Championship Successes for Lusitano Horses in Europe

It is generally recognised that the first horses capable of intricate dressage movements originated from the Spanish Iberian Peninsula. Many enthusiasts of horses from that part of the world consider that the Iberian horse is the true dressage horse rather than the interloper of the warmblood horse more commonly used and seen in the major dressage competitions today.

In the past week, the Iberian horses have come to the fore with two major shows and championships for the Iberian horse; held in both Paris in France and at Bury Farm EC in the UK. In the UK the champions were part of the British Dressage Associated Championships which is a show for horses which compete at dressage but not the usual warmblood type.

British Winner at The Masters du Chaval Iberique – Gemma Moss

Several European countries have associations especially to compete and promote Iberian horses, all under the umbrella of The Masters du Chaval Iberique. In Paris, over four days, there were several competitions for the Iberian horses including a final European Champions. This year, the crowned champion was British rider Gemma Moss riding her Lusitano, Guadiana da Caniceira. She won in front of an enthusiastic crowd with 74.01% a full 1% ahead of her nearest rival, fellow Brit Natalie Banks with German rider Elise Steuve coming third. There were 20 starters for the championship class.

The Iberian horse is not in itself a breed, but is the collective name of eighteen different breeds in their own rights, of horses from both Spain and Portugal. While many would say, and they may well be correct, there is not much difference between each of the breeds. Their common denominator is that they all tend to be smaller in stature compared with their warmblood counter parts, with thicker necks and are extremely strong and powerful. The two breeds, we look at in this article are the Andalusian horse from Spain and the Lusitano from Portugal. Both breeds of horse have been around for thousands of years.

Andalusian Stallion

The Andalusian horse is known as the Pure Spanish Horse. In the early days, they were highly prized by the nobility. Their main characteristics are to be strong, elegant, and compact with long and thick manes and tails. Their predominant colour is grey., but can be other solid colours as well, particularly bay and chestnut. They are closely related to the Lusitano horses of Portugal.

Lusitano Stallion

The Lusitano Horse has very similar characteristics to the Andalusian, but has a little more agility. They also have a convex facial feature, a ‘Roman nose’ to you and me, and are considered to be more intelligent and trainable. Both breeds have great expression in their movement – and have been used as dressage horses among other uses since fifteenth century. They are really the original pure dressage horse.

The Iberian horse should not be confused with the Lipizzaner horse, famous for its dressage performances in Vienna at the Spanish Riding School. It is true however that Lipizzaner breeding does have a considerable amount of Spanish Iberian blood in their makeup. During the European Hapsburg period of history, when the Hapsburg’s of Austria controlled and ruled Spain and Portugal, they did take Iberian horses to Austria to cross with their own horse breeds – the result seen today is the Lipizzaner.

Today, the Andalussian and Lusitano are not used much for international dressage, except for a few ridden by Spanish and Portuguese riders. Warmbloods are the horse of international dressage. To the un-initiated, the dressage horse is a German or Dutch breed of horse, specifically produced for dressage. In fact, a lot of dressage judges will mark down an Iberian horse because the horse’s shape. It does not fit in with their idea of what a dressage horse should look like. Whether this is right or fair, is a conversation for another day, but there are prejudices which do exist and which no doubt make a serious dressage rider look to a more northern European bred horse.

Andalusian – Megan Rigg on Isleno XCV
Andalusian – Caroline Crowhurst on Jandalo CA III

Most countries have a main dressage sports governing body, and many now give a sort of nod to the Iberian dressage horse. British Dressage is one such body who have recently introduced a championship for specific breeds of horses such as the Lusitano, and this weekend saw the ‘Associated British Dressage Championships’ at Bury Farm EC sponsored by Nettex, at which both the Lusitano and Andalusian horse were represented.

