– I believe Carl Hester has been very important for the classical way in modern International dressage competition; he is a classical rider with so much sensitivity in his work, says Gonçalo Carvalho. The rider that put Portugal on the world stage in dressage when he competed in the 2012 Olympics on Alter Stallion Rubi.
By Terese Burton. Photo Bruno Barata Photography
I arrive at Gonçalo’s yard in Cascais to be met by a very calm, peaceful environment of people, horses and dogs. Immediately I’m welcomed by Gonçalo’s parents, who are also involved in the horse business.
A little Jack Russell is bouncing enthusiastically around his owner. Well dressed in a sweater and riding trousers, Gonçalo has a boyish look, slightly unruly curly hair and a wide smile. With a warm welcome, he shows me into his office. There are leather sofas, a large desk, a meeting table and a small kitchen. The walls are adorned with various images of Lusitanos and Gonçalo riding Rubi and Batuta, piles of magazines—many with Gonçalo on the cover—and lovely equine sculptures scattered on the surfaces.
While making coffee, we chat about life and Lusitano horses. Gonçalo is a huge supporter of the breed, and explains that he believes they have vast amounts of potential for modern dressage.
-Breeders are doing a good job of selecting to produce sportive Lusitanos without compromising too much of what makes the Lusitano so special, he says.
He mentions how the wonderful versatility, agility and the ability of the breed to collect naturally is a real bonus in dressage and must be maintained.
“From my point of view, I want to stay true to the classical way by always having soft, sensitive hands and maintaining sensitivity with the horse.”
Settling down with our coffees, we chat about his career. He began to ride when he was very young. Horses were very much part of his family, so it was a natural step for him to ride. However, in his early years, he developed a severe allergy and was unable to ride or be near horses for several years. As a boy, he received weekly treatments to get over the problem, but he doesn’t know if the treatments worked or if he just grew out of the allergy. Fortunately, he recovered and went on to develop his riding career in leaps and bounds. At the age of 17, he started working for João Pedro Rodrigues (head of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Arte in Lisbon). He impressed with his riding, so they invited him to train and ride for the school, in which he did for several years. For sure, these years affected his riding philosophy.
“I think classical equitation is vital for understanding and developing sensitivity. From my point of view, I want to stay true to the classical way by always having soft, sensitive hands and maintaining sensitivity with the horse. It is also essential to be aware of the position in the saddle while remaining relaxed, calm and attentive, he says.
” I believe Carl Hester has been very important for the classical way in modern International dressage competition; he is a classical rider with so much sensitivity in his work. I like and admire him very much, he continues. Isabel Werth is an amazing rider and she works with a lot of different and difficult horses. Also Edward Gal, he is a very different, talented rider and I think he is very good.”
While in the school, in addition to developing his classical riding skills, Gonçalo learnt how to perform.
“I travelled to shows both nationally and internationally, and gained vital experience in the importance of concentration, performance and how to manage myself. It has helped me hugely in competing internationally, especially, for instance, in the 2012 Olympics.”
“I think classical equitation is vital for understanding and developing sensitivity.
Obviously, the huge arenas doesn’t destroy his focus.
“I find it easier to compete in a big arena with hundreds watching because then you cannot see any faces. It’s harder with a smaller audience, as it is so much more intimate.”
In 2012, Gonçalo put Portugal on the world stage when he competed in the 2012 Olympics on Alter Stallion Rubi.
“It was an amazing experience I will never forget, however, during my tests, I wasn’t aware of anything around me. I simply focused fully on the dressage rectangle and Rubi.”
Riding Lusitano horses.
Gonçalo has been very succesful with the two top dressage Lusitano horses, Batuta and Rubi.
“Neither of them are particularly typical Lusitanos. For example, Rubi is an outstanding horse, but he has aspects in his conformation balance that made him difficult to work with, such as a thicker stallion neck, he explains. “But, he has an amazing character – the best mind that you can imagine. Working with him was a real pleasure. He is a life-changing horse, and I believe some of his offspring will achieve great things.”
“The most important thing for me is feeling and a good base. I continually look for the horses to be in balance, contact in the reins, relaxing their back and achieving connection right through the body— from the tail to the mouth.”
Gonçalo is working closely with breeders to continue developing the sport Lusitanos. Means Lusitano horses with a talent for the sport.
“Lusitanos have outstanding qualities. They are so versatile that I think it is vital that the breeders stay focused on breeding their Lusitanos for one purpose and not try to produce horses for everything. Really, they are so adaptable. Their characters are wonderful. I don’t want to see these fantastic qualities lost. Even though they are not always the most beautiful horses, however, I do feel that sometimes people get too wrapped up in looks. It is far more important to have an eye on the qualities. Warmbloods today are becoming more like Lusitanos—more sensitive, intelligent and more agile, making collected work easier for them. It is these qualities the warmblood breeders are developing to improve their horses’ performances, and it is these qualities the Lusitanos naturally have so they must be preserved.”
Watching Gonçalo riding is truly enjoyable. He appears focused, soft and quiet with his horses. When training he works mostly the basics, asking for very few high-level movements during a session.
“The most important thing for me is feeling and a good base. I continually look for the horses to be in balance, contact in the reins, relaxing their back and achieving connection right through the body— from the tail to the mouth.
He refers to the first 5 points of the “Escala de treino (training scales)”.
“Rhythm, suppleness, contact, impulsion, and straightness. When I feel these aspects are in place, I can go to collection. Beforehand I simply work to relax the horse and achieve a good feeling.
“Even with a GP horse the basics are the most important things to practise regularly, he says. “I spend 90% of the time working on the basics. A good feeling is fundamental. When the horse is relaxed, and “with me”, that is the best experience I can have. If I fail to create this connection, for sure, I will not enjoy the journey and certainly, we will not achieve good scores in the dressage tests.
He points out the importance of staying true to the basics when training young horses.
“Even with young horses, it is the same work. The only difference is I will not search for the collection in a young horse. I am simply focusing on the first 5 points of the scale. Only after the basics are in place, I begin to work the exercises or lateral movements and later on I move to the collected work. The horse can only produce a high-quality collection in the right way when he is prepared with solid base work.”
By Teresa Burton / LusitanoHorseFinder.com