The Portuguese Way: Dressage in Portugal

The people and horses of Alcain?a give visitors a taste of history and a feel for classical dressage.
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The people and horses of Alcain?a give visitors a taste of history and a feel for classical dressage.

Portugal and dressage belong together like Americans and football. Freelance writer Jec A. Ballou went to Portugal to experience Portuguese dressage at the Escola de Equita?ao in Alcain?a near Lisbon. The school's director, George Malleroni, studied with the legendary Nuno Oliveira for the last 10 years of the master's life.

Malleroni's riding school provides 20 highly trained schoolmasters-all Lusitano stallions-for visitors to ride. Riders usually come for a full week. Two lessons per day, lodging and meals included.

Group lessons of six to nine students are given in a nose-to-tail formation, teaching riders to pay attention to rhythm and be efficient with their aids. Escola de Equita?ao's style of dressage is rooted in lightness and following the Portuguese tradition, focuses more on artistry and on expression.

The Portuguese way of dressage evolved from the bullfighter's needs to control their horses at all times and being able to place them instantly anywhere the rider wishes. The Lusitano can sit back on his haunches and collect his gaits extremely well, freeing his forehand for quick turns. To achieve this, riders concentrate on driving the horse's haunches under by doing a lot of lateral work and deep bends. This is the way the Portuguese make their horses straight, engaged and balanced.

Just as the overall goal of riding is different, so is the character of a lesson at Escola de Equita?ao. The warm-up consists of 30 minutes of lateral work at the walk: counter shoulder-in, leg yield, zigzag, half pass and shoulder-in on small circles. The movements are done slowly in the classical manner of four tracks. Straight lines don't play a great role. Riders remain almost constantly on circles and bends. Then, a brisk rising trot period follows and leads into more collected work.

During their stay, riders also have the opportunity to experience high-school movements such as the Spanish walk, levade, piaffe and passage. Believing that riders learn mostly by feeling, Malleroni aids the horse and tells the rider to just sit and feel the movement.

After a busy day, students enjoy a rustic Portuguese dinner and local wines. The day's experiences are exchanged, videos about classical dressage are watched or the local pubs of Alcain?a are explored.

Experiencing Dressage in Portugal
The following is a partial list of travel companies and private resources offering dressage training in Portugal. These are not recommendations, so check out each one, and ask for references and further details.

Equitour Worldwide Riding Holidays offers classical dressage training from novice through Third Level as well as introduction to high-school movements on Lusitanos in Alcain?a, Portugal, with director George Malleroni. Departures are year round. For more information or to book, contact Equitour at (800) 545-0019; e-mail equitour@wyoming.com or visit the Web site www.ridingtours.com.

Cross Country International Equestrian Vacations offers dressage training on Lusitanos at the hacienda Herdado do Topo in Serpa, Portugal, from March through November. For more information or to book, contact CCI at (800) 828-8768; e-mail info@xcintl.com or visit the Web site www.equestrianvacations.com.

CDA Portugal is a direct marketing Web site that specializes in horseback riding holidays in Portugal. Although concentrating on trail riding, it also offers a program that introduces the rider to Portuguese classical dressage on Lusitanos. The focus is on basics such as balance and position, combined with trail rides along the Southwest Coast of Portugal. For more information, contact CDA Portugal at (351) 283 998 106; e-mail info@cdaportugal.com or visit the Web site www.cdaportugal.com.

Jorge Martins Pereira, who was trained at the Portuguese school of Equestrian Art, offers intensive dressage training on one-to-one basis up to Grand Prix level at his training center in Coruche, near Lisbon. Guests are kept to a maximum of two at any one time. For more information, to book or to speak to previous students, fax or call 01494 483 683 or e-mail rj@thesmallhouse.fsnet.co.uk.

The Herdado de Sanguinheira offers lessons in classical dressage year round. The riding center is situated in Longomel. For more information, go to their Web site www.sanguinheira.com or e-mail info@sanguinheira.com.

For more information on riding holidays in Portugal, contact the Federa?ao Equestre Portuguesa (Portuguese Equestrian Federation) by writing to: av. Du que d'Avila 9, 1000 Lisboa, Portugal; phone 011 351 21 847 8774.

Related articles appeared in the June 2001 issue of Dressage Today.