“After years of being notorious for not making the time to take vacations, I finally took the plunge this year to get organized for my first riding holiday. My criteria? I was looking for a trip that was warm (Canadian winters are cruel), centre-based (relaxing), and with advanced dressage riding. I had grown up riding Lusitanos, so based on this and my other criteria, In The Saddle’s Abigail Wood recommended the Monte Velho Equo-Resort in Portugal for my holiday. As luck would have it, they had one opening left, and I quickly snapped up the spot!
I landed in Lisbon on a Thursday morning, and thankfully all of my luggage landed too (success!). After quickly rolling through customs, I was greeted by Monte Velho’s driver and we got started on the hour and a half drive to Monte Velho. The Portuguese countryside is absolutely beautiful, and the weather reminded me of California’s climate. Much better than the snow and ice we had been experiencing in February in Canada!
The drive went quickly, and I was met by Rita, the lovely office manager, who quickly checked me in, gave me a tour, and guided me to the dining room for lunch. The dining room at Monte Velho is stunning, and overlooks the dressage arena down below. No better way to start off a vacation than by sitting in the sun, enjoying great food, chatting with other international guests, and watching some riding!
For my trip, I had organized two dressage rides a day, scheduled to start the day after my arrival. So, I took the first afternoon to relax and explore. First stop? Checking out the stables of course. I made my way down to the stables, and was greeted by João, one of Monte Velho’s resident trainers and instructors. He gave me an enthusiastic and energetic barn tour, showing me the lay of the land and telling me the history and personalities of the horses. He also welcomed me to watch the lessons that were running that afternoon. Within just a few minutes of watching the lessons, I knew that I had picked the right vacation spot. The quality of teaching from João and Coralie (Monte Velho’s other trainer) was absolutely correct from a dressage perspective; focused on forward, supple, engaged and straight riding, instilling confidence in the horse and rider, and a good balance of insisting on the basics and allowing guests to ‘play’ with the upper level movements. I was in for a fun trip!
My days at Monte Velho fell into a perfect and relaxing pattern: breakfast at 8, lunch at 1, and dinner at 7. My two rides were generally both in the morning, or sometimes one ride in the morning and one ride in the afternoon. Either way, I had ample time to watch other lessons and training sessions for the Monte Velho competition horses. As a visual learner, this was a great way to enhance the overall educational aspect of the trip. Getting to live this schedule for a week against the beautiful backdrop of the Monte Velho resort was just perfect!
Over my 7 days of riding, I had lessons on 5 different horses with 3 different instructors (Joao, Coralie, and Coralie’s sister Cendrine). I rode a good variety of younger horses where we focused on the basics, and older horses where I was allowed to practice advanced dressage movements. In my first ride alone, I rode through piaffe, passage, half passes, and flying changes.
The horses were well schooled and honest – if you rode well, they were happy to do their jobs! My favourite horse was a younger stallion named Felix, who I was able to ride almost everyday during my trip. Felix was a newer addition to the Monte Velho stables, and just my kind of ride. Sensitive, forward to the aids, a good personality, and a fantastic modern mover. The running joke of the week was that I was going to pack him up in my suitcase and take him home!
It is worth mentioning that in addition to great horses and teaching, that the Monte Velho property is huge, and equipped with great trails for running. After riding everyday, I would take a run around the property. Those runs were an adventure all on their own. I was greeted by horses, cows, goats, dogs, cats, and peacocks on various days. I joked that it was my own version of a safari!
Another trip highlight was getting to meet all of the international guests at Monte Velho. As the only North American there for the week, I had a great time getting to meet fellow riders from England, France, Scotland, Sweden, and Switzerland. We would share meals in the communal dining room, and were all great friends by the end of the week. As the icing on the cake, Abbie from In the Saddle arrived at the resort on my second to last day, so I was able to meet her (and say thank you!) in person.
Overall, I was thrilled with my trip to Monte Velho. The resort had all the ingredients for an amazing vacation: fantastic and healthy horses, correct training, beautiful accommodations, friendly staff, and great food and wine. The weather even held up for the entire week! I am already searching for some time on my calendar to return – I can easily say that I’ve found my dream vacation spot!”
Many thanks Sala for your fantastic blog, which we have really enjoyed reading here in the office. We’re so pleased your stay at Monte Velho went well and we look forward to arranging a return visit for you before too long.