King Frederick of Swabia II chose the Murge plateau of Puglia to breed his destriers for a good reason.
Only the toughest horses adapted to the barren, rocky karst terrain – horses that made formidable mounts in battle. The horses of the Murge were praised for their hooves. They were strong enough to carry an armored knight long distances without metal shoes (the kingdom stretched from Sicily to Jerusalem), which made them highly desirable.
Sensible and calm yet capable of maneuvering quickly once amidst the conflict, these horses were bred with local stock that had been raised by the ancient inhabitants of Puglia and were then crossed with Arabian, Iberian and Berber stallions to produce what was once considered the perfect destrier. Keenly sought after throughout the kingdom, these horses often caught the eye of crusaders on their way to Jerusalem.
It is recorded in old texts that the Emperor forbade southern Italian subjects from selling these horses to crusaders ‘who were eager to buy them’. He allowed animals to be sold, but his war horses were to be kept in the kingdom.
After the emperor’s death, the black horses of the Murge were said to have been utilised by the Ghibelline soldiers as they fought for the Emperor against the Guelph’s.
Throughout the 1400s, horses from Puglia were popular with riders from the Venetian republic and this trend was continued by Spanish rulers during the 16th century. In the 16th,17th and 18th centuries the studs in Puglia were part of Naples, and horses from these studs were called Neapolitan horse (read more here).
When the studs of the kingdom were disposed of, the Murgese horse, like many Italian breeds, went through a conspicuously dark period.
Much like other Baroque types, which fell out of fashion at the turn of last century (like the Nonius horse in Hungary) the Murgese was bred mostly for consumption and farm work. For a period many of the studs produced only what was easy to sell -heavy and ungainly horses. The breed nearly went extinct.
Luckily forward thinking breeders have recuperated the old Neapolitan type though careful management.
The Murgese was officially registered as a breed in 1926 from the following three stallion lines.
Granduca di Martina (1919-1944)
Araldo delle Murge (1928-1949)
Nerone was from the Conversano stud; one of Puglias most prestigious breeding farms. It was also same stud as the Lipizzaner stallion Conversano (exported to Austria).
The Murgese must be jet black,darkest brown (no white marks are allowed) or blue roan (the latter make up less than 3% of the population of registered Murgese horses). They stand between 150 and 168 cm at the wither (though many stallions reach +170cm), are well muscled, with a wide chest and hard hooves.
Many enthusiasts claim the Murgese is the closest living descendent of the now extinct Neapolitan horse, and they may be right.
The Murgese population has rebounded due the past twenty years and is now growing in fame throughout Europe and the world. Over 60% of stallions registered in 2018 were sold to foreign buyers.
Check out ANAMF for more information and photographs
Pics below are copyrighted to Cristiane Slawik. Horses from Roberta Inama