Portuguese Dressage Riders make history

Portuguese Dressage Riders crack the 80% barrier!

By Teresa Burton. Images of Maria Caetano Couceiro with Coroado AR, Fenix and Hit Plus excluding competition images by https://www.sandragrafie.de

Last year four riders took Portugal to the next level in International Dressage – they won a team place in the 2020 Tokyo Olympics. It is not the first time Portugal has competed, with great riders such as Miguel Ralão, Daniel Pinto and Carlos Pinto competing as individuals (know as a composed team) in Beijing 2008, Gonçalo Carvalho as a single entry in London 2012 and in 1948 London three riders won the bronze medal.

This, however, is the first time a full team qualification has been achieved.  The four riders have only been competing Internationally for a short time and none have ever been to the Olympics, what’s more, they are all on Portuguese Lusitano horses. All the horses were bred in the Southern Region of Portugal called the Alentejo, all are purebred stallions.

In fact it’s only in the last 15-20 years Lusitano breeders have turned their expertise to producing horses for dressage competition. Previously they were bred for bullfighting, classical dressage and working equitation. It’s a huge step into International dressage where warmbloods have dominated for so long. Breeders have managed, even with a closed stud book to produce high-quality horses that are bigger, stronger, with more sportive gaits and yet still manage to retain the overall integrity of the breed. Admittedly, they may not have the huge extended gaits of the warmbloods, but they bring other qualities to the party: a natural ability to collect, fantastic temperament, work ethic and rideAbility.  Despite being one of the oldest breeds of horse in the world there is still a relativity low number of them registered globally most are in bred in Portugalfollowed by Brazil and Spain. This is a remarkable evolution of an ancient breed in a short period of time.

“Lusitanos are now ranked 7th in the WBFSH FEI stud of horse breeds for dressage competition.”

Interesting Fact – Two of the qualifying Lusitanos have been bred at the same stud farm from the same stallion Rubi AR –  this is the first time in the history of Olympic dressage that a stud farm anywhere in the world has attained this.

Carlos Lopes (the Portugal Team Selector) told me it is not just the evolution of the Lusitano breed that has achieved this result, but also the investors in the horses and their support for the internationalisation of the riders. These investors have shown huge faith in the breed and commitment to International advancement.  With this support, there is greater access to more training and therefore better performance in the horses and riders.

The qualifying riders and horses are Maria Caetano Couceiro on Coroado, Rodrigo Moura Torres on Fogoso, João Torrãoon Equador and Duarte Nogueira on Beirao.

Maria Caetano riding Coroado now ranked 38th in the FEI World Dressage Ranking has for the first time in Lusitano Competition History cracked the 80% barrier by finishing 2019 with 80,940% 2nd place at CDYW MECHELEN.

In 1954 Roger Bannister smashed the 4 minute mile which led to 4 more achieving the same within a year.  How many riders inspired by Maria and Coroado´s achievements will score over 80% in the next years on their Lusitanos !! The flood gates of belief are officially open. It’s certainly an exciting future for the breed.

Quote taken from an interview with Carl Hester who has been working with João Torrãoon Lusitano Equador

“I find Lusitanos are so kind and willing to work, Equador transforms from looking like a cuddly pony in the stable to a real showman in the arena. The pair have achieved so much so young and they have the potential to achieve a place in the top 10 world rankings”.

I talked with the riders to learn more about their journey and their future plans.

Maria Caetano

Maria Caetano, now living in Germany, grew up on her family farm in the Alentejo where they breed Lusitanos and cattle.  She is a dynamic young women that can literally ride in an International Competition or gallop across fields working the cattle. 

She has been riding since before she could walk in fact she told me she doesn’t remember the first time she saton a horseas since she was a baby she wason a horse’s back with her father. But her first profound memory was thetime sherode a horse by herselfin the Golegã Lusitanofair at just 5 years old.

In the early days she trained mostly with her father Paulo Caetano, who has with her mother Dita Moura Caetano been by her side throughout her career.  Paulo in fact has had an outstanding career himself educating Lusitanos and riders originally for bullfighting and now dressage. He has taught several young riders to International level, including Giovana Pass who competed at only 19 years old on Lusitano Zingaro de Lyw in Rio 2016 for the Brazilian team.

I have known Maria for several years and from the first day I met her I was struck by her friendliness, commitment and unstoppable determination. She is highly professional in her approach to life seemingly effortlessly balancing her emotional and physical world really well.  Although very modest she is extremely focussed on her career strategy and love of horses.  Currently in her stable she has 5 top horses owned by sponsors, all are Lusitanos and cross-bred Lusitanos. Preferring to be a totally ´hands on´ rider, she likes to do as much as possible with her horses.  She told me she thinks the more time you can spend with them – riding, lunging, grooming hand grazing the better your bond is which is vital for competition partnerships.

Maria’s move to Germany, although difficult being away from her home and family, has been a really successful decision, placing her much closer to the big competitions and the opportunity to be with many of the best dressage riders in the World. She also started training with the renowned  Ton De Ridderwhich is fine tuning her riding and competition skills.

The Lusitano Stallion, Coroado she qualified on was bred by the Alter Stud Farm and is the son of Rubi AR. The Alter stallion ridden by Goncalo Carvalho in London 2012 Olympics, the pair achieved 16th place in the individuals with 74% GP, 77.6% freestyle. Maria told me that Coroado is a special stallion with a playful spirit and a great heart like his father, he can be quite electric at times and sometimes quite a stallion. To manage this when going to competitions she is very careful to ensure she takes the time to secure a good calm stable location for him. She understands very well his needs and knows exactly how he is as soon as she arrives at the stable. This understanding and confidence in each other has developed a connection between them, creating is a star performance in the arena.

She went onto to tell me she feels very blessed to have a super supportive, professional team around her right down to her dog Alfonso – who loves to sit upon Coroado´s back. It is very exciting to watch Maria´s career grow in leaps and bounds. 

Fenix de Tineo (Lusitano) owned YEGUADA FINCA TINEO, LDAlike Coroado is by Rubi AR. Fenix has started competed Big Tour scoring 68,8% and 72,6%at his second outing he is showing huge promise for the future.

Hit Plus (cross bred Lusitano) owned by Rui Oliveira Oliveira and bred by Dressage Plus debuted in Small Tour this March scoring an excellent  69%. Another horse to watch for the future. 

Maria is currently ranked 38th in the FEI World dressage rankings.

Text By Teresa Burton www.lusitanohorsefinder.com

Teresa Burton
Teresa Burton


Being an adventurous spirit, Teresa has travelled the world, always willing to expand her mind to new opportunities and create new ideas. Her passion is to develop innovative, cutting-edge opportunities to take the Iberian horses into the modern world with the sensitivity and pride they deserve.

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