The Lusitano, also known as Puro Sangue Lusitano, is an ancient and elegant breed of equines originating in the Iberian Peninsula (Spain & Portugal) as far back as 20,000 BC. This friendly breed has earned its spot as a favorite to many royals and heroes throughout the ages for their majestic appearance and above-average intelligence level.
The Lusitano horse breed has long been regarded as a symbol of status. In fact, this breed is still famous for its outstanding performance in most equestrian disciplines, including driving, pleasure riding, and dressage.
Lusitano Horse Characteristics
Lusitanos are a ‘baroque’ type of horse. They are elegant, agile, proud, and well-muscled, with powerful hindquarters, an arched neck, and tremendous presence. They have expressive, almond-shaped eyes and a narrow, well-proportioned head.
The Lusitano’s strong neck leads into its muscular and well-defined withers, which sit higher than their rounded, sloping croup. This provides a nice slope along the back for a rider to settle into comfortably.
Lusitanos also have a deep, broad chest, muscular loins, a short, strong back, and well-sloped shoulders. Their legs are straight, strong, and dry, lending themselves nicely to an agile and elevated gait that remains smooth and comfortable for the rider.
The Lusitano’s natural conformation gives them a natural ability to collect their stride to take shorter steps without decreasing speed, which is essential for classical dressage. Conformation refers to a horse’s bone structure, body proportions, and musculature in relation to each other.
Lusitanos have thick, silky manes and long, flowing tails that can grow to impressive lengths. The coat of a Lusitano can be any solid color, although they are generally grey, dark brown, or chestnut. Other colors such as palomino and buckskin are also present, though less commonly.
Grey Lusitanos are often born black or reddish-brown and begin to turn white with age. This trait harkens back to the Romans, who brought white-coated Camargue horses to breed with Iberian cavalry studs.
Lusitano Horse Size
With a height ranging anywhere between 60 to 65 inches (15-16 hands or roughly 5 feet), the Lusitano’s average weight is around 500 kg (about 900 to 1100 lbs). As a breed, the Lusitano breed falls into the category of “light horses.”
Breeds in this category generally weigh under 1,500 pounds and are typically used as trail riding and leisure horses. Because they are agile, swift, and elegant, many Lusitanos are also ridden in the show ring, on the racetrack, and for work on the ranch.
Lusitano Horse Personality
Lusitano horses have developed a reputation for their endearing personalities. These animals are kind, generous, noble, and enthusiastic. They are also friendly, gentle creatures that are perfect for any level of rider and trainer because of their superior ability to focus and concentrate on the task at hand.
Plus, these horses show courage and an ability to keep a cool head when faced with difficult situations. This allows them to remain calm and easy to manage.
Though new riders should keep in mind that these beautiful creatures are filled with energy, meaning they need regularly scheduled exercise and time to run around. Lusitanos are also relatively fast learners and are known to be highly loyal. Therefore, people who have plenty of free time to bond with their animals will likely form a fantastic relationship with their Lusitano.
This breed should give its owner minimal issues so long as they are kept by those who can provide the horse with the stimulation and activity they require.
It is no surprise that a horse breed as fascinating as the Lusitano should have such an equally fascinating history. Its heritage extends through the medieval period, the great Roman crusades, and into the BC era.
The Lusitano has carried kings and heroes, and its fascinating history has shaped this breed into the superior horse we know and love today. It is a valiant steed with a willing spirit, a brave heart, and an intelligent mind.
The Iberian War Horse
The Lusitano inhabited the Iberian Peninsula at the beginning of its history, named for the Iberian tribes (originally from North Africa) that invaded the peninsula sometime around 3,000 BCE.
In the following years, Celts and Phoenicians followed the lead of these North African tribes, introducing oriental breeds from Egypt, Syria, and Libya to the peninsula. Historians believe this to have led to a mutual exchange of horses, introducing outside blood to the already impressive ancestry of the Iberian horse.
The first expeditions of Greeks reached the peninsula around 800 BC and were met by the alliance known as the Celtiberians. The Celtiberians were comprised of — perhaps unsurprisingly — the Celts and Iberia. It was under the Celtiberians that the Iberian horse developed its reputation as a warhorse.
The Roman Invasion
As the Roman Empire expanded its territory with incredible efficiency, it conquered the Iberian Peninsula. The Romans, impressed with the superior Iberian horses and their talent for equestrian warfare, adopted it into their Roman society. They even went as far as to set up their own cavalry stud farms in the area.
The Romans also brought the ancient Camargue horse to the peninsula, known for one attractive characteristic in particular: Camargue foals were born with dark brown or black coats that turned white with age.
At this point in history, the Iberian horse was reasonably well represented in the famous chariot races of the ancient Greco-Roman world. This is where the Lusitano’s long history as an excellent carriage horse began. With the chariot races entering the Olympic Games as a sport in 680 BC, it is no surprise that Lusitanos became world champions at both the 1996 and 2006 Olympics.
The “Arabian” Invasion AD
At the beginning of the 8th century AD (711, to be exact), the Arabian invasion of the Iberian Peninsula began. While there is a modern misconception that this invasion is the event that brought Arabian blood to the Iberian horse, this is not entirely true.
Although the invasion was politically Arabian, the invaders were ethnically Moors, with the army mainly being made up of Berbers from Morocco and Algeria. This Moorish domination lasted nearly 800 years (from 711 to 1492 AD), and testimonies primarily tell us two things:
- That the Arabic invaders, similar to the Iberians, were also a horse-loving people.
- The horses that they brought with them to the peninsula were mainly barb and oriental horses.
