“Collect the walk! It looks like you’re going for a walk in the forest, not like you’re about to do a transition,” Rita observes. It’s hard not to laugh at yourself at these moments; years of plodding around on my own have clearly led to a fairly casual riding style.
“I should be able to look at you and know exactly where you’re going and what you’re doing, but right now I don’t know whether you’re doing collected trot or working trot, or whether you’re on a 20m circle or on the short side!” Rita continues. These gentle reminders about the importance of accuracy and clarity, even when you’re not in a competition mindset, were a wake-up call I needed. How can my young horses progress, build strength and discipline, and become performance horses if I am not clear and consistent every time I ride them? How do they know what I want if it’s not even clear to an educated eye on the ground? Classical riding is not casual riding, as my aching muscles reminded me at the end of my two-lesson days on tour; it’s hard yet rewarding work.
As the tour progressed, so did my confidence; I could feel my “riding legs” starting to return. On Day 4, I experienced a day so special that the memories will never leave me. An amazing second lesson with Pedro Torres in the morning felt hard to top; I was finding my groove with Irudito, and at the end of the lesson I managed nine one-time flying changes in a row.
“Really good! Really, really good!” Pedro is calling out, while my cheer squad – the rest of the tour group – whoop, holler and clap me on from the corner of the arena, where they sit sipping espresso coffee and filming me. What a thrill! Heading to Portugal, I knew I would have the chance to experience piaffe and passage just like I did during my 2017 trip – piaffe/passage seems so effortless for the Lusitanos – however, one-time flying changes were not something I thought I’d ever experience in my life.
LUSITANO STUD VISIT
After that lesson, with me floating around on Cloud Nine, our group headed north of Lisbon to Joao Pedro Rodrigues’ beautiful stud farm. We had already met Joao Pedro briefly earlier in the week when we visited the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, an incredible experience made more special by a behind-the-scenes tour with one of the riders, Carlos Tomas. Joao Pedro Rodrigues joined the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in 1980, one year after it was founded, then went on to complete an internship at the Spanish Riding School in 1983, and has been Master-Chief Rider of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art since 2012.
It was an honour to visit Joao Pedro’s home and stud farm, Coudelaria Joao Pedro Rodrigues, a beautiful property that is the birthplace of many of Portugal’s most successful Lusitano horses. A kind and thoughtful man, Joao Pedro managed to perfectly match each of us with our lesson horses.
“Perhaps you can ride my old stallion,” Joao Pedro said to me with a smile and a nod, after hearing a little about our riding level. The last of the group to ride, I didn’t think much about who this old horse might be as I lounged about in the spring sunshine watching my friends’ lessons. It was not until I headed to the stables to mount up that my excitement started to peak.
“You are riding Rouxinol?” Joao Pedro’s staff asked. I saw a handsome grey stallion waiting saddled. “Is he the old stallion?” I asked, reaching out to pat him, tentatively adding, “Is he a nice one?”
“He is a really, really nice one!” came the earnest reply, and I started to learn more. Rouxinol is 25 years old, bred by Joao Pedro, and a legendary breeding stallion. A full brother to Oxidado, the stallion with which Pedro Torres dominated the sport of Working Equitation for many years, Rouxinol himself has also competed in Working Equitation and trained to Grand Prix dressage, while his immense success as a breeding stallion has been the focus of his career.