. The description of the Punic Wars by Strabo is full of references to the eximious Lusitanian riders, who could easily climb escarpments where no other mounted armies would dare to try. Hasdrubal, Hannibal’s brother, took Iberian horses with him from Spain to Carthage.

The horse that first appeared in America and later became extinct made his return with Columbus, in his second voyage to the New World in 1493. From Hispaniola (Sto. Domingo) the equines gained the neighboring islands of Puerto Rico, Cuba and Jamaica and from there reached the continent in Central America. Originating in Central America, two independent migration waves took place: one southwards to Columbia and then Peru, Chile and Bolivia; the other northwards, enlarged by late comers that arrived in Mexico with Cortez, entered the west of the USA.

In South America, a group of horses arrived in Buenos Aires in 1535 with Pedro Mendoza. Following the destruction of the Argentine capital by the Indians, a large group of horses escaped to become the future feral basis of many herds of Cimarrones or Baguales, which later formed the ancestral herds of the Crioulos. In 1541, Cabeza de Vaca landed with several horses on the Brazilian coast at Sta. Catarina on his way to Paraguay. All the horse breeds formed on the North and South American Continents – such as the Mustangs, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Seminolas, Cayuses, Crioulos, Mangalargas, Campolinas etc. – are direct or indirect descendants of the Iberians.

“All the horse breeds formed on the North and South American Continents, such as the Mustangs, Quarter Horses, Appaloosas, Seminolas, Cayuses, Crioulos, Mangalargas, Campolinas etc. are direct of indirect descendants of the Iberians.”

Polybius and Livy, both tell us how the Iberian Horses were terrible opponents for the Roman Legions during the wars that lasted for more than 200 years. “…the Romans never excelled in the use of their cavalry always surpassed by the Iberians,” explains Dr Jose Monteiro in his book O Cavalo Lusitano: “The combat tactics and riding style of the Peninsula (gineta) were learned and adopted by the Romans and a Lusitanian named Caius Apuleius Diocles became very famous as a horseman in the III century AD being honored with a statue in the Fields of Mars in Rome.”

According to Dr Ruy d’Andrade, a writer and the ‘father’ of the Andrade lineage, the equestrian statues of Balbo, Caligula – mounted on Incitatus – and later Marcus Aurelius – who was born in Spain – are clear evidence of the widespread use of Iberian horses by the Romans.

The Barbarians who invaded Iberia in 409 AD did not suppress the Roman civilization they found in place and horse breeding continued as before. Isidore wrote in the “Laudes Hispanie” that the Iberian Horses were the best in the world.

Rome, Carthage and all other invaders came with a variety of different horse breeds from Italy, Libya, Numidia and Mauritania among many others. But, as pointed out by Ruy d’Andrade in his book Alrededor del Caballo Espanol “…the peaceful and restful atmosphere that prevailed in Iberia since the year 100 BC until approximately 600 AD, plus the 250 years or so of Gothic domination (450 to 700 AD) form a time span of more than 800 years, more than enough for the fixation of a local breed perfectly adapted to the environment.”

Historians discuss the Arab invasion of the VII century in contradictory terms. Dr Jose Monteiro explains: “…the Moslem invasion of the Peninsula was carried out with the deployment of a very small cavalry exclusively formed by Berber horses…some disagree putting the numbers at 17,000; others up to 30,000.”

During the long period of Moorish domination lasting from 711 to 1492 AD, foreign blood was introduced with the horses brought in from North Africa. However, because the Berber and the Iberian are very closely related, this wave of foreign blood was easily absorbed without impact upon the indigenous homogenous racial type of the Peninsula. We know by the numerous testimonies of that period that the Iberian horse fascinated the invaders who were a horse loving people like the Iberians. It is also clear that not only did the breeding of the Iberian Horse continue to prosper but more than that, many excellent animals were then exported to Africa and the Middle East. The Middle Ages was also a period of prestige for the Iberian Horse and they were used during the Crusades by many famous warriors such as Richard the Lion Heart (1119 AD).

“Europe of the Middle Ages considered the Iberian Horse as the thoroughly noble blood horse and for that reason it was exported to all the parts of the continent to produce lighter fighting horses,” writes Ruy d’Andrade.

In the Renaissance the Iberian Horses were known under the denomination of Ginnetes or Villani and were probably the result of crosses with other breeds from Germany, France and Flanders. This search for a sturdier and taller horse grew during the reigns of the Spanish monarchs Charles V, Philip II and Philip III and was responsible for the introduction of the Neapolitan Horse.

During the XVII and XVIII centuries it was necessary to breed a stronger bigger horse, capable of carrying man in armor. From 1700 onwards with the improvement of the roads in Europe came the rapid development of carriages and carts as a preferred way of transportation.