If the world greatly admired the Iberian horse before the “Arabic” invasion, the breed’s refinement during the Moorish domination made it an even more desirable and superior steed.
Portugal and Spain Separate their Studbooks
For a long time, the countries that shared the Iberian Peninsula also shared the same studbook. In fact, Spain and Portugal didn’t separate the two until as late as 1967. Before that, the Portuguese and Spanish horses were known as either Iberian or Andalusian horses.
When the studbook was separated, the Portuguese branch of the Iberian horse was labeled as the Lusitano. The name came from the Roman name for the region we now know as Portugal: Lusitana.
How to Care for a Lusitano
In addition to the general standard grooming procedures that you would follow for any horse, the Lusitano requires a bit of extra care and attention to maintain the beauty of this breed’s thick mane and tail. You can use standard grooming tools on a Lusitano consistently to keep the horse looking healthy, clean, and beautiful.
Physical stimulation and training are essential for all horses. Their massive and powerful bodies need plenty of nutrition, but they also need adequate exercise to put all those calories to good use.
Lusitano Horse Training
In Portugal, Lusitanos continue to participate in bullfights around the country. And while these horses can perform incredible feats of strength, elegance, and agility, these same features also make them fantastic dressage horses.
Along with the Lusitano’s twin breed, the Andalusian, the Lusitano belongs to the small handful of equines that can adequately perform the Haute Ecole dressage movements. Also known as “airs above the ground,” the Haute Ecole movement involves the horse jumping while prancing, elegantly leaving the ground. It is considered one of the most difficult moves in dressage.
Nutrition and Feeding for Lusitano Horse
The Lusitano horse diet consisted of mostly grain and dry forages on the Iberian Peninsula due to the area’s climate conditions. This created a highly efficient adaptation of the Iberian horse based on thousands of years worth of natural selection.
Just thirty years ago, the Lusitano horse’s average meal was based on straw and 9 to 13 lbs of an all-grain mixture mainly based on barley, carob and bean mixtures, wheat bran, and corn. But with modern horse feeds, the amount of concentrate in a Lusitano’s diet is now just 4 to 6 lbs per day.
Today, the use of vegetable oils as an alternative to starch as an energy source has dramatically increased. For example, beet pulp is an excellent source of fiber with an energy content somewhere between grain and hay.
Modern feeding regimens tend to include a balanced protein/energy ratio intake. These are generally based on lower starch content, higher levels of vegetable oils, and high levels of fiber. We recommend that Lusitano horse owners talk to their vet or nutritionist to establish the most appropriate feed regimen for their horse.
Coat Color And Grooming
Lusitanos are famous for their romantic, flowing locks. Breeders have meticulously preserved the Lusitano’s stunning look over the years. Many owners groom their horses to maintain the historic tail and mane.
Those looking to own a Lusitano must recognize that keeping these lush, voluminous manes and tails up to par is no small task. This maintenance requires a thorough and consistent grooming regimen. The right regimen will promote strong, healthy hair.
Below we have provided a shortlist of a few grooming tools that you may need to groom your Lusitano.
How To Clean Your Lusitano
When washing your Lusitano’s mane, take care to concentrate on the base at the roots where the mane grows out. Scrub and massage the roots to break up oil and dirt deposits to help encourage blood flow. Continuously flip the hair and pay close attention to scrubbing the underside, as this will likely be the dirtiest part of the mane.
You’ll also want to make sure not to go too heavy with conditioner. Add a bit of water to the conditioner, giving it a chance to spread throughout the hair without clumping up. This part of the process helps to keep you from missing the conditioner in the rinsing process. The conditioner’s oils will also attract dirt, so making sure to rinse well is very important.
Once the hair is dry, we recommend using a leave-in conditioner to replenish any natural oils that the cleansing process may have stripped. This helps enhance the hair’s health, as well as its luster.
Horse owners should also apply this treatment to tail care. The part of the horse where their tale meets the skin is where all the dirt, dander, and dead skin will collect. Because of this, when washing the tail, you’ll want to focus on scrubbing and massaging the base (also called the “dock”). Focusing on this area helps to remove dead skin and avoid oil buildup.
After cleaning and conditioning, consider braiding the mane to protect it from dirt, matting, and sunlight bleaching. Braiding also reduces breakage and over-brushing.
Lusitano Horse Health Problems
Because most Lusitanos are grey, this breed is generally more susceptible to melanomas, the most dangerous type of skin cancer. A lack of pigmentation in the skin causes melanoma. This typically occurs when the pigment cells responsible for producing color in the skin become cancerous.
Melanomas are a risk to any light-colored horse due to the lack of pigmentation in their skin. Horse owners will want to keep an eye out for bumps in specific areas. These bumps can show on the muzzle and around the tail, as melanomas tend to form in areas where hair is thin.
How to Get a Lusitano Horse
In the U.S., Lusitano horses will cost around $10,000 to $125,000 on average. However, this price may fluctuate based on the horse’s age, training, pedigree, and health. Because they are purebred, Lusitanos are relatively challenging to find for adoption across the United States.
Those searching to purchase or adopt a Lusitano might want to consider checking in with the International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association (IALHA). The IALHA is an association of Lusitano and Andalusian horse breeders, owners, and enthusiasts.
More About This Horse Breed
The Lusitano is among the oldest horse breeds in the world. Portuguese cave paintings date this breed back to 1700BC and potentially even further. In Portugal, the Lusitano horse is famous for its talent in the bullring. During bullfights, the horse must dodge the bull’s horns. Only a truly special breed could handle the tasks Lusitanos excel at. For these reasons and countless more, we love the Lusitano and are certain you will too!