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If the Iberian horse was called Andalusian, Estremenjo, or Castillian, depending on the region it was bred in, then it was called Lusitanian in Portugal. Today, the breed is known as “Lusitano”, or “Puro Sangue Lusitano” (PSL), meaning “pure-blooded Lusitano.
The ancestors of the modern Lusitano were well noted when Phoenicians, Greeks, and Carthaginians landed on the west coast of the Iberian Peninsula, and met with riders whose horses were of superior speed, and whose ability to fight on horseback they found incredible.
This perfect unity of horse and rider led to the myth of the Centaur. It was thought that the creature, half human and half horse, stemmed from the delta of the river Tejo. To explain the enormous speed of the horses, it was thought that they conceived their foals by the wind.
Regarding the horse breed Portugal is known for, the Lusitano; its history is identical with that of the Spanish horse. For most of their common history, Portuguese and Spanish horses were bred like one breed. However, when the mounted bull fight was prohibited in Spain by royal decree for several centuries, it lived on without interruption in Portugal.
Lusitanos were continuously bred for their bull-fighting ability, which is identical with the ability for high-school dressage. When the Iberian horse was no longer needed as a war mount, mounted bull fighting became the substitute.
In Portugal, the horses had to stand this ultimate test in a continuous effort to produce the best war/bullfighting horse. The Lusitano of today is on average a cleaner-moving, braver, and tougher-built horse than the average Andalusian of today.
In mounted bull fighting, the horses are highly schooled to swerve instantly when given the aids as the charging bull approaches, and need to have equally extreme measures of ”bravura“, agility, and obedience. By the way, in the Portuguese bull fight, the bull is not killed, but calmly exits the arena after the fight, escorted by tame steers.
Nowadays, the Lusitano has become so expensive that many bull fighters cannot afford a pure Lusitano, or will not risk injuring one in fighting the bull, so many cruzados are being ridden, which are often able to excel as well. A cruzado may be a crossbred, but could simply be a true Lusitano whose pedigree is incomplete.
In the Lusitano studbook, there is no discrimination against any solid color. Originally, the horses were grulla or dun, and even today, more grulla horses can be found than in Spain. Buckskins, palominos, cremellos, and perlinos can also be found. However, like in Spain, the gray gene has taken over the breed, and most Lusitanos are various shades of gray, depending on their age.
The Lusitano typically has a convex head, with medium-long ears that are fairly straight, and a bold eye. The neck is long and strong, set well on the strong shoulders, and contributes to the balance and agility of the horse. The body is short-coupled and strong. The back is short with a powerful loin. Shoulders are long and sloping well, the withers well-defined and higher than the croup. The croup is melon-shaped. Cannon bones are comparatively long and lend to the knee action and proud, elevated movements. Even when excited, the tail is not carried very high.
As is typical for the Iberian horse, the natural ability of the Lusitano to gather himself and travel in a collected way, up in the bridle, is his strong feature. They are built uphill, and their movements are balanced, smooth, proud and ”uphill“.
In Lusitanos one can find to some degree a trait associated with the Iberian horse, called ”campaneo“ in Spain. This is an action of the front legs that is not straight forward, but swings out laterally to a degree. This seems to be an inherent trait of the Iberian horse. It may well be associated with sure-footedness. As is the case in the Andalusian breed as well, some Lusitanos can be found which do a lateral gait.
The traditional height of the Lusitano ranges between 15 and 15.3 hands, but many of the currently bred horses are maturing at far more, while also looking more like North European warmbloods. The attempt to become competitive with European Warmbloods for what is now considered a modern sport horse the world over, and targeting events like show jumping and modern dressage, is resulting in these instances, with a loss of Iberian type.
There are three major bloodlines in the Lusitano breed of today: Veiga, d’Andrade, and Alter Real, the latter being purely Spanish. Arguably, the Veiga line is the most popular one today, and Veiga horses usually exemplify Iberian type.
The action of the Lusitano is showy and this breed has all the courage of the Spanish Horse coupled with remarkable agility. Although the Lusitano must be quick and balanced, the action tends to be elevated which is excellent for both use in the bullring, and as a light carriage or classical dressage horse. This is a very cooperative, intelligent and responsive breed.
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Photos from left to right. 1) There is no other horse that equals the Lusitano in the mounted bull fight. For training the bullfighting Lusitano horse, a small bull is chosen or a slow, calm one. 2) Palomino Lusitano stallion showing off his powerful strides. 3) Three year old Veiga-bred Lusitano stallion, showing great Iberian type. 4 ) The great Portuguese classical dressage rider Nuno Oliveira, showing a very expressive passage on a Lusitano stallion.
5) Yearling Lusitano stallion in Brazil, showing extreme similarity to its ancestor, the Sorraia horse. 6)Young dun/buckskin Lusitano stallion.