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sorraia horse, sorraia mustang
The Sorraia is a rare breed of horse indigenous to the portion of the Iberian peninsula, in the Sorraia River basin, in Portugal The Sorraia is known for its primitive features, including a convex profile and dun coloring with primitive markings Concerning its origins, a theory has been advanced by some authors that the Sorraia is a descendant of primitive horses belonging to the naturally occurring wild fauna of Southern Iberia Studies are currently ongoing to discover the relationship between the Sorraia and various wild horse types, as well as its relationship with other breeds from the Iberian Peninsula and Northern Africa

Members of the breed are small, but hardy and well-adapted to harsh conditions They were occasionally captured and used by native farmers for centuries, and a remnant population of these nearly extinct horses was discovered by a Portuguese zoologist in the early 20th century Today, the Sorraia has become the focus of preservation efforts, with European scientists leading the way and enthusiasts from several countries forming projects and establishing herds to assist in the re-establishment of this breed from its current endangered status


  • 1 Characteristics
    • 11 Color
  • 2 Genetics
  • 3 History
    • 31 American preservation efforts
    • 32 Naming
  • 4 References
  • 5 External links


A Sorraia stallion with characteristic convex facial profile

The Sorraia breed stands between 141 and 143 hands 57 and 59 inches, 145 and 150 cm high, although some individuals are as small as 123 hands 51 inches, 130 cm[1] The head tends to be large, the profile convex, and the ears long[2] The neck is slender and long, the withers high, and the croup slightly sloping The legs are strong, with long pasterns and well-proportioned hooves These horses have good endurance and are easy keepers, thriving on relatively little fodder They have a reputation for being independent of temperament, but tractable[3]

On adult horses, the lay of the hair can create the appearance of stars and flags on the neck and chest Also due to the lay of the hair, newborn foals can appear to have stripes all over, reminiscent of zebra stripes The breed standard refers to this as "hair stroke"[4]

Foal with primitive markings and "hair stroke"


Sorraia are generally dun or a dun variation called grullo Dun coloring includes primitive markings such as a black dorsal stripe, black tipped ears, horizontal striping on the legs and a dark muzzle area[5] The dark muzzle area is in contrast to some other dun-colored horse breeds, who have light-colored muzzle areas and underbellies, possibly due to the presence of pangare genetics[6] Sorraia horses have bi-colored manes and tails with lighter colored hairs that fringe the outside of the longer growing black hair[4] This is a characteristic shared with other predominantly dun-colored breeds, such as the Fjord horse[7] Purebred Sorraia occasionally have white markings, although they are rare and undesired by the breed's studbook[4]


The relationship between the Sorraia and other breeds remains largely undetermined, as is its relationship to the wild horse subspecies, the Tarpan and the Przewalski's Horse The Sorraia originally developed in the southern part of the Iberian peninsula[8] d'Andrade hypothesized that the Sorraia would be the ancestor of the Southern Iberian breeds[9] Morphologically, scientists place the Sorraia as closely related to the Gallego and the Asturcon,[10] but genetic studies using mitochondrial DNA show that the Sorraia forms a cluster that is largely separated from most Iberian breeds[11][12][13][14] Some evidence links this cluster with Konik and domestic Mongolian horses[12] At the same time, one of the maternal lineages is shared with the Lusitano[15] Genetic evidence[11] has not supported an hypothesis that the Sorraia is related to the Barb horse, an African breed introduced to Iberia by the Moors[16]

Multiple authors have suggested that the Sorraia might be a descendant of the Tarpan based on shared morphological features, principally the typical color of its coat[2][3][17] Other authors simply state that the Sorraia has "evident primitive characteristics", although they do not refer to a specific ancestor[5] However, there have been no genetic studies comparing the Sorraia with the Tarpan, and similarity of external morphology is an unreliable measure of relatedness[11]

