Lusitanos in Lisbon

As you’ve probably already noticed by now, I’m a massive fan of horses. As a kid I’d look forward all week until Saturday would come around and I’d get chance to spend some horsey time – either riding, working at a riding school or grooming the local farm’s horses and ponies. Never in my wildest dreams as a kid did I ever imagine I would go to Lisbon and be taught by a master, feed carrots to beautiful Lusitanos and pat the stunning horses at the Portugese School of Equestrian Art, but last week that is exactly what I did.

I recently took up riding again after 15 years off, and fell in love with it all over again – why did I wait so long?! I decided at Christmas that for a birthday treat I would book a few days away over April bank holiday, when I came across Unicorn Riding Holidays on Facebook, and the seed was planted in my mind to go on a horsey adventure, my choice, Classical Equitation in Lisbon. Sarah was my contact and she was incredibly helpful, and I can’t wait for my next adventure with them.

Friday 29th – like waiting for my Saturdays as a kid, it took far too long for this date to arrive, and when it did the snow came too. What is usually a quick hop over Woodhead to Manchester airport was a long 3 hour slow slog up the M62 in rubbish conditions; I was determined to make it though, even if I had to walk!!! On landing in a very dark Portugal (the flight was predictably late) I was met by Nelson, who had come to collect me in his cab, complete with a note written from my hosts as he didn’t speak much English. At all. But we muddled through and had lots of smiles as he drove me to my location where I was greeted by Tatao, who I immediately knew would be lovely and I was in safe hands. The little cottage had candles lit and a huge selection of food ready for the morning’s breakfast.

Saturday 30th – I was up with the cockerel and the whinnying of the horses and wandered outside after a lovely breakfast to be greeted by the warming, welcoming spring Portugese sunshine. A little breeze rustled the leaves in the trees and I sighed with happiness as I took up position on a bench in the sun. It wasn’t long before I heard the thundering hooves of a horse being trained in the indoor arena, so I went to investigate. A beautiful bay was cantering around on a lunge rein while a Portugese trainer stood before him calmly but commanding. I remember thinking, “they don’t make them like that in England.”

Today I was to have 2 lessons with Master Rider and teacher of Classical Equitation with the Portugese School of Equestrian Art, António Borba Monteiro, who kindly showed me around all the horses before deciding on who I was to ride. António also had a calm, reassuring presence, and I knew I was in the presence of an artistic master without a hint of ego or arrogance. It wasn’t just the horses whose respect he commanded.

The morning I was to ride Prudence, a stunning grey Lusitano, who António told me was a 29 year old school master. I expected him to be slow and slightly weary of having me on top but as soon as I sat on him he was ready to go; his gaits were amazing and he only needed the slightest movements to know what to do. He even had a few “tricks” he wanted to show including taking a bow and pawing his hooves in the air. He was a lovely natured horse, I got plenty of time after the lesson to pat him and feed him carrots before he was put away to rest. Natalie, (who if she ever sees this I’m sorry I don’t know how to write your name!) was a fabulous Swedish lady who was helping take care of the horses was so helpful and kind and always had a beaming smile and a wave.

Lunch came around and I was kindly invited to António and Tatao’s house to join their family for lunch – typical Portugese food which was just lovely, and the glass of red wine from Tatao’s Father’s Vineyard was just delicious. I felt so honoured to be made to feel so welcome in their home.

My afternoon ride with António fresh from his siesta was on a younger stallion, with as António put it, “more horse power,” likely because I’d managed not to fall off and had hopefully made some progress in my first lesson.

Sunday 1st – My morning lesson came and I couldn’t wait to get back in the saddle. We had the lesson outside in the Olympic sized arena, surrounded by beautiful trees and flowers – I was in heaven. We were joined by another horse and rider who were practicing their advanced moves while I practiced my circles and transitions.

Overnight a family from Holland had arrived and for lunch we all headed to a local restaurant and got take-out Portugese chicken, which made Nando’s pale into insignificance! I ate mine sat outside my cottage, where I was joined by “pusscat,” who I’d Christened so as nobody seemed to have a name for her. She’d greeted me when I arrived by meowing and hadn’t left my side much at all since then. Of course she had little bits of chicken skin, but not the good bits; they were well and truly mine!

With my belly full, Tatao kindly offered to take us all into Lisbon itself where we could then go wandering or head back to the farm. Armed with camera I decided to stay – I could have caught the many tourist buses, trams and metro but instead decided to just wander where my feet would take me. I managed not to get lost in Barcelona last year so figured I’d give it a go in Lisbon! I’m so glad I did, I headed through the tourist area and went walkabout in-between the hilly streets, joined a few locals sitting on benches watching the world go by before finally heading back to the farm, thinking I should have had a quick siesta! Haha! I slept like a log that night, and knew I had an early morning for an exciting trip so had a cheeky beer sat outside with pusscat curled up on my feet before calling it a night.

Monday 2nd – Today was the day I would be visiting the Portugese School and Equestrian Art with António. I was so excited to see their beautiful horses and see the school. The morning was spent with the young horses, training them for their future. While waiting for Antonio to change I was given 3 books to look at – 2 had amazing diagrams illustrating the movements for the horses, while the other was about the history of the breed. I remember a certain paragraph at the end of the book saying about how travel inspires, and creativity is the result of inspiration – I wish I had taken a photo of exactly what it said as for me it hit the nail on the head. Afterwards we drove to the new arena where the riders were practicing for their performance, I sat downstairs and watched in awe – although photography wasn’t allowed here so I only have my memories to take away, but trust me when I say it was inspirational.

I joined two ladies for lunch at the local restaurant who had flown all the way from Canada. Both of them with gaited horses found my love of Shetlands quite amusing to say the least! Haha! I had beautiful swordfish, and was full to bursting but our lovely host insisted that we have strawberries and ice cream for dessert, which he then added some meringues to just completely finish us off!

All too soon it was time to go to the airport to come home. I could have happily stayed much longer, and I’m sure it won’t be my last visit. I loved every second I was there. The horses, the riding, the sunshine, the food, the city, but most of all, I loved the people. Thank you all for making this horse-loving girl’s dreams come true.

Sarah x