The Alter-Real horse is a beautiful, powerful, athletic horse, developed by Portuguese Royalty in 1747. The “real” part of the name translates from Portuguese to English as “royalty.” These horses are truly fit for a king in both appearance and action. With their muscular arched necks, long flowing manes and tails, and crisp, even, and precise movements, it is easy to fall in love with the Alter-Real.
The Alter-Real has a rocky history to say the least. They are actually a branch of the Lustiano horse. This breed has faced extinction several times over in the past three centuries.
Their story began in Portugal in the 1747. King Joao V wanted a breed of horse that could perform in the royal horsemanship school and excel as a carriage horse. He imported 300 Spanish Andalusian mares to form a national stud line named after the town of Alter do Chao. Bred specifically for the discipline of dressage, it is no surprise that by 1760, these horses were already the most highly prized at the Royal Riding School. Sadly, this reign would only last another 40 years or so before the horses faced their first big reduction in numbers.
When Napoleon invaded in 1807, the French took a large number of Alter-Real breeding stock because, by this time, these horses were prized in other parts of Europe as well. This shortage led to trying to recover the breed by crossing them with Thoroughbreds, Hanoverians and Normans. This blending resulted in a loss of purity and breed characteristics. The last part of the century saw an infusion of Cartujano blood which helped to recover the breed somewhat.
The Second major drawback the breed faced was in the early part of the 20th century during the Portuguese Revolution. The stud farm at Alter do Chao was ransacked and burned, and most stud records were lost. Again, they faced certain extinction.
In the1930’s, Dr. Ruy d’Andrade decided to try to revive the breed. Dr. d’Andrade was an author, historian, zoologist, paleontologist, anatomist, hippologist and horse breeder. He was also a greatly respected expert on Iberian horses. It was this interest in the Iberians which probably fueled his interest in saving the Alter-Real breed. At the outset, he purchased two studs named Vigilante and Regedor; both were over twenty years old at the time of this purchase. He then located as many remaining mares as he could find and began to breed them once again at the Alter do Chao stud farm.
They are still bred there today with the highest standards in mind. The Alter-Real stud farm works closely with the Portuguese School of Equestrian Arts to make sure that all potential breeding stock performs to the highest levels of dressage. This ensures that the breed continues to produce offspring that is equally talented. The only place in the world where these horses are bred is in Alter do Chao. In fact, they are not considered to be a true
Alter-Real unless they are born on the Alter-Real stud farm premises.
Alter-Real horses possess many of the characteristics of their relative the Lustiano, including a fairly square body type, a short and muscular neck and good proportions. They are usually bay or brown in color, but occasionally they are gray or chestnut (due to the infusion of other bloodlines). They stand between 15.1 and 16.1 hands tall, have well defined withers and a short back. They should have sloping shoulders, strong clean legs, and slender, sturdy cannon
bones. Their head is average in size and is either straight or a bit convex in profile. Some are even display natural gaits. They are spirited in temperament and are not appropriate for novice riders.
The Alter-Real today is used in the Portuguese School of Equestrian Arts as well as all over the world by many riders in different disciplines. Part of their success many have to do with the way they are bred and raised at the Alter-Real Stud Farm.
At eight months of age, the horses are weaned and sent to a holding place until they are old enough to ride and can return to the farm to begin their education. They have no human contact while they are away, and return to the farm untouched. The horses’ two main uses are dressage and driving. Most will be trained in one of these two disciplines. A few famous Alter-Real horses include Guizo, who performed at the 1992 Olympics in Dressage. A driving team named Quixote and Altivo, has held two world titles in the recent past.