The evolution of the Lusitano horse
Going back to the last glaciation everything indicates that the lowlands of the plains of the Iberian Southwest were spared to this last glacial period. This unique fact will have allowed for the survival of an evolved equine group that allowed the domestication very early and the superior riding that in this region seems to have preceded all the others. *
This Iberian horse will have, according to all we know today, travelled east to North Africa and Asia Minor and from there to 1st Emperor’s China.
The Lusitano horse is the direct descendant of this iberian horse, the ancestor of all horses that have been the basis of horse riding throughout the world, from Europe to North Africa, Asia Minor, India and China.
Thanks to the isolation of this zone of Europe this extraordinary horse has survived and evolved here since about fifteen thousand years ago, almost completely free of strange influences until very recently.
It was, at least since Classic antiquity, used as an improvement from the basin of the Mediterranean to the basins of the Black and Caspian Seas.
This horse constitutes today a precious genetic heritage of Andaluzia and Portugal.
For divergent reasons and selection criteria in the last three hundred years, the characteristics of the herd originating in the Andalusian region and Portugal have moved away, the latter remaining closer to the original Iberian horse, from which both descend.
It is this horse that originates the Greek legend of the Centaur, when here men and horses were confused as one. It’s here that in classical antiquity it was believed that mares pregnant only from the wind give birth to the ‘Sons of the Wind’, the fastest horses of antiquity.
This horse expands all over Europe, Asia and North Africa stil being used in the XVIII century as an universal improver.
It is only in the XIX and XX centuries that it undergoes several infusions of strange bloods, as a consequence of the necessity of greater tractive force.
It’s only two hundred years old, but the effect dramatically affected the herd, giving it greater size and weight, but taking away its lightness.
The psyche also degraded itself by losing ‘finesse,’ ardence, vibration and the ‘desire to guess the will of the rider.’ ***
Some of its original features degraded but in nature nothing is lost, everything is transformed.
If today we have arrived where we have, with bigger and better horses, it was thanks to the intelligent action of the breeders and a very strong genetics that fifteen thousand years of selection did not allow to be destroyed by two hundred years of disturbance, taking, on the contrary, from these influences and reaching today the production of horses of bigger size and greater quality of movements, able to stand with all the specialized races, in almost all the genres of the modern equestrian sport.
Between 1974 and 1975 Portugal went through a revolutionary period during wich many things were put in question. A demagogic ‘agrarian reform’ inspired by a political power that ignored reality led to the indiscriminate occupation of lands throughout the Ribatejo and Alentejo, putting at risk the survival of the Lusitanian race.
It was a ‘fantasy’ that died on its own, but that united all those who were concerned with that national heritage, even sacrificing their own properties in order to save the Lusitanian race from the extinction to which it seemed to be voted.
Previously a breeder of Lusitanos horses, Arab and Anglo-Arab, and already occupied in what little I had, I joined this group of breeders and we left for Aveiro, trying to lease the island of Monte Farinha and other lands to move a significant number of mares of the Lusitano breed.
Fernando d’Andrade, Chairman of the Genealogical Book, Fernando Palha, António José Teixeira, António Alcobia, Manuel Veiga, Manuel Coimbra, Telles de Carvalho, were a parto f the group that left among many others.
The ‘revolution’ passed but this alert remained and made us think. We decided to re-evaluate everything that concerns the selection and improvement of the Lusitanian breed. A small group that I was a part of, presided over by Fernando d’Andrade, with Guilherme Borba, Filipe Graciosa, Fernando Palha, Alfredo Baptista Coelho and Luis Cabral, very rigorously redefined the pattern of the race, fundamental starting point for the improvement in the selection . This was only thirty years ago and the consequent evolution of the breed is breathtaking!
Of course, the merit is initially of that group, but it is of all those who believed and followed in their selection that model that then was fine-tuned.
But how was it possible that in such a short time the breed returned, in large measure, to its ancestral characteristics?
The explanation is simple, after two centuries rowing against the tide, when everyone realized and approached in the direction of the current that the race itself imposed, the results came as a miracle.
The breed was only masked, but it was there, it was thousands of years of selection, it was a genetic heritage that survived all the infusions of strange blood and that only hoped that we would unite to let go of itself and return to Portugal its millenarian horse!
We leave here a word of gratitude to the Veiga family, who stubbornly resisted for four generations to all fashions and influences, guaranteeing a fundamental help in the recovery of the Lusitanian race.
Starting from mares of different origins, seeking to follow the pattern of the breed in the selection with the greatest demand, from generation to generation the improvement is visible and can only be explained by the enormous genetic potential of the Lusitano breed.
Today the survival of the breed demands that its genetic variability be defended.
It is important to keep the four large families within the current active.
Alter with the “Coudelaria de Alter”, the Eugénio de Almeida Foundation and the Cadaval House; the “Coudelaria Nacional”; the Veiga Group with the Veiga “Coudelarias”, Coimbra and Nuncio, and the “Coudelaria Andrade”, are the basis of all the current actives, and the guarantee of its viability
In the definition of the standard, the historical information and the horse riding knowledge of the gineta were preponderant.
At this time, competition, bullfighting and equestrian art increasingly use Lusitano horses throughout the world.
On our horse, the ‘form’ results from a ‘function’ perfected for millennia, and nothing prevents that now or in the future in this vertigo of the evolution of the reencountered race, the increasingly demanding function doesn’t eventually produce a ‘beauty’ even bigger that leads to reanalysing the definition of the Lusitanian breed standard.
*F. Sommer de Andrade, “O Filho do Vento”, in Cavalo Lusitano, Lisboa, Edições Inapa.
**Paulo Gavião Gonzaga, A History of the Horse, J. Allen.