Genetic studies to date have been inconclusive about the closest relative of the Sorraia On one hand, studies using mitochondrial DNA showed a relationship with the Przewalski's Horse,[12][13][14] in that Przewalski's Horse has a unique haplotype A2 not found in domestic horses, which differs by just one single nucleotide from one of the major Sorraia haplotypes JSO41, later A7 In comparison, genetic distances within the domestic horse are as large as 11 nucleotide differences[12][13][14] However, this relationship with the Przewalski's Horse was contradicted in another study using microsatellite data that showed that the genetic distance between the Prewalski's Horse and the Sorraia was the largest[18] Such conflicting results can arise when a population passes through a genetic bottleneck, and evidence suggests that the Sorraia, among other rare breeds, has recently passed through a bottleneck,[12] effectively obscuring the position of this breed in the family tree of the domestic horse Thus, the morphological, physiological, and cultural characteristics of the Sorraia are the subject of continued study to better understand the relationship between various Iberian horse breeds and wild horse subspecies


Although it is known that the Sorraia developed in the southern part of the Iberian peninsula,[8] the breed was isolated and unknown to science until the 20th century Despite the lack of documentation, attempts have been made to reconstruct its history Paleolithic parietal art images in the region depict equines with a distinct likeness to the Sorraia, with similar zebra-like markings[19][20] Analysis of mtDNA has been performed on Mustangs in the western United States that show similar mtDNA patterns between some Mustangs and the Sorraia breed[16] Spanish conquistadors took Iberian horses, some of whom closely resembled the modern-day Sorraia, to the Americas in their conquests,[16] probably as pack animals[2] Similarities between the Sorraia and several North and South American breeds are shown in the dun and grullo coloring and various physical characteristics This evidence suggests that the Sorraia, their ancestors, or other horses with similar features, may have had a long history in the Iberian region and a role in the creation of American breeds[16]

Otherwise, the Sorraia breed was lost to history until 1920, when Portuguese zoologist and paleontologist Dr Ruy d'Andrade first encountered the Sorraia horse during a hunting trip in the Portuguese lowlands This remnant herd of primitive horses had continued to live a wild existence in these lowlands, which were rather inaccessible and had been used as a hunting preserve by Portuguese royalty until the early 1900s[21] At the time of d'Andrade's initial meeting the breed, the horses were ill-regarded by native farmers, although they were considered hardy native fauna that lived off of the uncultivated lands and salt marshes in the local river valleys For centuries, peasant farmers of the area would occasionally capture the horses and use them for agricultural work, including threshing grain and herding bulls[22]

In the 1920s and 1930s, as mechanization became more prevalent, both wild and domesticated breeding stock diminished to almost nothing, and d'Andrade, along with his son Fernando, encouraged the conservation of the breed[17] In 1937, d'Andrade began a small herd of his own with five stallions and seven mares from horses obtained near Coruche, Portugal All Sorraias currently in captivity descend from these original horses obtained by d'Andrade, and it is believed that the remnant wild herds of the breed died out soon after[12][23] These horses were kept in a habitat similar to their native one[17] In 1975, two other farms took up the Sorraia's cause and acquired small herds to help with conservation In 1976, three stallions and three mares were imported to Germany from Portugal to begin a sub-population there[5] In March 2004, a small breeding herd of Sorraia horses was released on the estate of a private land owner who dedicated a portion of his property so that these horses could live completely wild, as did their ancestors The refuge created for them is in the Vale de Zebro region of south western Portugal, one of places so named because this is where the Sorraia's predecessors dwelt[24] Today, the breed is nearly extinct, with fewer than 200 horses existing as of 2007, including around 80 breeding mares The Food and Agriculture Organization considers it to be maintaining critical risk status The first studbook was published in 2004, dedicated to maintaining a written record of the bloodlines of the Sorraia[23] Sorraias are present mainly in Portugal,[11] with a small population in Germany[2] While not bred for a specific use, the Sorraia horses are versatile and have been used in herding bulls, dressage riding and light harness[24]

American preservation efforts

A Kiger Mustang mare of Sorraia phenotype used as a foundation broodmare on Manitoulin Island in Ontario