The differentiation between the Lusitano and the Spanish horses began in the XVII century as explained by Jose Tello Barradas. “Among the many factors that caused the differences that exist today between the Lusitanian and the Andalusian races, I believe that the most important one was the introduction and absolute preponderance of the bullfighting on foot in Spain at the beginning of the XVIII century…”

Arsenio Raposo Cordeiro further describes this fact in the following passage from his book Cavalo Lusitano:

“The end of the bullfight on horseback in Spain forced the introduction of a new selection process in horse breeding…which became focused on the selection of a sporting horse with elevated and exuberant movements. In Portugal however, where bullfighting on horseback continues to be the only accepted form, a more cautious selection was practiced to produce a specialized fighting horse, that combines muscular force with progressive movements, making possible the sudden sprints and abrupt stops…”

In the XIX century the development of Postal Services, the improvement of the roads and finally the railroads brought the relative decline of the saddle horse. The process was accelerated in the XX century, particularly during World War I (1914/18) with the increased use of the automobile and the disastrous introduction of Arabian and Thoroughbred bloods in the military services and breeding programs. “The Iberian Horses, even in the Peninsula itself, were the victims of these fashion trends from which only a handful of traditional and wise breeders escaped unscathed,” wrote Dr Ruy d’Andrade.

The long several thousand year history of the Iberian Horse shows that this powerful race survived all these accidents and trends. No matter how extensive or how bad the incursions of other bloods or fashions, there is today, everywhere, a renewed interest and strong demand for these fabulous animals resulting in a steep increase in their market value.

A few thousand inferior horses introduced by the barbarian invasions could not alter the essential qualities of a population of over half a million horses that already lived in the Peninsula. For the same reasons the arrival of Arabian blood in the VII century and the later presence of northern races in the XIX and XX centuries did not have a lasting effect upon the Iberian races. The colonization of America has shown that large herds living at large in nature end up returning to the original type and in this process, “the spurious disappears expelled by the inadaptability” (Ruy d’Andrade),

The Iberian Horse has thus survived as a pure breed, notwithstanding the differences in size, type and utilization in the many regions of Portugal and Spain. In 1967 the Portuguese Stud Book (Livro Genealogico Portugues de Equinos) was officially introduced under the responsibility of the Portuguese Association of Lusitano Horse Breeders (Associação Portuguesa de Criadores do Cavalo Puro Sangue Lusitano – APSL).

The Iberian Horse in Brazil

In 1991 the Brazilian Lusitano Horse Breeders Association – ABPSL, that succeeded the Andalusian Association after the separation of the Lusitano and Spanish Stud Books – signed an agreement with the Portuguese Lusitano Breeders Association. According to this, all Lusitanos bred in Brazil are automatically accepted by the Portuguese Stud Book and by all the Associations of all the countries that have a similar agreement with Portugal. The Brazilian Lusitanos are then universally accepted.

All the Brazilian horse breeds were formed from horses brought by the Portuguese colonizers and from those that entered South America following the migration wave started in Central America and described in the previous chapter. In Brazil the Iberian horse formed the Mangalarga and the Campolina breeds.

…The Mangalarga was bred in Minas Gerais by Gabriel Francisco Junqueira, baron of Alfenas. In 1821 King D. João VI gave Junqueira a present in the form of the Alter Real Stallion Sublime and the Baron used it to cover a group of Crioulo mares.

… The Campolina dates back to 1840 and is named after the farmer Cassiano Campolina who initiated his horse breeding activities in the South of Minas Gerais using stallions imported by the same D. João VI for the Coudelaria Real of Cachoeira do Campo.

…Little is known about the Lusitano horse in Brazil after its royal introduction last century. It was only in 1974 that it reappeared, brought from Portugal by Mr Antonio de Toledo Mendes Pereira founder of the Brazilian Andalusian Horse Association.

More important than quantity is the quality of the Brazilian breed, which is inferior to none. This exceptional result was obtained with the acquisition of some of the best animals from Portugal and the high technical development of horse breeding in Brazil.

…In June 1995 the Brazilian Association had 163 members. By the end of 1995 the Brazilian Stud Book had about 3,500 Pure Lusitanos registered, two thirds of them born in Brazil. There are now more Lusitanos in Brazil than anywhere else in the world. More important than quantity is the quality of the Brazilian breed, which is inferior to none. This exceptional result was obtained with the acquisition of some of the best animals from Portugal and the high technical development of horse breeding in Brazil.





Three important conclusions can be derived from the past history of the Iberian Horse:

– The genetic value and qualities of the Iberian Horse were strong enough to assure its present existence as a pure race, surviving all the historical accidents and disastrous actions of men;

– None of these genetic experiences was able to improve the race, but on the contrary only caused damages. On the other hand, the Iberian blood has been a factor of improvement in all breeds where it has been introduced. All the good modern saddle horses and Thoroughbreds were formed with this generous blood;

– The preservation of this extraordinary several thousand year genetic patrimony must be the first and foremost objective of today’s conscious breeders. This is the work that Interagro Farms has been trying to do in Brazil during the last 30 years.



Photo: Bob Langrish


Photo: Bob Langrish


Photo: Bob Langrish


Photo: Alvaro Maya


Photo: Alvaro Maya


Photo: Bob Langrish


Tuim (CN)