I understand and accept that a dream holiday for some people is sitting on a beach in the Maldives sipping a cocktail. It’s probably pretty clear by now that I am not one of those people.
NO. My idea of the perfect holiday is to be fully absorbed in all things horses. If there was dressage and learning involved this would be ideal. Schoolmasters? Perfection. Absolutely epic scenery? Icing on the cake.
Did I know anything about Lusitano’s? Not really. Did I know anything about Portugal? Zip. Hell, had I ever been on a ‘proper’ overseas holiday before? Well not if you don’t count Bali or New Zealand. But the prospect of spending a week with other like-minded equestrians, trailing across the countryside of Portugal and riding beautiful horses, well it had me sold.
As the trip grew closer I started to become nervous about the prospect of travelling internationally on my own. I am anxious by nature, particularly in situations where I have to navigate things on my own/or may need to ask people for help. Previously I had only ventured just outside my own backyard (to Bali and New Zealand). But knowing hat as waiting for me on the other side pulled me over this hurdle.
I flew from Melbourne to Lisbon, via Doha with Qatar Airways, who by the way were absolutely brilliant. The food on the plane was even edible.
Given that I had such a long flight (a 7 hour and then a 15hour flight) and the degree of jet lag I would suffering being a complete unknown I opted to arrive a day early. This meant that I was alone the first night, except for the most delightful German couple, and I found myself once again explaining how it was that I came to travel halfway across the world on a trip organised by an equestrian influencer to meet up with a bunch of people I had never met before!
Even though I knew there was a fairly good chance that I would get along well with the other people on the trip, you never really know what is going to happen when a group of strangers get together. But honestly this aspect couldn’t have been any better. It was one of the highlights of the trip for me. The trip and the friendships that were born over the week reminded me just how unifying the love of horses is.
There was a distinct horse camp vibe, but with wine and amazing food! We would watch each other’s lessons by day, and while we had a private rooms, most nights were spent in the common area, sharing wine, stories and laughs.
I landed in Lisbon exhausted but as we traveled across the Vasco da Gama bridge towards Arraiolos, I was instantly struck by the beauty of the country. Let me just say that Portugal is one of the most stunning countries I have ever seen.
With some rain earlier in the month, the countryside was a canvas of green rolling hills contrasted with cork trees and a spattering of citrus trees. The buildings had a very distinct feel being made out of a white brick construction, with tiled rooves. And the people were all so friendly!
About an hours drive out of Lisbon and into the countryside, Monte Velho is nestled on the side of a rolling valley. With over 250 acres there is plenty of room for the horses to grow up outdoors. Peppered amongst the various buildings across Monte Velho are gargantuan boulders, around which the structures are built. Almost every scene on the property was picture worthy which made sense when I later learned that the man who created Monte Velho, was an architect.
Monte Velho boasts three separate arena’s: A full size outdoor arena, a 20×40 undercover arena and the cutest little fully indoor arena (complete with viewing area).
The horses that are in training or being used for the lesson program are housed in one of the three gorgeous barns. This was something quite foreign to me as an Australian, where our horses often live out year round. My favourite feature in these barns were the external windows on some stalls where the horses could stick their heads out.
During my stay at Monte Velho, I had the opportunity to ride many beautiful horses, and watch other riders on equally gorgeous horses. In six rides, I learnt so so much – the benefit of schoolmasters and excellent instruction.
But my favourite horse was the incredible Regalo – a 21yo buckskin, Lusitano stallion. Regalo has a similar work ethic to Nonie. If given the option, they will be lazy, on the forehand and not use their bodies correctly. However, what was brilliant about Regalo was that when I as a rider used the correct aids and got the timing right he would produce some beautiful work. A highlight was definitely getting to ride feel the piaffe and passage work. What I learnt most from this is that getting these movements which require the ultimate degree of collection, is that positioning of my body and the timing of the aids are everything – its certainly not about asking harder.
My first two rides were on the lovely Zig Zag, who I am convinced is at least part unicorn. Zig Zag reminded me so much of two grey geldings that Mum and I have owned, Jack and Gilbert, so I course I feel instantly in love with him! At the end of my second lesson Lorena commented that I should be riding a more challenging horse.
The most challenging ride of the week was on a palomino horse, whose nickname is Ghost! When I first sat on him at the start of the lesson, Lorena explained that while he is not a difficult horse to ride, he does like to be ridden in a particular way.
I discovered very quickly that this was a horse who had to be ridden with the exact right amount of contact. I got to have a play around with the flying changes which was great given that this is something that has been challenging Nonie and I.
Trail Riding through Monte Velho
The trail rides across Monte Velho and adjoining properties were such an amazing way to explore the countryside. Two locations really stuck with me over the course of the week. The first was a lookout that we reached by way of a relaxing canter up a rolling hill. The spot overlooked the valley and up to the resort. The second was big flat lake just down the road from Monte Velho.
Interestingly although the Lusitano’s are not the tallest of horses, they feel like a big horse due to their build and paces. With minimal contact cantering across the undulating ground, the horses maintained excellent balance with minimal help from riders. This was part of what made me fall in love with the Lusitano horses.
If you are considering taking an equestrian holiday, do yourself a favour and talk to Jen. With eventing holidays in Crossoge Ireland, Polo holidays in France, Spain & Argentina and more there is sure to be something for everyone!