Training Tips for Lusitanos

Use these tips from German Trainer Johan Zagers to understand and train Lusitano horses.
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Use these tips from German Trainer Johan Zagers to understand and train Lusitano horses.

1. Starting under saddle and the first training phases

Johan Zagers

Johan Zagers

Lusitanos are sensitive horses. This is a positive attribute for quality riding horses, but riders should handle it carefully, especially in the first phase of starting horses under saddle. First, the rider builds the horse's foundation for life as a riding horse. Everything should happen calmly and with lots of patience so they have the utmost respect and trust in the rider.

Lusitanos are well known for their incredible work ethic, but this can lead some riders to think that they can work Lusitanos more than would be good for their physical and psychological health. Take your time! Basic work based on a classical training scale is very important.

Most Lusitanos are a little bit smaller and shorter than warmbloods, but they still need to be allowed to stretch their bodies in long frames and use their backs with the activity from swinging hind legs. It is important to work first on clear gaits with a good rhythm and a sensitive but straight contact to the hand.

The goal is to educate and train a riding horse full of trust in the rider, obtain a positive attitude to work and form the muscles to become a successful athlete.

2. Impulsion

Impulsion is the driving influence that makes the horse swing through his whole body and affects the quality of the collection. This is an important point especially for Iberian horses. They have lots of talent for collection but, when they are not well trained, they only show short and choppy gaits.

Riders should always try to improve the impulsion, for example, by riding on a circle and doing sequences of shoulder-in, straightening, forward (medium trot) and start again with these three elements. It is important that the horse moves from his active hind legs over a swinging back and into the bit. Thereby, the rider should always be able to let the horse stretch in a long frame without losing the activity of the hind legs. With this kind of basic work, you will improve impulsion and suppleness.

Today, you can find Lusitanos that show good quality gaits comparable to warmbloods. This is the result of quality breeding for dressage attributes and good, correct riding.

3. Collection

Most Iberian horses have an amazing talent for collection because of their sensitivity, their willingness to work and their conformation. But this offers the danger of playing with the collection like a trick for the circus: The Lusitano should be able to learn collection through correct riding and forming through gymnastic training. Therefore, the rider should critically check the feeling in piaffe. For example, does the horse really use his whole body and carry weight? You don't want him to do it in a mechanical way with a tensed back. The same can happen in the pirouette. If the horse is not really worked through his body, he gets tense, loses rhythm or jump quickly without collection.

If the rider encounters these problems, he must work more intensively on proper collection--riding transitions within a gait with an active hind leg, for example.

4. The walk

Because of their sensitive nature, some Lusitanos tend to show a tense or irregular walk if they are ridden with too much tension. Riders should take enough time to work on this gait:

  • Ride forward to find the right rhythm and a good contact.
  • It is important to work in different frames and in a rhythm between medium, extended and collected walk.
  • The horse should be able to walk actively in a long frame.
  • If you lose the control or irregularity, ride a volte or do a leg yield.

Of course, after intensive training periods, you should always take a break on long reins. To improve the quality of the walk, it is helpful to walk the horse on long reins in the countryside to help the horse relax and find his rhythm.

5. Work ethic

Lusitano are willing to work for their riders. They can concentrate on a high level and have an abundance of positive energy. This makes riding them a real pleasure because you can communicate with them using minimal aids. To achieve such positive communication, the horse needs to have absolute trust in his rider. This you can only achieve by spending lots of time with your horse and a fair, basic work program for his entire body. Because of the Lusitano's great work ethic, riders should always check critically that they are not doing too much with them. This will maintain the high motivation of the horse. Remember that he should be treated with respect and care.

6. Fitness

Lusitanos are performance horses that are known for their strength and endurance. A fascinating example is the four-in-hand team from Felix Brasseur, who earned a gold medal driving four Lusitanos at the 2006 World Equestrian Games in Aachen, Germany.

It is a special quality of the Lusitano to be very quick in their reactions. In bullfights, they have to be very explosive. This high level of reactiveness combined with high-level dressage elements creates energy. Therefore, a dressage horse needs enough strength and endurance to be motivated, and he needs to be happy with his job without health problems.

To build up strength and endurance, it is helpful to do planned canter work. For example, riding on other terrain outside the dressage ring, such as hills, helps build muscle and stamina. Just one hour riding a day is not enough. There should be more exercising possibilities available. It is also important in the daily training to give the horse enough breaks and allow enough time for relaxation. The Lusitano will most likely not show that he is fatigued, so the rider needs to recognize it beforehand, and the horse should be given a break on long reins.

Read more about the Lusitanos of Brazil in the March 2007 issue of Dressage Today magazine. Then, look for Johan Zagers' systematic preparation for show day in the April 2007 issue of Dressage Today. Zagers' English Web site is dressurstall-zagers.com.

Interested in purchasing a Lusitano horse? Search Lusitano Horses For Sale on Equine.com, the Equine Network's premier classifieds site.