Absolute Overview | Spanish and Portuguese Warmblood Horse Breeds Origin

Would it surprise you that horse breeds on the Iberian Peninsula, which now includes Spain and Portugal, were simply referred to as Iberian Horses in 1578 when Spain annexed Portugal?

Well, all horses on the Peninsula were considered Spanish, and although Lusitano and Andalusian are historically the same breeds, issues between Spain and Portugal have separated them. 

This article will provide a complete overview of the origin of both the Spanish and Portuguese warmblood horse breeds. Read on to appreciate their origins and characteristics. 

Hispano | Spanish Anglo-Arab Warmblood Horse Breed 

Origin: Spain – Estremadura and Andalusia.

Height: Around 16hh.

Color: Usually bay, chestnut, gray. Character: Brave, intelligent, handy. An excellent and versatile saddle horse.

Physique: Same as Anglo-Arab.

Origin of the Hispano Spanish Anglo Arab Warmblood Horse Breed. 

The Hispano is a Spanish Anglo-Arab based on Spanish Arabian mares crossed with English Thoroughbred stallions. It is a splendid all-around saddle horse for any skilled performance and is popular for eventing, jumping, hunting, and dressage as well as being the preferred mount of the military for sporting competitions.

Uses of the Hispano Spanish Anglo Arab Warmblood Horse breed.

Because of its bravery and quick ability on its feet, it is also used to test young bulls’ courage. This is done by the rider pushing the bullock over with a pole to see whether he will stand up again and charge and obviously requires an elegant amount of spirit and a quick brain.

Andalusian Warmblood Horse Breed | Magnificent Spanish Horse History and Origin

Origin: Spain.

Height: About 16hh. Color: Nearly always gray. Can be black.

Character: Intelligent, affectionate, and proud. Physique: Medium-big head with slightly convex face, large, expressive eyes, neat ears, carried nobly on a strong, crested neck. Big, well-made shoulder, deep chest. Longish, straight back; broad, compact body with strong loins, powerful, rounded hindquarters. Legs clean and strong, with hocks well let down and short cannon bones.

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History of the Andalusian Warmblood Horse Breed

Spanish historians claim that there were horses in the Iberian peninsula before the subsidence of the Straits of Gibraltar and that these horses came from Africa. The first importation of horses to Spain on record was the 2,000 Numidean mares brought by Hasdrubal of Carthage – legendary animals who were claimed to be “faster than the wind,” and who were left to run wild in Iberia until the Roman invasion of 200 BC.

The Romans tamed this Spanish horse, but it was free to run wild again after their retreat.

Over some 600 years, Spanish horses bred naturally without human selection. The beginnings of a true type came into existence following the invasion by northern European barbarians, mainly Teutonic, who conquered the part of Spain later to be named for them – Vandalusia. 

The Vandals brought with them horses of a “pure Germanic” type; tall horses, with long slender necks and stout bodies, who interbred with the indigenous Spanish animals.

The Moslems invasion of Spain | How it affected Spanish Horse Breeds

In 711 AD the Moslems invaded Spain and stayed for eight centuries. In the first wave of the invasion, they brought with them 300,000 horses which were almost certainly Barbs. At Cordoba, the first official stud was started by the Moslem Almanzor, and the Barb-Teutonic-Iberian cross began to stabilize into the Spanish horse.

Fighting the Moslems taught the Spanish to breed for particular purposes. Riding the heavyweight German-Spanish type of horse they had little chance against the fantastic agility of the Arab- and Barb-mounted Moslems, who could dart in from the side and, with the use of razor-sharp stirrups, slash the Spanish horses’ tendons simply by sticking out a leg. 

About the time of the conquest of Granada (11th century), the Catholic kings switched over to light cavalry, heavy armor was abandoned, and the Spanish horse became not just a means of transport but a fighting animal. This was achieved by mixing the Spanish horse freely with Oriental blood. 

From this time onwards Spanish horses of the Andalusian type spread throughout Europe, where they contributed enormously to the improvement of native stock.

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Uses of  Andalusian Warmblood Horse Breed – the military importance of horses

The military importance of good horses had been thoroughly impressed upon the Spanish leaders. Throughout the Middle Ages, the kings of Spain practiced selective breeding and offered inducements to breeders.  Large-scale breeders could not be imprisoned for debt, their eldest sons were exempt from military service, and so on. 

