Riding deeply: Exploring the unique characteristics of the Sicilian Sanfratellano from Nebrodi horse.
Sicilian traditions

Riding deeply: Exploring the unique characteristics of the Sicilian Sanfratellano from Nebrodi horse.

Cavallo Sanfratellano dei nebrodi

In the picturesque land of Sicily, a majestic breed of horses reigns, the Sanfratellano. Born and raised in the Nebrodi Mountains, this equine beauty is truly a treasure of Sicilian culture. With its distinctive characteristics and rich history, Sanfratellano stands out as a symbol of strength, resistance and resilience.

This horse has a robust frame and a powerful stride, which make it perfect for crossing the rugged territory of the Nebrodi Mountains. Its appearance is characterized by a deep chestnut coat, complemented by a flowing mane and tail.

Sanfratellano has been an integral part of Sicilian tradition for centuries. Renowned for its versatility, it has been a faithful companion of farmers, shepherds and even a trusted mount for knights. Today it continues to fascinate equestrian enthusiasts with his intelligence, loyalty and gentle temperament.

Whether you are a horse riding enthusiast or simply interested in exploring the unique world of horses, the Sanfratellano is an enchanting and fascinating subject to explore. Join us on a fascinating journey into the world of the Sicilian horse. 


Introduction to the Sanfratellano dei Nebrodi horse from the Nebrodi Mountains

The Nebrodi Mountains, a mountain range in eastern Sicily, are the homeland of Sanfratellano horses.

This horse has been bred in this area for centuries and has developed unique characteristics that distinguish it from other horse breeds.

The main municipalities in which this horse originates and continues to be bred are:

  • San Fratello
  • Alcara Li Fusi
  • Cesarò
  • Longi
  • Caronia
  • Troina
  • Nicosia
  • Cerami
  • Mistretta
  • Capizzi
  • Tortorici
  • Roccella Valdemone
  • Floresta
  • San Piero Patti
  • Sant’Agata Militello

  Its history and its link with the Sicilian land make it a symbol of the island’s cultural identity.

History and origin of Sanfratellano

Sanfratellano dei nebrodi

The history of Sanfratellano is surrounded in mystery and legend. This breed is believed to have ancient origins, dating back hundreds of years.

There are several theories regarding the birth of this breed.

Some think that it derives from Arab domination and the consequent introduction of Arabian breeds. (If you want to find out more about this period in Sicily we wrote a very interesting article… you can find it here)

Another theory has it that the breed derives from the Norman Domination on the island.

This theory, of the two, is the most probable because it is supported by several factors.

This breed bears the name of the municipality of San Fratello. This place owes much of its history to Norman domination.

At the end of the 11th century Adelaide del Vasto landed in Sicily because she was to marry Count Ruggero. The future queen did not arrive alone but she brought with her the knights and other people from her country who settled on the island.

The area chosen for this settlement was San Fratello which was repopulated by these people coming from the “north”.

Obviously following them also came the Nordic breed horses which most likely influenced the birth of this Sicilian breed.

Another interesting detail resulting from this settlement is the dialectal influence: today in San Fratello a Gallo-Italic dialect is spoken, different from the dialect spoken by the neighboring municipalities, the result of this Nordic influence.

Whatever its origins, today the San Fratello horse is mainly influenced by Maremmani horses, Nonius and oriental horses.

The breeders of the Nebrodi Mountains have carefully preserved the unique characteristics of this horse, passing their knowledge from generation to generation.

Physical characteristics and breed standards

Physical characteristics

The Sanfratellano horse has a height at the withers of approximately 160 cm. The body is compact and muscular, with a short and robust head, small ears and a lively eye. The neck is thick and muscular, the croup is broad and strong. The limbs are massive and well proportioned.

The coat is generally bay, black or brown. Few white hairs are tolerated.


According to the standard, Sanfratellano must have the following characteristics:

Height at withers: 150-160 cm.

Body: compact and muscular.

Head: short and massive, with small ears and a lively eye.

Neck: thick and muscular.

Croup: broad and strong.

Limbs: strong and well proportioned.

Coat: bay, black or chestnut bay.

Unique traits and abilities of the Sanfratellano

The Sanfratellano is known for its resistance and its ability to adapt to difficult conditions.

This horse was bred to tackle the rugged terrain of the Nebrodi Mountains, and his physical structure and powerful gait make him an ideal companion for exploration and riding in this area.

