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Sunday, 22 January 2017

The Lusitano Diaries - Part 5

My little home for the week 

I can't believe Saturday has been and gone already....my time here is flying! 

Today some of the horses were off to a training show and Sarah's mare was having a day off, which also meant a "day off" for me (if there is ever such a thing). I decided to visit Centro Equestre da Leziria Grande, home of the highly regarded classical dressage trainer, Luis Valenca.  

It started on an interesting note with a taxi driver with NO idea of where he was going and who charged me 72 Euro (!) for a 32km trip. I had been warned about this...but given the driver spoke no English and I could not negotiate on a price beforehand, I knew it would be expensive! 

I had a riding lesson with Sofia, on a gelding called Madonna (!) who patiently took me through many of the movements. I then had an inhand lesson where Sofia took me through the basics of their system in ground work for young horses. I don't have photos to show, but this short clip demonstrates some of the lungeing and lateral work on the ground I was able to try.  




On hearing of my horror taxi ride, she refused payment for my lessons - another example of the kindness and generosity I've experienced of the Portuguese. She also dropped me at the train station to return to Cascais (a total train fare of 5.50 Euro!) It however wasn't a simple journey. The patient man at the train station gave me the following directions: 


But I worked it out - Train, underground, different train....This has been a test of really stepping out of my comfort zone. In the past I would have freaked out about travelling around alone in a foreign country. Now I just laugh, get on with it and think of it as an adventure! In any case, the train ride from Lisbon to Cascais is quite scenic. As I have mentioned before, it's sometimes just the little mundane things in another country (like very quickly working out public transport) that make it interesting. 

Tomorrow I plan to visit Sintra and hopefully fit in another ride. I also have morning lessons scheduled before my day tour of Lisbon on Monday and before departing (sob!) Tuesday. I can't wait to see my family, hug my kids...but it does say something about this place that I don't feel ready to leave so soon! ❤️



The Lusitano Diaries - Part 4

   
                     

So...to Friday. Had yet another amazing lesson on Vingador with Frederico. We warmed up long and low, then getting to cross his hindlegs outside of the circle, but keeping his front half straight on the circle. I finally felt like I was getting it - for some reason lateral work on the circle always bamboozles me! 😂


Once he felt soft and connected, we moved onto leg yield, which was much better than the previous day. It was then into shoulder in down the centre line into half pass. This was also much better, with me remembering to keep the bend around my inside leg and look where I am going. 


        

         

We then moved onto canter work and changes. To prepare for changes across the diagonal, I had to achieve a slight counter flexion in the corner to set him up for the change. With a few practice attempts, we achieved 3 times changes across the diagonal. Once I sat quieter & just *thought* about the change - they happened! 


      

We then did some work on passage and a little piaffe. It was a case of lots of half halts, feeling the rhythm and maintaining it. It is quite the majestic feeling, passaging around the arena - and remembering to sit up, relax shoulders and breathe! I can see and feel that my position and coordination of the aids are improving. 👍

     

    

     

To finish the session, Vingador rewarded me with a bow! 
      

After a fun lesson, my day just got more interesting. Sarah had arranged for a friend to take me to see the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art at Belem. It wasn't until halfway through the journey there that Carlos actually revealed to me he was a rider there!!! I was fortunate enough to see the stables and watch the Alter Real stallions being prepared for the morning's training session. Each weekday morning, the school is open to the public to view the training sessions. I had the best seat in the house to watch the training. Just beautiful! 

                             
                              

            

                                 

It was almost a private viewing as there were very few spectators. This really surprised me, knowing how popular the Spanish Riding School & Cadre Noir are! It really is a hidden gem. During the session I was able to see the stallions being worked in hand, and some performing piaffe, passage, pirouettes, sequence changes & levade. If you are ever visiting Portugal and have an interest in history and horses - this is a must see! 


        
    
   
    

  
    

  
  




Saturday, 21 January 2017

The Lusitano Diaries - Part 3

   
         

So - to Thursday! My morning started with another 8am lesson on Vingador with Frederico. It had actually been so cold that the recently watered arena was crunchy with 'almost' frost (not like the thick winter frosts at home!). Very unusual for this area, but compared to the rest of chilly Europe, not too bad! 

