A Dressage Dream in the Orchard of Lisbon

Last month Abbie from In The Saddle visited Quinta do Rol, a family estate in the ‘orchard of Lisbon’. Here, she discovered excellent instruction and gorgeous Lusitano horses so well-trained that they are a treat to ride.

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With my own horse injured and having spent much of 2016 in the sick bay, when I got the chance to visit Quinta do Rol in Portugal I literally leapt at the chance. Dusting off my riding boots, I packed and pondered whether I could make it through airport security with spurs in my hand luggage (yes I could).

At Lisbon I was met by the lovely Teresa Pedro, who carries out most of the airport transfers for Quinta do Rol guests. Having spent many years working in the UK, Teresa’s English is perfect and she gives me some interesting background information on the area during the 40 minute journey.

Arriving at Quinta do Rol, I am met by Rita Melo Ribeiro, who along with her husband Carlos own the property. I’m staying in Casa da Águia, a traditional cottage with a spacious kitchen, light and airy lounge and four guest bedrooms each with their own private bathroom.

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The beautiful lounge in Casa da Aguia cottage

The main quinta lies across a small country road from the equestrian centre, which is nestled at the foot of a small hill, surrounded by orchards and vines.

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Quinta do Rol’s equestrian centre

This is a brand-new purpose built centre where the Lusitano horse reigns supreme. Their every need is catered for, with spacious stables, deep beds and regular turnout. Riders are spoiled too, with their very own lounge encompassing sitting room, well-stocked bar and viewing gallery to the indoor arena – perfect for continuing the learning process by watching other guests’ lessons or the instructors working the horses.

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The viewing gallery in the Rider’s Lounge

We watch resident instructor Pedro puts a new horse through his paces. He rides sympathetically and softly as the horse becomes accustomed to his new surroundings. There’s no tension, shoving or pushing, everything is calm and relaxation

After a delicious lunch of shrimp pancakes and salad, I head back to the stables for my first lesson. I ride the stunning Alamo, a 9 year old black stallion; his coat is gleaming, mane and tail brushed out, white boots on and hoof oil applied. Wow, well we certainly look the part and I can only hope my riding measures up. We begin the lesson and Pedro asks me about my riding dressage experience to date and what I’d like to achieve during my stay.

Lessons at Quinta do Rol are always on a private basis, so you can concentrate totally on what you wish. For example, if you’re struggling with your own horse’s flying changes at home, Pedro will give you some approaches to try and you can work on the movement on a few different horses to hone your skills before you go home. Pedro’s English is not perfect, but I can easily understand him and I really like his calm approach.

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Owner Rita, with her beautiful horse Alamo

Whilst we are warming up, Pedro explains how controlling the pace enables us to do anything we want with the horse. Soon we’re putting this into practice as we run through some warm-up exercises in walk; leg-yield, shoulder-in, travers, collection and extension. Next we move onto walk pirouettes and half-pass, before repeating some of these movements in trot and on into canter. After some single flying changes, we are on to the finale as Pedro helps me to ride Alamo in passage and piaffe.

An hour has gone by so quickly. Although my own horse is inexperienced, I feel that the fundamentals of what I’ve learnt today can be applied at home. Controlling the step and controlling the shoulders means that if you take things step by step you can in theory ask your horse to do anything!

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Resident instructor Pedro in the indoor arena

After a quick shower and change, we convene in the dining room and are joined by Rita’s husband Carlos. A delicious Quinta do Rol rose wine accompanies an local cheeses, olives and lupins. Dinner begins with beetroot soup, followed by pasteis de bacalhau (a delicious sort of cod fishcake), and finally Queijadas de Leite with coffee.

dining-room

The main dining room

Next morning the sun is shining and I set off on a tour of the estate with Carlos, Rita and Pedro. We wander through eucalyptus forests, pass by the dam and ride through the vines. If you are staying a week, taking a ride through the grounds can make a relaxing break from lessons and is a super way to learn about the quinta’s rural tourism. But with such fabulous horses and instruction, others especially those on short breaks may prefer to concentrate wholly on dressage.

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A tour of the estate’s vineyards with owner Carlos

As we return to the quinta the sun’s still out and it is warm enough for a dip in the pool. The current pool is in use until the new guest pool by the tennis court is finished.

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The main house and current swimming pool

After another delicious lunch of frittata, pork loin and Salame de Chocolate, it is time to head back to the stables. I wonder vaguely whether the fact that lunch ended up being a fun sort of informal wine-tasting session will improve or hinder the standard of my riding this afternoon!!

I ride Cochixo, a rather handsome grey stallion who is a little smaller than Alamo so I feel quite at home (or maybe it’s the wine?). Pedro tells me that this horse can get a little heavy in the hand when people take too strong a contact with him. So I must concentrate on activating the hind leg into a soft elbow and even contact and try to lighten the shoulders to get the best work from him. Working in, we begin with some shoulder-in, travers, leg yield and half pass in walk and then move on to trot and canter. He’s got a super canter and I feel I’ve got a better connection with him in canter than I achieved with Alamo yesterday (or maybe it’s the wine?). We do some spiral circles in trot and canter and some direct transitions to get the hind end activated.

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Cochixo and I after our lesson (as the light starts to fade)

Next we work on some passage and then piaffe, which is successful as long as I remember to ‘sit like a queen’ (the wine must be wearing off by now)! We end the session with some extended trot, building the power but not the speed around the corner and then pow, pow, pow down the long side, getting better each time until I’m grinning from ear to ear. I get a ‘very good, well ridden’ from Pedro and I’m so chuffed that you’d almost think I’d got a 10/10!

What is so special about Quinta do Rol is not only are these horses total ‘eye candy’, but there’s no resistance or evasion. The horses really want to work for you and that makes it such an enjoyable experience.

No rest for Pedro as he’s straight on to working another horse. Egoista is a big stamp of a Lusitano, with floating paces and good looks to boot. He’s relatively new and only given to the more established guests at the moment. Soon he’s showing us his two-time changes and then Pedro tries one-time changes for the first time and he seems to get the idea really quickly – he’s definitely going to be a star!

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Egoista, Pedro and Abbie (in the middle of adjusting stirrups hence the wonky irons)

As Pedro lets the horse stretch he unexpectedly tells me it is my turn…so up I hop and after a quick walk and trot, off we go in canter. Spiral circles and lengthening then shortening the stride. Egoista is so light in front and manoeuvrable – wow! What a great way to end my break in a Lusitano-lover’s paradise.

To find out more about Quinta do Rol please visit our website, call us on +44 1299 272 997 or email abigail@inthesaddle.com

Categories: Equestrian Travel | Leave a comment

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