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HorseShowCentral > Horse Breeds > Alter Real

Alter Real Horse - Horse Breed & Info

Characteristics of the Alter Real
Alter Real Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below.

The Alter Real breed is a branch of the Lusitano breed, but was based on mostly Spanish mares, which the Portuguese king Joao V had bought in Spain to establish two royal studs, in Alter do Chao and Vila de Portel. These were started in 1748 and 1749, respectively, and were designed to provide high-class horses for all kinds of equestrian activities at the royal court, in particular for the royal riding school. The royal barns at that time were permanently housing around 150 horses! Later the stud in Vila de Portel was dissolved and the breed was called Alter Real, because all the horses went to the stud in Alter do Chao. The name therefore derived from the town of Alter do Chao, and Real was added to indicate that the horses were from the royal breeding program.

Reports differ as to how many Spanish mares were imported from the Jerez de la Frontera region in southern Spain. According to some sources, it was 150, others say 300, yet others say 40. But why would a Portuguese king import Spanish mares in the first place? Back then, no distinction was made between Spanish and Portuguese horses, and the political border was of no consequence regarding the breeding of horses. Most breeders took their mares to stallions in Alter do Chao, irrespective of what side of the border they lived on. The horses bred around Alter do Chao were highly respected even before the creation of the Alter Real breed, but Spain, being so much larger, had more horses to chose from. Also, Portugal and Spain were ruled together by the same monarch before the reign of Joao V, and possibly the Spanish rulers had seen to it that the best horses all went to Spain, so that there was really a shortage of good horses in Portugal during Joao V’s time.


Alter Real horses were bred to meet the highest criteria regarding high-level dressage. They were also traditionally used as carriage horses. As early as 1760, Alter Reals were already famous and without peer in the Royal Riding School. They were also desired by other royalty in Europe. The breed was greatly weakened during Napoleon’s invasion (1807), and again by the British (1808-1814). The French took a large part of the best breeding stock with them, and the Alter Real became endangered. Crossbreeding with Thoroughbreds, Normans, and Hanoverians -- to make up for lost stock resulted in loss of type and characteristic qualities, as did later crosses with Arabs.

The last third of the 19th century saw new Spanish blood go into the Alter Real breed, including Cartujano mares. Those Cartujanos were mostly bay or brown, some black, and the typical brown color of the Alter Real may have been the result from that injection of Cartujano blood.

With the Portuguese revolution in the early 20th century, the fate of the Alter Real seemed to be irrevocable ruin. King Carlos was murdered, Emanuel II overthrown, the archives of the stud were destroyed. Most of the mares were sold, the stallions gelded.


Enter Portuguese author, paleontologist, zoologist, hippologist and horse breeder Dr Ruy d Andrade -- he played the decisive role in saving the Alter Real breed. In 1938 he had the foresight to acquire two Alter Real stallions at a sale, to one day be able to reconstruct the Alter Real breed. Those two stallions, Vigilante and Regedor, were already over 20 years of age, but became the foundation sires of the Alter breed of today. He also was instrumental in locating and acquiring the last remaining mares, so that reestablishing the breed became possible. His wife had bred Alter Real horses on her family estate, and when that operation was dissolved, some of the mares also went to Alter do Chao.

There was a third foundation sire, which had escaped castration, Marialva II. So there were three male foundation lines


By way of a close working relationship of the Alter Real stud with the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre (Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, very similar to the Spanish Riding School in Vienna), which exclusively uses Alter Real horses, the breed is constantly tested for its talent and ability in highest-level dressage. Not only the stallions, but all mares, too, are tested when three or four years old before joining the approx. 60-head broodmare band.

The Alter Real is handled just like the rest of the Lusitano breed by the Portuguese National Stud. Compared to most other Lusitanos, the Alter Real may be a bit more refined and also a little smaller on average. The breeding goal is not much different from that of other Lusitano breeders, and includes a square frame, a strong back, rounded forms, good balance, proud action. Head profiles vary from straight to convex. Recent years have seen another outcross with Spanish stallions, some of them even gray, so that the Alter is not always brown or bay anymore, which is a shame.

Weaknesses of the Alter Real breed are a tendency towards post-leggedness, and weak pasterns. Alter Reals are - like other Lusitanos and Andalusians sometimes gaited. In 1997, a predominantly Alter Real-bred stallion, Bonitao de Cadaval, even outshone all other gaited horses in Germany, winning the title Gaited Horse of the Year.

Sublime was an Alter Real stallion that could be exported to Brazil before Napoleon’s invasion and founded there the Mangalarga Marchadores breed, gaited horses that may be the most numerous breed in Brazil.

Alter Real horses are still branded AR while all other Lusitanos wear the CN brand (Coudelaria Nacional = National Stud). Irrespective of bloodlines, a horse is only a legitimate Alter Real if it was born on the premises of the Alter Real stud in Alter do Chao.

Article ©HorseShowCentral.com Submitted by Hardy Oelke and Photos ©Oelke or Oelke Archive.

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For information regarding the Sorraia horse, the Vale de Zebro Wild Horse Refuge, and the Sorraia Mustang - visit www.sorraia.org

Alter Real Alter Real pair A perfect levade The classical passage
Photos from left to right, including the photo at the top of the page, are Alter Real horses at the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre, taken during the morning training.

Team in harness Alter Real Mares Breed History
The first two photos show Alter Real horses at their home stud near the town of Alter do Chao. The last photo is of the monument at the Alter Real Stud in Alter do Chao erected in 1980 by admirers and friends in honor of Ruy d’Andrade, who saved the Alter Real breed, and who also discovered the Sorraias and preserved them. The inscription reads, translated: “Dr Ruy d’Andrade, farmer, zoologist, author, historian, archaeologist, politician, artist, sportsman, notable, and pioneer horseman.

Other pages that offer information about the Alter Real; Spanish Horse breeds: horses, breeding, industry supplies, shows, event calendar, etc.:

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Also of interest are the pages Classical Dressage, Dressage and the Lipizzan horse of the Spanish Riding School.

Other HSC site pages that offer information about Spanish Horses other than the Alter Real:

Argentine Criollo
Kiger Mustang
Mangalarga Marchador
Peruvian Paso
Paso Fino
Spanish Horse
Spanish Mustang
Sulphur Springs Mustang
Iberian Horse

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