Although the Alter Real is a strain of the Lusitano, for many decades it was only bred at the Alter Real State Stud, located in Portugal. Its name comes from Alter do Chão, a small town in Portugal, where ‘real’ means ‘royal’ in Portuguese.
This breed is immensely strong, powerfully built and known for its high-stepping action. The Alter Real is ideal for riding, pulling carriages, and for classic dressage competitions.
A royal breed
The Alter Real State Stud was founded in 1748 by the Portuguese Royal Family, also known as the Braganza family, with its purpose being to supply riding horses to the National Riding Academy for royal use. The strain was developed from 200 Lusitano and Andalusian mares imported from Spain in 1747, and the breed developed from there.
Because the royal family bred the horses, the ‘real’ was added into the breed name to signify that it was royal blood. The breed was pure until Napoleon invaded Spain in the early nineteenth century, when the Alter Real strain deteriorated due to the introduction of Arabian, Thoroughbred, Spanish-Norman and Hanoverian blood. However, in the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries the strain was re-established with the further introduction of Spanish blood into the breed.
A revolution kills off the breed
In 1910 a revolution overthrew the Portuguese Monarchy which was replaced by the First Portuguese Republic. With no government interest in the horses, the Alter Real strain faced extinction. Most of the Alter Real horse records were burned, the stallions were gelded, and the stud dispersed and discontinued.
In the early 1940’s the Portuguese Ministry for Agriculture tried reviving the breed, however with no stallions post the revolution the task was impossible. But by an extraordinary stroke of luck, one man – Dr. Ruy d’Andrade – a well-known Portugese equestrian, had the foresight to rescue two stallions before they were gelded as well as several mares. His actions saved an entire breed and in 1942 he generously gave his entire herd to the Portuguese Ministry for Agriculture which allowed the Alter Real State Stud to reopen and a breeding program to re-commence. The stud continues to produce horses to this day.
Who was Dr. Ruy d’Andrade?
Dr. Ruy d’Andrade passed away in 1967 but is remembered as Portugal’s greatest equestrian authority and horse expert. He was an avid and talented horseman who had a passion for breeding Andalusian and Lusitano horses, also referred to as Iberian horses. Not only was he renowned for his horses, Dr. Ruy d’Andrade was a famous Portuguese author, paleontologist, zoologist and hippologist.
The Alter Real State Stud never forgot the kindness and generosity of one man’s actions. In Alter do Chão, on the premises of the former Royal Stud, a plaque honouring Dr. Ruy d’Andrade’s actions is displayed which reads:
Dr Ruy d’Andrade
Agrarian, zoologist, author, historian, archaeologist, politician, artist, distinguished sportsman, defender of the national horse – a tribute from admirers and friends.
The Alter Real is a strong and powerfully built horse and stands between 15.1 and 16.1 hands high. It has an impressive high stepping action which is ideal for carriage driving and dressage work. Alter Reals are known for their intelligence, they are quick to learn and eager to please. Although they have a solid build, they are elegant and comfortable to ride.
The breeding goal is not much different from that of other Lusitano breeders, and includes a square frame, a strong back, rounded forms, good balance, proud action. Head profiles vary from straight to convex.
While Alter Real’s were all bay, in recent years there has been an outcross with Spanish and Lusitano stallions which has resulted in some being grey, bay or chestnut in colour.
Weaknesses of the Alter Real breed are a tendency towards post-leggedness and weak pasterns. Like the majority of baroque breeds, the Alter Real can be gaited.
To this day, the Alter Real is bred in Portugal and every year selected horses are available to purchase. The State Stud is a tourist attraction and able to be viewed by appointment. For further information, visit the Alter Real State Stud webpage.