In a Dressage Today exclusive, Filipe Graciosa, director and chief rider of Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre (EPAE), the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in Lisbon, shares his recollections of "4 Ecoles d'Art Equestre."
In Paris for three shows in November 2007, "4 Ecoles" was the first collaboration of all four of Europe's classical dressage schools--the Spanish Riding School of Vienna, Austria, the Cadre Noir of the French National Riding School in Saumur, the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art in Jerez, Spain, and Lisbon's Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. (Read the complete article about "4 Ecoles" in the June 2008 issue of Dressage Today.)
Elizabeth McCall: Did you always believe "4 Ecoles" would become a reality?
Filipe Graciosa: It was a long road to get there and took a big effort. During the last 15 years, Catherine Thominet (president of SIPAS Productions), brought the four schools to Paris one-by-one with enormous success. The public in Paris likes classical equitation very much. Saumur also previously did a show called the "Printemps des Ecuyers" with the Portuguese School in 2002 and another show with Jerez in 2003. In 2004, we sold out the Atlantic Pavilion in Lisbon with the three schools working together for the first time: Saumur, Jerez and EPAE. Finally, after lots of difficulties and many meetings and travels to Vienna and Paris, we managed to convince Vienna's Spanish Riding School to be part of this project, which became a big pleasure for everybody.
EM: Did "4 Ecoles" turn out the way you expected? What happened once everyone came together in Paris?
FG: The show exceeded even my expectations. Since the beginning, I was sure it was going to be a major success. Even with all the difficulties, I decided to carry on with the project no matter what. I made it my personal mission. The Austrians were a little withdrawn in the beginning, but things eventually evolved. In the end, a spirit of companionship was established between everybody.
EM: Describe your favorite moment at "4 Ecoles." What had the most personal significance for you and will always stand out in your mind?
FG: The end of the last show was the apotheoses--when all four ecuyers en chef (head riders) entered the arena in passage, with all the schools' riders following, and 15,000 people in the audience were standing on their feet applauding. I confess I got emotional. I was so happy because all the shows had sold out and it was a major success for all four schools. It was an example of good friendship and collaboration between the four schools. Of course, the presence of EPAE in this event was a dream come true to me. I would say this was the biggest reward for all the work I've done in my life, with this school and of course as a rider.
EM: Did having the Cadre Noir's mares in the show create problems for anyone?
FG: The presence of mares didn't cause any problems for our Lusitano stallions. Maybe they got a little distracted because, like us Portuguese men, they like to see feminine beauty. I thought that the horse of my colleague Bachinger was a bit more excited. [Ernst Bachinger is director and head rider of Vienna's Spanish Riding School.]
EM: You were in the rare position of having direct experience with two of the schools that came to Paris. Would you tell us about the differences in philosophy and techniques between Jerez and Lisbon?
FG: It's true. From 1974 to 1979 I was an instructor in Jerez. I have kept good relations with them since then. In fact, three of the riders in Paris from Jerez were my pupils. I think both schools are fantastic. There are some differences, for example in the breed and color of the horses. The movements are the same, except the Spanish walk, which we don't do, and Doma Vaquera. I think that the principal difference between these two schools is that the first priority for the Portuguese is the strictness, perfectionism and lightness in the exercises they do. At the Jerez school, it is most of all the spectacle.
EM: Is there anything else you would like to say about "4 Ecoles?"
FG: The Bercy show was a mark in academic equitation history. I do not think I'm exaggerating to say that this was the most important event ever made in the world in this discipline. The spirit of the trainings, the companionship, the friendships made between riders and the public satisfaction have shown that it was worth it! Also, it showed that in the equitation spirit we can show art without necessarily having competition.