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Sorraia Horses

The Sorraia is nearly extinct. A few herds are maintained in a half dozen places in Spain and a few in Germany. The Sorraia Horse has no history as a domestic breed, but old documents show that these horses were brought to the Americas by the Spanish conquistadors.

    The Sorraia coloring is always dun or grullo with a dark muzzle area, black dorsal stripe, black-tipped ears, usually zebra stripes on the legs, and occasionally a stripe across the shoulders, neck and back. The black mane and tail are fringed by lighter-colored hair. Sorraia foals are born with a zebra-like pattern all over. Sorraia blood in the Americas is evident, as several breeds in both North and South America bear the dun and grullo coloration and other physical characteristics of this ancient horse.

    The Sorraia generally stands at about14 hands high. Domesticated Sorraias have been broken to ride and used for herding livestock.

   The Sorraia is noted for its ability to withstand extremes of climate, particularly dry, hot climates, and to survive on very little forage while at the same time maintaining its health. The Sorraia is too long-legged  to be seriously considered a pony type.

    Their head is somewhat long, with an outcurved profile. The ears are long, the eyes are set high. The neck is long and slim, the withers are prominent and noticeably well defined; the back is of medium length and straight; the croup is sloping, but not steeply dropping.  The legs are straight with rather long, round cannon bones, well defined tendons, long, sloped pasterns, and hard hooves of dark color.    The Sorraia is found portrayed faithfully in prehistoric cave art, displaying the classic Iberian convex profile, also found in the old-time North African Barb. When the Portuguese scientist, Ruy D’ Andrade, discovered these horses in 1920 in the lowlands of the Portuguese River Sorraia, few could believe that a wild horse subspecies could have survived that long in Europe. Scientist Ruy D’ Andrade tried in vain to relocate the herd, but found horses of the same phenotype in several places in the general area of the Sorraia river.

As a zoologist and paleontologist, he finally decided he had stumbled on an ancestral type of horse, and that it needed to be preserved. He acquired seven mares that possessed the characteristics he considered typical according to his studies, and left them to fend for themselves on his property, which fortunately was large enough for such a project. He tried four different stallions on them. His theory was that living wild, without the help of man, in their own habitat, would result in Mother Nature's purifying the small population, and bringing out and consolidating their original characteristics and abilities.

    Why is the Sorraia threatened to become extinct?  A population that numbers around 200 is extremely threatened by any biologist's standard. At least half of these are non-breeding animals - older horses, stallions that aren't being used as studs, or youngsters. The population in Portugal is divided basically into a few groups: four D' Andrade family members (grandchildren of the late Ruy D' Andrade), each has a band of Sorraias; the Portuguese National Stud; and a few private breeders with just one or two mares. All these horses stem from D' Andrade’s herd. None of these breeders seem to invest a lot in the preservation of the horses.

    The horse-related public is slowly becoming aware of the Sorraia. In Germany, there are a small number of parties now that own breeding stock, including a zoological garden with a small breeding group. Some feel the Sorraia's chance for survival lies in promoting them as mounts and carriage horses. This entails risks, however, as it could become counterproductive in the long run. People who are using them in the way other horses are being used will inevitably change them in type and disposition, while Mother Nature selects strictly, and differently. A wild horse doesn't have to be pretty, it doesn't have to be cooperative, and it doesn't have to possess a comfortable. All it needs to be able to do is survive: find food, recognize and avoid potential danger, withstand heat, cold, and bad weather. It needs to have qualities different from what humans perceive as desirable in a horse.

    Wild horses are admired for their soundness and surefootedness. Whenever man intervenes and starts breeding for his goals, the soundness and other qualities which enable wild horses to survive tend to disappear. In an ideal situation, a preserve would be created where a group of Sorraias could live wild and unmolested, with as little human interference as possible. Where stallions again could fight about their harems, where the weak would be eliminated by Mother Nature, and where ethologists and scientists could do meaningful studies. Such an operation would ideally be in Portugal, or Spain, but it could be almost anywhere where there is enough land. I t should be possible to also do something for the Sorraia—before  it is too late!

    Because Sorraias are so few in number, you will likely not find any Sorraias for sale.  Sorraias for sale would be an amazing find, especially if you were looking to mate and expand the breed.  Unfortunately, until there are more Sorraias in existence, it is unlikely that you will find any Sorraias for sale any time soon.


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