Lusitano – Emma Pewter on San Rafael
Lusitano – Natasha Read on Eloy de Almeida

Iberian horses do compete throughout the competition spectrum of dressage from the lower levels up to Grand Prix, although much fewer at Grand Prix. This show had classes for all the levels from the bottom up to Prix St Georges. There were not a huge number of Iberian horses competing, but we saw the thirteen competitors riding from Medium to P.S.G/ level. There are some people, mainly amateur riders who are crazy about Iberian horse and they help to keep the breeds alive and well in the UK.

Champion Medium Dressage Lusitano – Natasha Read

One such enthusiast is Natasha Read from Norfolk. We caught up with her for a chat, following her Championship win at Bury Farm for the Lusitanos at Medium level riding her own Eloy de Almeida. The class was judged by Ann Nicell and Ann Bostock, who were the judges for all the Iberian horse classes at this championship.

Q. Why do you like Lusitano horses particularly?

A. I fell in love with them really. You can do anything with Iberian horses, you can have an amazing relationship with an Iberian horse, there is nothing you can’t do with them. I jump them, do dressage with them and hunt them. I’ve done some equitation and hack them out. Yes, there is nothing you cannot do with them. They can be as chilled as anything, my mum rides them as well and they look after her. Yes, they are so versatile and I love them.

Q. How many do you own?

A. I own three and ride a couple of others for other people.

Q. Have you ever been to Portugal to see the horses in their own environment?

A. Yes I have and loved it. If you ever get the chance to go to Golega Horse Fayre, you must, it is a fantastic experience. It’s a once in a life time you must do.

Q. What is the main difference riding a Lusitano for dressage rather than the more conventional warmblood?

A. I do not really have a lot of experience with normal warmbloods, I fell in love with Iberian horses at a very young age and have always kept and ridden them rather than straight warmbloods. I think that Iberians have a more trainable attitude though.

Q. How easy are they to manage and keep?

A. Very easy actually.

Q. What do you feed them on?

A I’d say feeding an Iberian is like feeding a native pony which is not what you would expect, with a 15.3 16 hand horse, but they are all really good doers. Mine live on a fibre based diet. When they start to work harder they have a little grain.

Q. Is there an advice forum or society where someone thinking of getting a Lusitano, or wanting more information could go?

A. Absolutely, The Lusitano Society of Great Britain have a facebook group; um we have a breed show every year, and everybody I know in the breed society are friendly and supportive. We all just have a great time.

Q. Are they expensive?

A Now there’s a question – usually yes, clients of mine have imported Lusitanos with a zeros on the price, but I have never been in a position to spend a lot of money on Lusitanos, and the horse I am riding today cost me 650 Euros from Portugal.

Q. You have just won one of the championships, where and how do you qualify to be able to come here?

A. I live in Norfolk and I have been able to qualify locally. You have to get above a certain score on three different occasions to qualify for these championships.

Q. Are there enough competitions on the calendar for Iberian horses?

A. Yes, there are plenty of classes with British Dressage and the European Iberian Horse Society have a lot of shows specifically for Iberian horses.

Q. How long has the European Iberian Horse Group being going for?

A. I’ve been involved for two or three years, but I think the group have been going for about five years. They have a championship show every year, this year, in Paris and last year it was here at Bury Farm.

Q. Some judges are thought to be prejudiced against the Iberian type of horse. Do you think this is a fair comment?

A. I think that any horse, provided it is trained correctly can get good marks, I have however, specifically heard judges say they do not like Iberian horses, but for me, if I have got low marks, I think they have been justified, so no in my experience, I think they have always been fair.

Q. What is the best thing in your experience about Lusitanos?

A. Everything, I just love them – there are your best friend.

Q. What is the most difficult thing about them?

A. They’re sensitive – they are really sensitive and if they don’t trust you, you can get into a little bit of trouble, they can be sharp and sensitive. However, once you have got their trust and they are on your side, they are your best friend and you can do anything with them.

Natasha, thank you for your comments and congratulations on your Championship win today.

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