We commenced the lesson with lots of stretching work, and some crossing of the hind legs on the circle, to get the horse really loose & stretching. From there we progressed to leg yielding to the wall, then to shoulder in. Then the exercise for half pass was to ride shoulder in up the centreline, maintain the bend and take horse across into half pass. My first few attempts were a little rusty and once again, Frederico really focussed on my position - getting me to relax my shoulders, dropping shoulders down and lifting my neck - it is amazing how much that improved my upper body position. He also placed emphasis on having my feet a little further into the stirrups, to improve my lower leg position and to have the lower leg stretched around the horse. Another enlightening moment was to look in the direction of the half pass...obvious it may seem, but when it feels like I'm already "patting my head and rubbing my tummy" - easily forgotten!

 I then had a shopping trip into the centre of Cascais. The area ajoining the sea is magnificent and the beautiful cobbled stone streets, so very different to home. I found some presents for family and bought myself a watch to replace the one that broke in Dubais airport! I sampled some of the local port (I may have bought some, hehe) and sampled the famous Pastel de nata - a portuguese custard pastry with my lunch in a lovely little cafe. 

                           
                        

                         

                          


                          

In the afternoon, I had another lesson with Sarah - this time on her young Lusitano mare, Filo. To start with, we worked on getting her attention - as I have mentioned before, I have realised now I am a little too "nice" to my horses in letting them look around or look at the object they are spooking at. It was made clear to me with both trainers that the horse's concentration has to be 100% with the rider and to actually bend/turn the horse away from the direction they are looking at and then give them an exercise to do to regain focus. 

Once we had that out of the way, Filo was fabulous. So comfortable to ride. We worked on my position, getting my right leg to stretch down and to soften my right elbow/wrist. We spent some time working on walk pirouettes, since they are now in Elementary tests, as well as some of the higher eventing tests I'm working toward. I found once again, by looking over my shoulder, the movement came much easier. 

We then worked on half pass in both trot and canter - for me, the biggest challenge was the preparation before the movement, making sure I had the correct bend in the corner before moving into half pass. 

         
    
 We then worked on developing a more collected, expressive trot - wow! She felt so soft and her movement felt amazing, with much more suspension. I have to say I really enjoyed riding Filo, for a 5yo mare, she is quite special. ❤️

         
 
To be continued....
Another lesson on Vingador Friday and a special trip to the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art :) 


   
   
    



The Lusitano Diaries - Part 2



                            


I arrived at Lisbon airport about midday - greeted by sunny (14 degree) weather - was glad to have escaped the 40 degrees back home. Paulo from Amazing Discovery Tours greeted me and took me to my 'home' for the week - Quinta da Bicuda in Cascais (incidentally, first hearing a native speaker pronounce Cascais, I thought it sounded like "Cash Cows"...others pronounce it more "Cush keeeys"...not how I imagined it would sound anyway!

                        

I settled into my little bungalow (located metres from the stables) and although I had been in transit for some 24 hours, still went for a walk and then had a lesson already organised with Frederico at 6pm! Nothing like getting on a horse for a lesson under lights after a long haul flight. I rode Hostil, a 4yo Lusitano who is being trained as a school horse. He was a little fresh in the cold and had the added distraction of kids running around the "campo da futebol" (soccer field) next door! After lots of bending and suppling work, he went very nicely and Frederico was able to identify things to work on with my position. Namely, getting my foot further into the stirrup, relaxing my shoulders and getting my seat following the horse. 

That evening, I managed to order dinner via the interwebs (and then got a phone call from the delivery driver to clarify my address. Was a little tricky when he spoke little English and me no Potuguese!). I then finally collapsed into a very deep slumber for a blissful 9 hours. Ahh! 

                             

The next morning (Wednesday) had I had another lesson on Hostil. Unfortunately a film crew had set up on the property next to the main arena, so we very quickly moved when poor Hostil (pictured above) became unsettled. 

                            

We then worked on lots of suppling work for Hostil and it became evident that I need to be more firm with not accepting distracted behaviour when riding any horse (my own included!). Frederico also did some off horse exercises with me, including using a special chair to loosen hips/pelvis and to be able to isolate that movement from the rest of my body. When I stepped back onto the horse, I was much freer through my body and better able to follow the horse's movement. 