In 1571 Philip Il founded the first Royal Stud at Cordoba and opened the first studbook.

The Greatest Breeders and the emergence of the Andalusians warmblood horse breed

The greatest breeders of the true Andalusian were undoubtedly the monks, whose obsession with purity of line was a little short of the fanatical, and who even threatened to excommunicate followers who veered away from the national equestrian style. 

In 1476 the Carthusian monks in Jerez acquired 10,000 acres of land through a bequest, and, along with two other Carthusian monasteries, began the production of Andalusians warmblood horse breeds, bringing to the job intelligence and devotion that was greatly aided by the enormous wealth of the Church at their disposal.

It was as well that the Carthusian interest had been aroused since Andalusians had a disastrous time at the Royal Stud during the reign of Philip III. Hieronymo Tiuti, the stud manager, crossed the purebreds in his charge indiscriminately with Norman, Danish and Neapolitan stallions, all of which were Roman-nosed, producing a slower, heavier type of carriage horse. 

Later, Napoleon’s marshals creamed off the best of the Spanish studs and wiped out many of the divergent strains. No good Andalusians were left, save for a few concealed here and there, by the Carthusians and a small herd hidden by the Zapata family.

In the 19th century, a new stud was begun under Ferdinand VII and the Andalusians began to prosper once again. Despite religious persecution, the Carthusian monks persevered with their own line of Andalusian selection, which has resulted in a very slightly coarser type of horse known as the Andalusian-Carthusian, or Carthusian.

Alter-Real | Medium-Sized Portuguese Warmblood Horse Breed 

Origin: Portugal. Height: 15-16hh.

Color: Bay, brown, occasionally gray.

Character: Intelligent and highly-strung, brave and temperamental. With careful handling it makes a brilliant saddle horse, willing and obedient to the disciplines of Haute école.

Physique: Medium-sized head with wide-set, liquid eyes, well-carried on a crested neck. Shoulder strong and muscular with the deep chest; body short. powerful and compact, with strong loins and good hindquarters.

The physique of the Alter-Real warmblood horse breed
Alter-Real warmblood horse physique

Hard legs with good bone, fine in the cannon and shannon bones and in the pasterns. with strong forearms and flexible hocks. Has much the look of the Andalusian, and is a saddle horse of great quality.

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History of the  Alter-Real Portuguese warmblood Horse breed

This famous Portuguese breed originates from 300 of the finest Andalusian mares who were bought by the House of Braganza in 1747 to found a National Stud at Vila de Portel in Alentejo Province.

During the 18th century, the Altér was used by the royal manège in the same advanced classical equitation that was concurrently popular with the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. 

But the breed was decimated by Napoleon, disastrously outcrossed to foreign breeds such as the Arab, Thoroughbred, Norman, and Hanoverian. And it was not until a century later that the Altér was restored by the introduction of Andalusian animals from the Zapata herd (see Andalusian, page 144). 

Intelligent management by the Ministry of Economy in 1932 brought about the great quality of the modern breed by breeding only from a selected few of the very best Alters.

Lusitano Horse Breed | Portuguese Warmblood Gray Horse

Origin: Portugal. Height: 15-16hh.

Color: Usually gray, but can be any solid color.

Character: Intelligent, responsive, obedient, and exceptionally brave.

Physique: Medium-small head with a straight face, small ears, and alert expression.

The muscular neck is on the excellent shoulder. Compact body with a deep girth and strong loins, rounded hindquarters.

Lusitano horse physique
Lusitano warmblood horse breed and their physique

Long, fine legs. Mane and tail inclined to be wavy. Handsome sort, recognizably akin to Andalusian.

Background of the Lusitano Portuguese warmblood Gray Horse 

Lusitano’s background is obscure. The breed has existed in Portugal for several centuries and is probably of basic Andalusian stock with perhaps some extra Arabian thrown in. 

Uses of the Lusitano Portuguese warmblood Gray Horse 

Once a cavalry horse, it is now much used in the bull ring. Mounted bullfighters, called rejoneadores, perform entirely from the horse and train their mounts to exacting standards of Haute école. It is considered a disgrace for the horse ever to be touched by the bull.

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