In 1667, the Duke of Newcastle Henry Cavendish wrote that the Lusitano horse is “the noblest horse in the world, the most beautiful that can be”. Today, that’s still how this elegant, agile horse is viewed by the Portuguese. The breed is as deep-rooted in the country’s history as its architecture dating back to Roman times.
The Lusitano horse is said to be the most noble horse in the world
You needn’t look far to get close to one of these powerful steeds. In Lisbon, at The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art (EPAE) – a replica of the 18th-century equestrian riding school, Portuguese Royal Court – you can watch a classical dressage performance where riders wear original maroon velvet costumes and tricorn hats, and horses have the same saddle and bridle as bygone years.
Roughly 75 miles to the north, in the Santarém District, you’ll find the Golega National Horse Fair, held annually in November. Dating back to the 18th-century, it’s a celebration of the Lusitano horse and transforms the quiet town of Golega into a bustle of horses, carriages, and festivities for the hordes who come specifically for the ten-day event.
The incredibly powerful Lusitano horses at the 18th-century Alter Stud Farm
From the Horse’s Mouth
In the Alentejo region, in Portugal’s south, you can not only have a close encounter with a Lusitano horse, but you can also stay at Vila Gale Collection Alter Real, on the site of the Alter Stud Farm founded in 1748 by King D. João V. The property sprawls across 2,000 acres of countryside and offers riding lessons and carriage tours.
Not to be missed is the daily show of the release of the herd of mares and their foals out to the countryside and their return later in the day.
There’s also a museum where you can learn everything there is to know about how these horses are bred. Tip: don’t miss the Coach House, with its collection of objects related to horse breeding.
Alter Stud Farm is dedicated to the preservation and education about the historic Lusitano horse
The Lusitano horse was used as a war horse before it became the horse of kings
WANT TO GO?
A few hours’ drive further south is Monte Negro stud farm, another of Portugal’s oldest stud farms breeding Lusitano horses. On a visit here you can meet the ancestors of the 18th-century property, Vera Vieira de Almeida, and her husband Tiago.
The couple has spent more than a decade restoring the property to its former glory.
“We kept everything that was original. We did make improvements, but the aim was not losing the true essence of a historic Portuguese house,” Vera says. “We gathered all the historical documents that existed in the homestead and relied on literature about its past. We have tried to preserve the memory of those who built it and the personal history of the ancestors.”
Traditionally, the only people hosted here were those who were invited, but five years ago the couple opened the farm to tourists. Vera says there’s an energy about the property that guests often comment on and she believes it’s because it’s a family business, not a commercially focused one.
Vera Vieira de Almeida with one of her much-loved Lusitano horses