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Meet the striking grand prix stallion whose breed you’ve probably never heard of

It is not unusual nowadays to see Baroque horses doing well at top level dressage — the Iberian breeds in particular, such as Portugal’s Lusitano and Spain’s Andalucian or Pura Raza Española (PRE), are especially renowned for their trainable temperaments and talent for the advanced collected work in particular. Even Friesian horses are gaining recognition as a breed that can compete with warmbloods. But what about the Baroque breed you might never have heard of — the Murgese horse.

The Murgese breed originates from the far south of Italy, in the Puglia region, and dates back hundreds of years, having been popular with the Italian cavalry during the 15th and 16th Centuries, after which their numbers dwindled almost to extinction.

These impressive and often striking looking horses are usually black or occasionally blue roan, and are typically powerful, well balanced and highly intelligent. One who is making his mark on the dressage scene in the Netherlands is the 11-year-old stallion Carletto, thought to be the only Murgese horse in the world competing at grand prix level.

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The striking blue roan, by Otello Di San Paolo x Everest, recently made his debut at the level under Dutch-Italian rider Jolanda Adelaar, scoring 66.9% at a national show in Velsen-Zuid, the Netherlands.

“Everything I imagined Carletto could do is now becoming reality. Like many Baroque horse breeds, his highlights show in piaffe and passage,” says Jolanda, who is no stranger to achieving success on somewhat unusual breeds, having started her dressage career riding a Fjord. She bought Carletto eight years ago as an unbacked youngster from his breeder in Puglia, training him up the levels at her home in Brabant, Netherlands, and now hopes to progress to international grand prix with him.

“Carletto’s nickname is Rocky Balboa, because he is an underdog who worked up from the bottom,” she adds.

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