I just love to pass the time with people that lift my spirits even higher! João Pedro is a man that does this every time. He exudes positive energy from his fingertips to his toes, his smile radiates sunshine, and he moves at such an energetic rate if you don’t keep your eye on him he has disappeared onto the next task.
By Teresa Burton. Photo: Lena Saugen
Pedro is also a committed man and has been with the Portuguese School of Equestrian Arte in Portugal for 35 years. The school was re-established in 1979 by four riders. After just one year one rider left and João Pedro was invited to be the fourth member. They started with their own personal horses. Now João is the head of the school and has seen it grow and change into the famous establishment it is today. I find him to be extremely knowledgeable in the school’s history right back to the time of the Royal Courts and how they preserved the court, the horses and the Arte by moving everything to Brazil to avoid it being taken by Napoleon.
I meet João at his stud to see his own breed Lusitanos. João’s Lusitano Stud was founded 20 years ago and is located close to Lisbon. Today many of his horses are achieving top results in high-level competition in dressage and working equitation . Although João is at the School 6 mornings a week, the afternoons are devoted to this place. He also has some private students he is training. In total, João has impressively taught over 40,000 dressage lessons so far!
I arrive in the late afternoon, it’s hot, the lowering sun forms long shadows across the ground giving a sultry feeling, but as we walk into the yard there’s a buzz in the air!
João, tall, lean and long-legged is striding across the yard taking huge steps. He’s busy with his son getting a trailer ready to move one of his three-year-old colts to his training yard in Cascais. We are greeted warmly and are immediately ushered towards the ‘off-road’ vehicle to visit the mares, foals and young stock. João, driving, talks all the way about his horses, classical dressage and the riding school, clearly passionate about every aspect of his life.
The mares are contently grazing with foals alongside. I ask João a bit about how he chooses his foundation mares.
“For me, it is a matter of functionality, he says. “The horses must be robust, have good gaits, balance and finesse. They must be of good temperament for training in dressage, classical dressage and working equitation.”
Most certainly João’s mares are fine horses, friendly and strong. They gather around us checking my camera bag and pockets. The foals are big, healthy and already exhibiting proper amounts of confidence and inquisitiveness. Most were born in February many sired by Ahoto, one of João’s stud stallions. João uses several of his own stallions in his breeding programme.
The fading light is wonderful so we linger a little longer while Lena, the photographer, takes a few more images, then back over the gate and off to the colts and fillies a little further along a rough track.
Like the mares, the fillies are immediately all around us as soon as we enter the field. The colts keep observing us from an acceptable distance. I always find this – the social aspect of nature – fascinating. The mares in a tight group confident and hugely interested in visitors. They gather round as tightly as possible. Occasionally, the leading mare keeps chasing off one or two, but on the whole, they all want their chance to search a pocket or bag, nibble your hair and generally take in everything. The male counterparts work in their groups in such a different way. Often they prefer to keep an agreed gap between us until they have decided it is ok the advance. Then they come in ones and twos.
Back in the yard, we see a 3-year-old starting his work on the lunge. There are currently five young horses in work in his yard. They are started slowly, with care and understanding.
I ask João which horse of his own breeding is his favorite.
“I don’t have just one favorite! I have three! Oxidado who has won so many competitions and prizes with Pedro Torres. Then I adore Rouxinol as a breeding stallion and also because he was born on my birthday. Lastly Ahoto because of his fantastic power and versatility!
“I believe it’s a matter of developing a truly ‘in-depth’ knowledge of balance.”
João’ has three horses doing Prix Saint George and Grand Prix in Dressage: Ahoto Anil and Vinho. His stallion Oxidado has won more prices than any other horse in working equitation.
“I believe it’s a matter of developing a truly ‘in-depth’ knowledge of balance, he says. “The riders in our school (referring to the Portuguese School of Equestrian Arte) learn all about the finest details of balance throughout their training. Balance is extremely important when teaching difficult exercises such as Capriole, the Courbette and Levade. In these movements perfect balance is paramount or the exercise cannot be achieved and even in extreme situations, a serious injury can occur. Working horses from the ground, and ridden, our riders learn a lot about the details of balance. Certainly, in my experience, nearly every riding problem that occurs is generally resolved by getting the correct balance. Most riders never have the opportunity to learn these exercises and most don’t spend much time working their horses from the ground other than in lunge work. So there is a much more limited opportunity to observe and experience balance in the horse. They never see the tiny details in obtaining perfect balance in the horse’s body. Understanding counterbalance is also very important”, he says.
João has been the director and head of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Arte for a few years. He loves his work and is putting together many innovative ideas to give it greater World presence.
“The young riders come to us from all kinds of places working in studs, riding schools etc. Sometimes they apply to us and sometimes we spot talented ones. Either way, they begin with us on a six month trial period. We’ve also just started accepting young women, in fact, we have two on the programme right now. They are doing really well. Women are riding in the other three main schools – France, Austria and Spain so why not in Portugal too. After the six months, we have an interview with the student, and the decision is made. Whether they stay and continue their training or not, depends on both parties. We currently have 11 riders,” João says.
“I am very happy with the way the school is progressing, especially with the re opening of the original riding hall although it is not so big it is right in Lisbon so we will have weekly shows so more people will come. Also, we are introducing some exciting new aspects within the performances – displays of some of the 18th century court games.” (He shows us images of the games in an old book of classical equitation.) ” They are super fun and will add some real spice to the performances I think! I can’t wait to get started.”
The Portuguese School of Equestrian Arte
The Portuguese School of Equestrian Arte was originally founded for the Royal Court in the 18th century as the Court Riding Academy. Then with the three invasions in Portugal the court of Portugal decided when the threat of Napoleon loomed largely they would preserve their court and their horses. So they moved the nearly everything including their prime stallions to safety in Brazil. A wise move as when Napoleon invaded he did, indeed take many horses from the academy in Belem. In 1979 the Ministry of Agriculture decided to begin the academy again. It has been going ever since. Now the original riding hall has been recovered and will be re-opened in July 2015. Hoping with the revival of the original hall the school will be able to give more regular shows and receive more visitors. Show tickets can be bought in the coach Museum – which in fact is the biggest and best coach collection in the World boasting 150 coaches and worth a visit in it’s own right.