It has been used a lot in the history of the island, it is probably the horse that pulled the typical Sicilian charriots.

If crossed with English thoroughbreds, it become an excellent specimen for riding.

However, if it is crossed with the Ragusano donkey it produces mules that are known for their working abilities.

Sanfratellano occupies a prominent place in Sicilian culture and heritage.

He was a faithful companion of farmers and shepherds, helping in agricultural activities and in the transportation of livestock.

It has also been used as a riding and draft horse, demonstrating its versatility and adaptability to different tasks.

Conservation efforts and challenges faced by the Sanfratello breed

An important and notable characteristic in the breeding of this breed is that this occurs in a state of freedom, which is rare for horses.

Generally, this horses grow almost completely free in large areas where they have the opportunity to develop almost naturally.

Today the Sanfratellano horse still lives in the wild.

Like many breeds, the Sanfratellano faces challenges in terms of conservation and preservation.

Technological advancement and urbanization have reduced the space available for grazing and breeding these horses.

However, thanks to the efforts of breeders and enthusiasts, the breed has endured and continues to thrive.

There are approximately 3300 regularly registered specimens.

Horse riding experiences and competitions with the Sanfratellano

The Sanfratellano Equitazione horse excels above all in the disciplines of show jumping and dressage.

Thanks to its agility, speed and endurance, it is able to perform precise and complex movements, making it a highly appreciated horse in these disciplines.

Horse riding enthusiasts have discovered the wonders of the Sanfratellano, appreciating his resistance and intelligence.

Equestrian competitions offer an opportunity to test the abilities of this horse, demonstrating its agility and strength.

Equestrian events involving Sanfratellano have become an important part of the Sicilian equine scene.

Tips for training and caring for the Sanfratellano horse

The training and care of the Sanfratellano requires in-depth knowledge of its characteristics and needs.

It is important to establish a trusting relationship with the horse and provide a balanced diet and an environment suited to its needs.

Training should be based on positive reinforcement and understanding his natural tendencies.

This breed is excellent for riding schools and for tourist excursions.

Conclusions: The future of the Sanfratellano dei Nebrodi horse

The Sanfratellano is a type of native horse of Sicily, originated from the Nebrodi mountains. It is a medium-sized horse, with a strong structure, suitable for work in the fields and light transport.

Over the centuries, the Sanfratellano has given rise to numerous specimens who have achieved notable results in various equestrian disciplines.

These horses are a pride for Sicily and represent a unique cultural and genetic heritage.

Despite the challenges the breed faces, the future of the Sanfratellano looks promising.

Conservation efforts and interest from enthusiasts are helping to preserve this unique breed and ensure it continues to be part of Sicily’s heritage.

Sanfratellano will forever remain a symbol of the strength and beauty of Sicily.

All photos were taken by Chiara Rizzi. If you want a photoshoot of your horse contact her here 👇


What is the Sanfratellano horse of the Nebrodi?

The Sanfratellano horse of the Nebrodi is an indigenous equine breed of Sicily, originating from the Nebrodi mountains. It is a medium-sized, sturdy and rustic horse, suitable for working in the fields and light transportation.

What are the physical characteristics of the Sanfratellano dei Nebrodi horse?

The Sanfratellano horse of the Nebrodi has a withers height of about 160 cm. The body is compact and muscular, with a short and robust head, small ears, and lively eyes. The neck is thick and muscular, the croup is wide and strong. The limbs are sturdy and well-proportioned.
The coat is generally bay, dark bay or chestnut. A few white hairs are tolerated.

What is the breed standard of the Sanfratellano dei Nebrodi horse?

According to the breed standard, the Sanfratellano dei Nebrodi must have the following characteristics:
Withers height: 150-160 cm.
Body: compact and muscular.
Head: short and robust, with small ears and lively eyes.
Neck: thick and muscular.
Croup: wide and strong.
Limbs: robust and well-proportioned.
Coat: bay, black or bay chestnut.

How many Sanfratellano horses are there in the Nebrodi?

The population of Sanfratellano horses in the Nebrodi area is estimated to be around 3,300 specimens. They are mainly found in Sicily, but can also be found in other Italian regions and some European countries.

What are the main activities in which the Sanfratellano dei Nebrodi horse is used?

The Sanfratellano horse of the Nebrodi is traditionally used for work in the fields and for light transportation. In recent times, it has also been used for horse riding, jumping and dressage.

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