Alter Real

PetMD Editorial
Written by:
PetMD Editorial
Published: December 1, 2009
Updated: November 11, 2022
Vet Reviewed by Courtnee Morton, DVM
Alter Real

Reviewed for accuracy November 11, 2022.

The Alter Real is a rare horse breed that is originally from Portugal. Its name comes from Alter de Chao, a small town in the southern province of Alentejo, where "Real" means "royal" in Portuguese. Immensely strong and powerfully built, the high-stepping Alter Real is ideal for riding, pulling carriages, and for classic dressage competitions.

Physical Characteristics

The Alter Real is a strapping, high-breasted horse with superb lines, a muscular back, strong hocks, and long pasterns—all of which make it ideal for horse training competitions like classic dressage. Its height ranges from 15-17 hands, and is typically brown or bay.

Personality and Temperament

Although the Alter Real is malleable enough for training—in fact, it is very able and quite eager to learn—it is typically high-strung and spirited. As such, it requires patient and masterful handling.

History and Background

The Alter Real was established in 1747 by the Braganza family in the Royal Stables of Lisbon. A royal family, the Braganzas probably accounted for the addition of "Real" (or royal) to the horse's name. Though the breed began with one stallion and a mere 300 head of Andalusian mares from Spain, the Alter Real, with the help of horse enthusiasts, became a great carriage and riding horse.

During the invasion by Napoleon’s forces, further attempts to "improve" the breed were made. They had disastrous results and led to the near decimation of the Alter Real breed. At that time, the breeders crossbred the Alter Real with the English, Hanoverian, Thoroughbred, and Norman horse breeds. As they saw the weakening of the Alter Real stock, the breeders tried crossbreeding with the Arab breed. It was not until the Portuguese government intervened and reintroduced the native Andalusian into the mix in the 1800s that the Alter Real regained its former glory.

The Alter Real nearly faced extinction again at the beginning of the 20th century, when the reign of the Portuguese monarchy, which was mainly responsible for breeding and caring for the Alter Real, ended. The new Portuguese government chose to close the stud book and discontinue all breeding efforts. Furthermore, all the stallions were castrated—except two, that is, which Dr. Ruy d’Andrade was able to save from gelding. Dr. d’Andrade was also able to spirit away a few mares and successfully started a new herd. By the mid-20th century, he had handed over his thriving herd to the Ministry of Agriculture in Portugal, where it has since flourished and expanded.

Health and Care

The Alter Real is hardy and strong; overall it is a healthy breed, although it can be prone to arthritis depending on its athletic career.

Featured Image: iStock.com/CCaetano


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