The western-most Iberian country of mainland Europe, Portugal, is home to a handful of thoroughbreds that have become famous the world over. These are the Lusitano, Sorraia and Garrano Portuguese horse breeds. Each has a unique breeding history that essentially had their roots in the Iberian plains long before recorded history.
The Lusitano Breed
The most famous Portuguese horse is the Lusitano, named after Lusitania which the conquering Romans called Portugal in the first century BC. Modern Portuguese equestrian sports have been known to use the Lusitano horse exclusively for years. It is believed to have had its roots in a number of cross breeding between the local Berber pony and the Arabian horse that entered the country during the various waves of Carthaginian, Roman, Germanic and Arab Moorish conquests of the Iberian Peninsula.
But it was not until 1942 when veterinarians from the government’s National Stud officially christened the specific horse breed at the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art as Lusitano, did the name finally entered the Portuguese Stud Book first published in 1889.
There have been other similar breeds found in Spain and in 1962, an agreement between Spanish and local breeders was reached on the specific traits that would distinguish the Portuguese Lusitano and Spain’s Espanhol breeds.
The Garrano Breed
With prehistoric roots, the Portuguese Garrano has it roots from the Iberian pony native to the northern mountainous regions of the country. Cave rock drawings in caves of Altamira and La Pasiega depict the ancestral Garrano origins used mainly as the main means for agriculture and transport needs of the early Portuguese.
Its subsequent breeding with foreign breed introduced over centuries of domination from various conquering peoples has produced other Portuguese horse breeds that now include the modern Garrano. Its straight head profile and short legs won’t give it equestrian qualities but they continue to be used in large rural farm communities.
The Sorraia Breed
In 1945, Dr Ruy D’Andrade discovered a unique horse that thrived in the valley where the Sorraia River flows through after getting merged from the Sor and Raia tributaries in the same northern regions of the country where the Garrano also roamed freely.
He aptly named it the Sorraia horse as one of the native Portuguese horse breeds of modern times. Like the Garrano, there have been rock engravings dating back to the Ice Age that reveal a prehistoric ancestral horse species resembling the character of the Sorraia horse. These are the least populous of the three breeds and are likewise used more for agricultural and transport needs of the rural communities.