Two Sorraia stallions were imported to the United States in the early 21st century In 2006, another Sorraia stallion was imported to Canada where a Sorraia Mustang Preserve has been established on Manitoulin Island in Ontario[24] Unrelated to existing preservation efforts which work in conjunction with the Sorraia Mustang Studbook,[4] another project by a consortium of breeders in the United States is attempting to establish a separate network and studbook These breeders have gathered Spanish Mustangs that through mtDNA testing show a genetic relationship with the Sorraia and are breeding them according to both genotype and phenotype in an attempt to help preserve what they are calling the "American Sorraia Mustang"[25]


Dr Ruy d'Andrade gave the breed their name of "Sorraia"[21] D'Andrade took the name from the Sorraia River in Portugal[3] The breed had previously been known by the local Portuguese as "zebro" or "zebra", due to their markings[24] In the time of Christopher Columbus, the Sorraia was also known as the Marismeño,[26] but the Sorraia and the Marismeño have evolved into two different breeds over time Today, the name Marismeño refers to a population of semiferal horses living in Doñana Natural Park in Spain[11]


  1. ^ Cordeiro, Arsénio Raposo & Ruy d'Andrade 1997 Lusitano Horse - Son of the Wind Lisboa: Edicoes Inapa p 74 ISBN 978-972-8387-20-4mw-parser-output citecitationmw-parser-output citation qmw-parser-output id-lock-free a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-free amw-parser-output id-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output id-lock-registration a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-limited a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-registration amw-parser-output id-lock-subscription a,mw-parser-output citation cs1-lock-subscription amw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registrationmw-parser-output cs1-subscription span,mw-parser-output cs1-registration spanmw-parser-output cs1-ws-icon amw-parser-output codecs1-codemw-parser-output cs1-hidden-errormw-parser-output cs1-visible-errormw-parser-output cs1-maintmw-parser-output cs1-subscription,mw-parser-output cs1-registration,mw-parser-output cs1-formatmw-parser-output cs1-kern-left,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-leftmw-parser-output cs1-kern-right,mw-parser-output cs1-kern-wl-right
  2. ^ a b c d Hendricks, Bonnie 2007 International Encyclopedia of Horse Breeds Paperback ed University of Oklahoma Press pp 384–385 ISBN 978-0-8061-3884-8
  3. ^ a b c Bongianni, Maurizio editor 1988 Simon & Schuster's Guide to Horses and Ponies New York, NY: Simon & Schuster, Inc p 154 ISBN 978-0-671-66068-0CS1 maint: extra text: authors list link
  4. ^ a b c d Oelke, Hardy "Sorraia Characteristics:SMS Standard of Perfection" Sorraia Mustang Studbook Hardy Oelke Retrieved 2011-10-30
  5. ^ a b c Luís, Christina, E Gus Cothran, and Maria do Mar Oom 2007 "Inbreeding and Genetic Structure in the Endangered Sorraia Horse Breed: Implications for its Conservation and Management" Journal of Heredity 98 3: 232–237 doi:101093/jhered/esm009 PMID 17404326CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list link
  6. ^ Sponenberg, Dan Phillip 2003 Equine Color Genetics Blackwell Publishing pp 29, 38 ISBN 978-0-8138-0759-1
  7. ^ "About the breed" Norwegian Fjord Horse Registry Retrieved 2008-12-30
  8. ^ a b Cordeiro, Arsénio Raposo & Ruy d'Andrade 1997 Lusitano Horse - Son of the Wind Lisboa: Edicoes Inapa p 70 ISBN 978-972-8387-20-4
  9. ^ d'Andrade, R 1945 "Sorraia" Boletim Pecuário 13: 1–13
