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Portugal - The ancestral home of the Lusitano

Author: SuperUser Account/Tuesday, August 16, 2011/Categories: Blog

Portugal - The ancestral home of the Lusitano

We flew into Lisbon on a perfect sunny summer's day, and I must say I instantly felt a bond with Portugal. Ireland is the only other place in Europe I've ever felt at home, and I was surprised to find myself feeling the same way on the Continent proper. Later that day I was informed (by many people) that New Zealand and Portugal are polar opposites - if you dug a hole deep enough from Lisbon you would poke your head up back in Aotearoa - A comforting thought to know there is a short route home!

We spent a night in the flashest backpackers I've ever seen in whole career as a globe trotter - highly recommend the Oasis Backpackers - we had a whole house to ourselves! There was a big bullfight advertised for that night at Campo Pequeno - a huge stadium bull ring in central Lisbon. I was unsure of whether or not I would like to watch the bullfight - but it's an important part of the culture and I really wanted to see the Lusitano horse in the job it has been bred for for centuries. When we got there it was beyond incredible, the crowd, the music, the atmosphere was electric - and that was before we went into the stadium! Inside the colours and the pageantry had me gasping, and watching the magnificent horses passaging and piaffing before swerving the bulls was incredible. Of course it was not nice to see the bull getting upset, but in Portugal he is not killed in the ring (a rule brought in nearly 200 years ago), and I was comforted by the thought that the bull had thus far lived his 4 years of life in the fields - a far cry from his counterparts stuck in sheds all their lives awaiting slaughter for human consumption. Highlights other than the horses were seeing the audience throwing flowers and clothing down to the Cavaleiros, and when the bull manage to completely frap a poor Forcados! See the photo below for the ambulance crew that followed...

The next day we headed on the train to the seaside town of Caiscas - and were greeted by our Portuguese agent Nicole Giger - a Swiss rider living in Portugal and specialising in finding Lusitano horses for riders around the globe. The very first thing she said to me was that she had lived in New Zealand for a while, and when I asked her where she said Raglan! Turns out she was just up the road from my home base, and we instantly struck it off and became friends... To make it even better I had found out about Nicole's service through an Aussie girl Sarah Warne who lives in Portugal and is an equestrian journalist. She was also great fun!

One of the first stables she took us to was to the Pinto Academy - home of Daniel Pinto - one of Portugal's best. I remember seeing him ride in Las Vegas years ago and again at WEG in Kentucky. Daniel is an inspiration to me. His facilities, horses, and the sponsors he has are due in no small part to being from a country who supports sending its riders to these big competitions. He told me he was so thrilled with his 65% score on his gorgeous Lusitano stallion Galopin de la Font at the WEG that he decided to retire him - to him it was like 70%. Was very humbling to think that a rider as great as Daniel on such a great horse could still be 3% below the standard NZ requires for the Olympics and WEG - he couldn't believe it when I told him not even Portugal's top horse Ruby would be able to represent New Zealand! To see how far Daniel has come in the sport and the support he has received from being able to get amongst it at the highest level was fantastic but once again I was left pondering what it would be like riding for a country like Portugal... Check out the photos from Daniel's indoor school below - it has HUGE drop down posters on the walls of all his top horses. The facility has its own fancy restaurant where we had a delicious lunch paired with great wine - overlooking the lovely horses being worked in the indoor below. Heaven!

At Daniels I tried the lovely stallion Safari - he is Prix St Georges level and a super mover - he comes from the stud of Ervideira - one of the oldest studs in Portugal. Follow this link to the website - the photos on here are amazing! http://www.coudelariaervideira.com/en/home We got to travel to the stud that very same day and look at another stallion there and the youngstock. I love their brand - an E within a heart - very cool. The owner Lous de Sousa Cabral is a fantastic man who's family have been breeding Lusitanos for many generations.

I will wind up this blog by telling you all of the next horse we visited - Xangai (as in Shanghai in China) - an 8yo going Grand Prix. I must say I loved him! He has the most awesome piaffe / passage, and the best flying changes we had seen. Better still he had show jumped in competition and had also been trained a little in the bullfighting ring - a superb example of the versatility of the Lusitano breed. He has the most fantastic tail and as is usual in Portugal and Spain, was ridden by an eye-catching rider! I decided almost instantly that Xangai was the one for me - he had everything, age, height, breeding (his grandfather was an international show jumper for John Whittaker) and looks - superb temperament - suddenly I had "the horse"! http://www.lusitanosoliveirasantos.com/en/index.html

We spent some time with Vasco who owns the stud that Xangai is from - a lovely man and a whole heap of fun. He took us to the home of one of Portugal's top young Cavaleiros (bullfighters) and I got to ride my very first real bullfighting Lusitano in the ring - complete with a small but fierce bull who was thankfully getting tired by the time I got to have a go. The object of my ride (I think - I don't understand the shouting in Portuguese!) was to canter in small circles in shoulder-in around the bull and when he charged at me, let the horse keep just slightly out of the way! Crazy but fun - and an absolute honour to put that into my scrap book of life experiences with horses.

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