Sorraia Article and Photos Copyrighted - see credits below
The Sorraia is probably an Iberian variant of the Tarpan (to which it has been linked genetically), bearing an extraordinary resemblance to that subspecies. The Iberian Peninsula was the first European area in which the horse was domesticated; the ancient base stock, primeval in character, is represented by the Sorraia and the smaller, pony-like Garrano of Portugal.
Historical research shows that up to the Middle Ages, a wild horse was mentioned in official documents that was called “zebro”, or “zebra” in Portugal, and “encebro” in Spain. Many town and field names can still be found in Spain and Portugal that were named after this animal. The Sorraia horse is a remnant of that wild equine, a small herd of which was discovered in 1920 in the lowlands of the Sorraia river (hence the name).
Chroniclers described the wild horse of Iberia as being of “asinus” color (donkey color = grulla), and grulla is the most common color found in Sorraias. The word “rato” means “rat” or “mouse” in Portugese and is the term used for that color in Portugal.
In early times, these horses were tamed and used by cattlemen and shepherds in Iberia for herding and other work.
In height, the Sorraia varies between 14 and 14.2 hands. The head has a typical, primitive, convex profile. The shoulders are long and sloping.
There are grullas and some duns. Some have markings beyond the eel stripe and leg bars, like shoulder bars or cob webbing, as one would expect with a primitive equine. The dark tails and manes are fringed by very light-colored, often almost white, hair.
The chest is very deep, although narrow, and possesses great lung capacity. Legs are usually straight, and the movement is characterized by considerable knee action, and very fluent and ground-covering.
As a truly primitive horse, Sorraias are incredibly tough and hardy, resistant to both cold and heat, and able to thrive on poor soils and forage, and often live to a remarkably, useable and functioning old age.
INFLUENCE ON OTHERS
Since their discovery, scientific tests have been carried out to monitor the degree of inbreeding in the Sorraia population, to determine the Sorraia’s molecular genetic status, and to assess its possible role as an ancestor of modern breeds.
The Sorraia is not only a variant of the Tarpan, but also a primitive ancestor of the Andalusian and Lusitano horse.
The Sorraia’s genes have also been found in a few wild mustangs in America, which is not at all surprising, given the Spanish history of the early mustangs. For Sorraia-type mustangs, a stud book has been established.
Although the Sorraia represents a primitive subspecies and is not a domestic breed, there is a Sorraia breed association in Portugal.
This remnant of an ancient horse deserves to be maintained in our modern world. The most promising and helpful development is a privately operated refuge in Portugal, where a herd of Sorraias can roam wild and undisturbed all year round - the first since their discovery in 1920.