  10. ^ Jordana, J; Parés PM 1999 "Relaciones genéticas entre razas ibéricas de caballos utilizando caracteres morfológicos Prototipos raciales" PDF AGRI 26: 75–94
  11. ^ a b c d e Royo, LJ, I Álvarez, A Beja-Pereira, A Molina, I Fernández, J Jordana, E Gómez, J P Gutiérrez, and F Goyache 2005 "The Origins of Iberian Horses Assessed via Mitochondrial DNA" Journal of Heredity 96 6: 663–669 doi:101093/jhered/esi116 PMID 16251517CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list link
  12. ^ a b c d e f Jansen, Thomas, Peter Forster, Marsha A Levine, Hardy Oelke, Matthew Hurles, Colin Renfrew, Jürgen Weber, and Klaus Olek August 6, 2002 "Mitochondrial DNA and the origins of the domestic horse" Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences 99 16: 10905–10910 Bibcode:2002PNAS9910905J doi:101073/pnas152330099 PMC 125071 PMID 12130666CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list link
  13. ^ a b c Cai, Dawei; Zhuowei Tang; Lu Han; Camilla F Speller; Dongya Y Yang; Xiaolin Ma; Jian'en Cao; Hong Zhu; Hui Zhou 2009 "Ancient DNA provides new insights into the origin of the Chinese domestic horse" Journal of Archaeological Science 36 3: 835–842 doi:101016/jjas200811006
  14. ^ a b c McGahern, A; Bower, M A M; Edwards, C J; Brophy, P O; Sulimova, G; Zakharov, I; Vizuete-Forster, M; Levine, M; Li, S; MacHugh, D E; Hill, E W 2006 "Evidence for biogeographic patterning of mitochondrial DNA sequences in Eastern horse populations" Animal Genetics 37 5: 494–497 doi:101111/j1365-2052200601495x PMID 16978180
  15. ^ Luís, C, Bastos-Silveira, C, Costa-Ferreira, J, Cothran, EG, Oom, MM December 2006 "A lost Sorraia maternal lineage found in the Lusitano horse breed" Journal of Animal Breeding and Genetics 123 6: 399–402 doi:101111/j1439-0388200600612x PMID 17177696CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list link
  16. ^ a b c d "Sorraia" Breeds of Livestock Oklahoma State University Retrieved 2008-12-11
  17. ^ a b c Edwards, Elwyn Hartley 1994 The Encyclopedia of the Horse 1st American ed New York, NY: Dorling Kindersley pp 104–105 ISBN 978-1-56458-614-8
  18. ^ Aberle, Kerstin S; Ottamar Distl 2004 "Domestication of the horse: results based on microsatellite and mitochondrial DNA markers" Arch Tierz, Dummerstorf 6: 517–535
  19. ^ Loch, Sylvia 1986 The Royal Horse of Europe London: JA Allen p 37 ISBN 978-0-85131-422-8
  20. ^ Gonzaga, P 2004 A History of the Horse Vol 1, The Iberian Horse From Ice Age to Antiquity London: JA Allen p 87 ISBN 978-0-85131-867-7
  21. ^ a b Oelke, Hardy "The Sorraia Horse" Equiworld Archived from the original on May 6, 2008 Retrieved 2008-12-11
  22. ^ Cordeiro, Arsénio Raposo & Ruy d'Andrade 1997 Lusitano Horse - Son of the Wind Lisboa: Edicoes Inapa p 68 ISBN 978-972-8387-20-4
  23. ^ a b Luis, C, R Jurar, MM Oom and EG Cothran 2007 "Genetic diversity and relationships of Portuguese and other horse breeds based on protein and microsatellite loci variation" PDF Animal Genetics 38 1: 20–27 doi:101111/j1365-2052200601545x PMID 17257184 Retrieved 2008-12-12CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list link
  24. ^ a b c d Oelke, Hardy "The Sorraia Horse, General Information" Sorraia Folheto Informativo Retrieved 2011-10-30
  25. ^ "American Sorraia Mustang Project" Windcross Conservancy Retrieved 2011-01-08
  26. ^ Oelke, Hardy 1997 Born Survivors on the Eve of Extinction Wipperfürth, Germany: Kierdorf Verlag pp 58, 62 ISBN 978-3-89118-096-9

External links

  • A page dedicated to the Sorraia
  • Horses portal
  • Mammals portal
  • Animals portal
  • Biology portal
  • Portugal portal

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