Dressage in the Alentejo

In May In The Saddle guest Frances Meier travelled out to Portugal to stay at the beautiful Monte Velho. In this post, she tells us a little about her stay and explains why Monte Velho is the place to go to improve your dressage skills.

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João working Don Quixote in the outdoor arena

“At the beginning of my stay I was introduced to my first horse ‘Estello’, a beautiful grey stallion and Coralie, one of the instructors. I’d just got on and was walking around on a long rein when a tacked-up riderless 3 year old mare came galloping past the arena hotly pursued by her rider…’oh no’ I thought, a near death experience already? But no Estello only looked up and then carried on without batting an eyelid! These horses have the most fantastic temperaments and are incredibly well behaved.

I found it a little difficult to get the feel of both the horses I rode on the first day, keeping the shoulders upright, so had some steering issues and it was tricky getting into canter initially, also ‘blocking’ in the hand, but on Alfonso eventually I did a bit of passage into extended trot and a few changes, but have to admit that I found it rather hard work.

Both of the instructors, Coralie and João, were very clear when teaching us and quickly spotted my many faults and set about correcting them. It was interesting also watching the others ride when time allowed.

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João and the super-talented Ecuador

The next day I had ‘Triunfo’, a beautiful 16 year old stallion who has competed at Grand Prix and was a champion of Portugal a few years ago. I found him a little hard to ride to start with, not off my leg and very wriggly, but gradually Coralie helped me and got on Triunfo herself. This made a big difference and made me feel better as I had been struggling with him. A short break, before my next session on Alfonso again…only to be completely pathetic and getting off after 20 minutes….. It turned out I was very dehydrated. So off I went to bed with a large bottle of salt/sugar water solution.

Manager/Owner Diogo very kindly changed the schedule round the next day so that I had a private lesson on Thursday morning and a trail ride in the evening. I also booked myself in for a lunge lesson, something I would strongly recommend and should have done earlier!

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João and Triunfo in the indoor arena

Strength and positivity regained, I really enjoyed my lesson on Triunfo. Coralie had me sitting better and releasing my seat. We did lots of forward and back in trot and canter and ended up doing walk pirouettes into canter pirouettes and passage into piaffe into passage again, all by myself. Absolutely great!

In the evening the sun came out and I had the most glorious trail ride on ‘Altar’ with Diogo on Don Quixote (aka ‘Donkey Shot’). The best behaved trail horses ever. We rode out onto beautiful flower meadows and by lakes through the many scattered boulders and cork oaks that are everywhere. We did the slowest collected canter ever on my delightful horse, so quiet and peaceful. The only noise was the clonking of the bell on the dog who came with us – he was charming, making sure we came to no harm. It was so interesting learning about the breeding programme and the training plans for the future as well as the expansion of Monte Velho next winter from Diogo himself. He said it was the best part of his day, I was thrilled!

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Enjoying a trail ride through the pretty spring flowers

My last day and I had a lunge lesson on the gorgeous bay gelding ‘Bemposto’ in the indoor school. No reins or stirrups and João really worked on my seat and core strength, doing canter/trot/canter transitions on a circle just from my seat. It was a very useful 40 minutes.

My last lesson was on back on Triunfo. I felt really strong and was sitting well at long last. I was able to do straight lines, leg yield, half pass into canter with changes, followed by changes on the diagonal down to two-time changes….YEAH! Then into piaffe passage and trot passage, trying to stay in the same rhythm. Such a clever boy, the feeling was fantastic and I was thrilled to finish on a really good note.

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Frances and Triunfo being put through their paces by Coralie

Monte Vehlo is in the most beautiful location; very peaceful and comfortable. My room was spotlessly clean and luckily had a very efficient towel rail to dry my hat and clothes (after the rain showers). There is a homely bar and seating area for everyone to chat and catch up with the day’s activities and the dining room is opposite where we ate our meals with a verandah overlooks the main arena.

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João teaching, with the dining room in the background

The food is plentiful and delicious; Alices’ puddings were divine and we all exceeded our wine quota! Diogo and the staff were very helpful and friendly and the horses are amazing. I learnt such a lot in just 4 days and would love to go back one day.

It is a very good place to stay if you are travelling alone, we had some hilarious lunches and evenings. Bad luck though if you had a 2 pm lesson and couldn’t linger over lunch….!

Should you wish to go on a holiday to improve your dressage, Monte Velho is certainly the place to go. The teaching was excellent and the horses are amazing, so well behaved, fit and they all look so well.”

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Frances and Altar by the lake

A huge thank you to Frances for taking the time to tell us about her trip.

If you’d like to learn more about Monte Velho then please call us on +44 1299 272 997 or email abigail@inthesaddle.com

 

 

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