After my lesson, I set off to locate the closest supermarket - an adventure in itself. It is often the little mundane things like grocery shopping I find most fascinating about travel (made even more interesting when most of the labels are in Portuguese!) I had to make a few educated guesses about what I was buying. It was also interesting to note that most of the meat here seems to be "cured" (eg bacon, sausages hams etc) and that seafood is a staple. I don't think I saw any lamb chops or steak selections like at home. 

In the afternoon, I had my first lesson with Sarah, on the schoolmaster, Vingador. He is amazing! So patient and kind. Once again, it was more position work for me, getting my right elbow and wrist to unlock ("soft elbow, wrist up!") and stop drawing up my right leg. We worked on flying changes, getting me to open my hip more on the side I'm changing to. 

                                    



                                    


I then was able to fulfil one of those lifelong dreams of learning to ride piaffe and passage. I was like a kid in a candystore. Passage is pure magic - the feeling of power and elevation is amazing. We just did a small amount, to give me the feeling....and yes, like good chocolate, a small taste had me wanting more! (Now I'm inspired to learn how to train it....) 

                                

         

I finished Wednesday by a walk to Guincho beach to capture the amazing views. I think I walked about 8km as well as riding twice - once again, I slept soundly! 

                                

                                 

     

Next installment - Lateral work on Vingador, shopping in Cascais & riding Filo. 
 

 
   
 
   

Friday, 20 January 2017

The Lusitano Diaries - Part 1


                                   

I think people were a little curious and surprised when I told them I was off to Portugal for a week of dressage training. To the casual observer, it does seem rather indulgent to travel to Europe alone, leaving my husband and children behind. And why dressage (when I'm a hot blooded eventer!) and why Portugal? Let me explain...

The idea surfaced mid winter 2016. I was physically unwell the entire winter, with constant throat and chest infections. Caring for two small children when constantly unwell was getting me down. I'd also been battling post-natal depression for some time - something that I have been open with to friends and family. Riding and returning to competing my horses was a turning point in helping me find my way through the thick fog. A lot of people think depression feels like sadness and is something you can just "snap out of". It doesn't work like that! In my experience, it felt like anger, self loathing and an extreme fear of what everyone thought of me. I was terrified someone would turn up at my door at any given moment and tell me I'm doing things all wrong, judge me for having an untidy house and had an intense fear that I was being judged and talked about behind my back all the time. I felt worthless and inadequate. This may shock many who know me, as on the outside, I probably appeared OK. On the inside though, I was struggling. Thank goodness for good medical help to set me on the right path....and then one day, I decided I needed a holiday. 

I happened to be scrolling through my Facebook feed one day and saw on Warney's Whip page, a little article about riding holidays in Portugal. Something about it really appealed to me - I'd never been to Portugal and never met a Lusitano, but had always admired the breed. I also used to have lessons with Sarah's mum years ago, and knew I liked her training style! The idea of having an Aussie contact also appealed, if travelling on my own. 

I remember watching Hayley Beresford competing years ago with Relampago do Retiro - and always thought if I "did dressage" that was the style of horse that appealed. I mentioned the holiday idea to my husband and he said "why don't you do it?". I thought he was joking! But he was deadly serious. I think he could see that I needed something to look forward to, to motivate me and inspire me. I decided January would be a good time, when he is home on school holidays. And from there, I booked flights, organised accomodation with contacts of Sarah and what was once just a random, "unrealistic" idea turned into reality! I am very much a believer that you need to find a way to follow your dreams and really "grab life by the horns". I worked hard, found a way and here I am....

Why dressage? Well, I feel this is the area of training that I need the most help with. I don't want to just be a rider, I want to bring on horses myself and for them to have a good dressage grounding, no matter what discipline they compete in. I also want to be able to offer better training to the clients I teach.  As I've become older, I've realised the value that dressage training has...and how the different stages of training develop the horse's body into an athlete. Gone are the days where I think of dressage as being a series of movements you just have to get through in order to go cross country ;) 

And why Portugal? Well, in January, it is probably the warmest place to be in Europe! It is a beautiful country, with so much history and amazing scenery. 

So, that is how on 16th January I found myself on a plane from Melbourne (after a few teary goodbyes to my kids!) enduring 24 hours in transit to Portugal via Dubai

Next installment - a diary of the past 3 days ;) It has taken me a while to get writing, as my body clock is quite out of synch. By 9pm each night I have fallen asleep! I woke at 5am today (I can hear my family laughing about that!) so I've finally had a chance to document my thoughts.