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The Iberian Experience ~ What Fun!

As many of you know I make regular trips to Europe to work with my FEI coach Greta Kemmer in Switzerland, visit England to see family and to work with some other noted names in the dressage world, and visit Portugal and Spain from time to time. I consider myself truly blessed to have the opportunity to enjoy these travels and to broaden my equestrian education and life experiences.

A month ago I was thrilled to take another trip to Portugal and Spain with hubbie Paul, for multiple reasons. We were honored to be invited to give two clinics. One in the Sevilla region in Spain, and another in Portugal. We also had a super visit with family in The Algarve, and searched far and wide in both Andalusia, Spain and Portugal for horses for students. A search that was most successful and included a visit with the head of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, Antonio Borba Monteiro at his farm in Lisbon. 

This farm is the where Nuno Oliveira began his apprenticeship in his magnificent career, and he was hired by Antonio's grandfather. After trying the sale horses, Paul was truly honored to be invited by Antonio to ride the most famous of Lusitanos, Rico. A horse of which Antonio is justifiably proud to own and to have trained. More on that in the next blog ( and video too). Somehow amidst all that we also had the opportunity to further our equestrian education in the saddle during an intensive time working with a noted Olympic rider in Spain. What a treat. So many adventures and highlights to share. 

The clinics we gave were excellent fun and only the 2nd and 3rd times we have worked with an interpreter in the ring. This made for some very fun moments when translation became 'lost' and the instructions were muddled as a result. The riders were of varying talents and they tried very hard to do everything asked of them. The horses were variable in their talents too. From loose moving and big Andalusians, taller than many I have seen to date, to young (and sometimes misbehaving), young Lusitanos who had evidently little understanding of what they were being asked to do at all. 

The weather has been extremely dry in both countries, with Portugal suffering one of the worst droughts in their history for several months. The sand arenas were hot to work in and we didn't feel we could make too much fuss about watering them down given the circumstances. We were both given an umbrella to protect us from the hot sun, and it was funny to see us walking about center of the arena with our umbrellas ( or parasol type umbrella for myself), and the poor interpreter trying to keep up. As anyone that works with us regularly knows, Paul does love to walk with the horse and rider and use the full scope of the ring. 

For my part, I had made a grand mistake of wearing heeled sandals for my walkabouts of the towns and esplanades in the Algarve, and consequently suffered some foot pain that resulted in me being forced to wear sneakers. I felt extremely 'American 1980's' wandering about in sneakers but there was no choice to be made. I hobbled about gamely and still managed to get the job done, although it cost me a month back home to recover my 'bones.'

The horses we were presented for sale were also a variant array of horseflesh. Some were well trained and a joy to ride, others languished in the ' they've been rushed' department. Some were very talented, some were limited by conformational issues. All were extremely well turned out and many of the youngsters had clearly already been worked in advance of our arrival. That was a shame as it made us suspicious of the temperament and soundness of the horse before we began riding or evaluation.  

The trip we made to the Northern area of Portugal toward the end of the visit was amazing. We completed some work in Santarem, then headed to Coimbria and points North and saw first hand the devastation of the June fires that killed so many people. It was stunning to see black ash as far as the eye could see on each side of a motorway, and see just a cluster of white houses that had been miraculously saved with the fire line just a few feet from their foundations. Sadly after we returned home to the U.S.A., the fires began again and cost more lives in the very regions we had driven. At one lunch stop the owner of a small restaurant explained that many of the fires are purposely set and that there are many ongoing investigations in the EU as the suspected arsonists are the very companies that benefit economically from firefighting. So sad.

On our route to a special stud in the North, we also traversed the highest mountain in mainland Portugal. The excitement of navigating the Torre monument, at 6539ft above sea level in the Serra da Estrela and one of the most dangerous roads in Portugal was a memorable experience. Apparently we were lucky that there was no snow on the peak. A fact that is highly unusual and just as well, as our rental car was a tiny Ibiza model that would surely have faltered in snow, and the roads were truly jaw-dropping. I'll be posting video links on all these grand adventures in due course!


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