Did the supreme horsemanship of the Iberian warriors and their magnificent mounts give rise to the myth of the centaur, half man, half horse?
In ancient times, the Lusitano horses were known as the Sons of the Wind, and as Arsenio Raposo Cordeiro says in his book of the same name: “The perfect bond between Iberian man and horse may have provided the original inspiration behind the legend of the centaur, a hybrid man-horse creature deemed to spring from the valleys of the Tagus River. It was believed that the mares of this region were sired by the wind, which accounted for the amazing speed with which they endowed their progeny.”
It is thought that the plains of south-western Iberia, now Spain and Portugal, were spared the effects of the last Ice Age, meaning that primitive horses survived here and evolved over a period of perhaps 15,000 years, almost entirely free of outside influence.
Iberian tribes from North Africa invaded the peninsula and gave it its name. They were soon to be followed by the Phoenicians and Celts, who were largely responsible for an exchange of horses that brought an influx of oriental breeds from Libya, Egypt and Syria to Iberia. While there probably was some oriental influence on the Lusitano, there is little of the Arabian to be seen in its noble profile.
The Greeks invaded in 800 BC, by which time the Celts and Iberians had formed an alliance known as the Celtiberians, and it was the horses of these people that were to become world famous.
The Greek cavalry officer Xenophon described the equestrian war techniques of Iberian mercenaries, individual horse charges with fast starts, stops and pirouettes, followed by retreats and renewed attacks. This form of riding was made possible by the use of incredibly agile horses, as well as bits and stirrups.
Today, the Lusitano’s agility, power and deep flexion makes it a superb equine athlete — Lusitanos have competed with success at several Olympic Games.