|First Posted: July 8, 2009|
Sep 24, 2010
The Murgese breed originated in Italy during the period of Spanish rule in that country. It is thought that they were developed by crossing Barb and Arabian horses imported by the Count of Conversano with native horse, Neopolitan, Avelignese and Italian Heavy Draft blood. The breed was extremely popular, especially with the Italian cavalry, during the 15th and 16th centuries, but then declined in numbers until it was almost extinct. The present day Murgese breed was developed from horses selected in 1926, when the herdbook was established, and is possibly a more refined version of the original Murgese horse. Until selection began in 1926 there were very diverse physical characteristics within the breed due to lack of breeding regulations. The original horses selected to revitalize the Murgese breed were a group of 46 mares and 9 stallions. The original center for selective breeding was the Institute for the Improvement of Horse Populations (then known as the Stallion Stud), where three foundation stallions, Nerone, Granduca, and Araldo delle Murge, formed the main bloodlines of the breed today. The Association of Breeders of the Murge Horse and the Donkey of Martina Franca (ANAMF) was founded in 1948 to protect the Murgese breed. In 1990 the Italian Ministry of Agriculture and Forestry established the Anagraphic Register to record equine groups identifiable as individual breeds, which included the Murgese. As of 2005, the Murgese population numbers more than 1500 breeding animals, including 1080 mares, 107 stallions and 350 foals. Before registration, all animals are blood typed, and in 2004, an extensive study was performed to analyze the amount of inbreeding present in the Murgese breed and concluded that the amount of inbreeding was within acceptable levels.
The Murgese breed generally stands 14 to 15 hands high, and may be black, gray with black points or brown (a variant on bay). The head is light, with a straight or slightly convex profile, a broad forehead and sometimes a prominent jaw. The neck is sturdy and broad at the base, the withers pronounced, the chest well-developed and the shoulders sloping. The back is sometimes hollow and the croup is long and broad and can be either flat or sloping. The legs are strong with large joints. They are quite similar to the Friesian horse.
Many Murgese horses are bred and raised in a semi-wild herd state in the scrubby grazing land and hilly woodland of Murge, living outside year round and foraging for food. This has made them extremely hardy and resistant to many diseases.
Murgese horses are generally used for trekking and cross-country riding, although they have also traditionally been used for farm work and light draft work. They are still popular on small farms where they are sought for their multi-purpose usefulness. They are often crossed with Thoroughbreds to produce better riding stock.
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