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Use and characteristics of the Murgese
The modern Murgese is generally black or blue roan, although in earlier times they were often sorrel. Standing between 14 hands (56 inches/142 cm) and 15 hands (60 inches/152 cm) high, with some taller individuals, the Murgese draws comparison with breeds such as the Friesian. The Murgese has a noble head that is straight or slightly convex in profile and its handsome Baroque looks are part of the appeal for equestrians who buy a Murgese. The breed is famed for the strength of its legs and feet and the hooves are always black and hard, important points when breeders sell a Murgese. They are hardy horses, often living a semi-feral existence on scrubby land with very limited grazing, which is the natural landscape of the Murge.
Origin and history of breeding Murgese Horses
The Neapolitan war horse was famous throughout Europe in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Those bred and raised in Calabria and Puglia (then part of the kingdom of Naples) were held to be the finest examples of the breed. The Murge area between Brindisi and Bari in Puglia became a particularly important region for raising horses during the eighteenth century, which was the period of Spanish rule in Italy. The Count of Conversano is credited with originating the regional breed here in the eighteenth century by crossing local horses of Neapolitan war horse type with Barbs and other “Oriental” horses. The fame of the Conversano horses led to the Austrian emperor acquiring stallions of the breed in 1774. These were the founders of the Conversano line of Lipizzaners, which continues to this day. The family of the stallion Neapolitano who entered the stud at Lipica later also continues. However, by the twentieth century, the Murgese breed was all but lost. The modern Murgese dates to 1926, when the Stallion Stud of Foggia began a systematic approach to breeding using mares and stallions of diverse types. The regional stud farm at Foggia became the Institute for the Improvement of Horse Populations and began to work closely with The Association of Breeders of the Murge Horse and the Donkey of Martina Franca (ANAMF), founded in 1948. Three stallions were chosen as the foundation sires for the modern Murgese: Granduca, Nerone, and Araldo della Murge. By the 1990s, there was understandably plenty of interest in these beautiful, robust horses. Today, breeding is centred on the area around Martina Franca, where there are specialist studs, shows and sales for the Murgese horse.
Murgese Horses in equestrianism
The handsome and versatile Murgese horses can participate in all types of equestrian activity. They also make superb horses for displays. They are good carriage horses. As well as maintaining a role in farming and forestry, they have an increasingly important role in regional heritage and tourism. In recent years, experimental crossing with Thoroughbreds and Arabians has produced quality sports horses.