From Endurance to Dressage
Not only did we see castles, palaces, churches, and monasteries galore in Portugal, but there were also Lusitanos. Not many, but enough.
Last fall, months before our departure to Portugal, I did a little research and found a riding facility that looked like it would suit my needs. It was a small barn of only four horses, one of which was a pony. The owner and her boyfriend run a surf school with the horses as a bit of a side job. From our conversation, it seems that doing small trail rides just helps pay some of the horse-keeping bills.
I arranged for a private ride since my husband didn't want to go. It might be a little selfish, but group rides can go only as fast as the most inexperienced rider can handle, and I didn't want a newbie tagging along. I wanted to trot and canter as much as my guide felt appropriate.
It's not that I am the world's most accomplished rider, but I can certainly manage a trot and canter, especially on horses who pack newbies for a living. When we rode in Belize two years ago, even my non-riding (but very athletic) husband had better control of his horse than the other couple who joined us. Since they couldn't keep their horses on the trail, we ended up doing nothing but a pokey walk. Which of course was fine as we were riding in the Belizean jungle (super cool), but still.
My guide and her helper saddled both horses and answered my questions. I offered my help, but I knew they didn't want or need it. It's easier to just do it yourself as "helpers" are usually anything but. I didn't take offense. Instead, I enjoyed someone else doing all of the work for a change.
When I first got on, my guide told me to take a lap around her small arena. I picked up the reins and gave a very gentle squeeze with my legs. Nothing happened. I asked again, a little firmer, and still nothing. The third time I asked, Zafra turned the opposite direction and started to back up. I looked at her owner who encouraged me to give her a little firmer kick. After thumping her sides a number of times and getting no response, her owner told me to just leave it.
She sighed and explained that Zafra, who is young and relatively new to her job, has figured out that non-riders are usually aboard and has decided that she can do what she likes. The owner said she would address the problem later when she could get on with a dressage whip. It did leave me feeling a bit dejected though as I assumed the owner now thought I was fibbing about being a rider.
Once Zafra got going, she was actually quite pleasant to ride. And while she didn't try to pass Mano, she was easy to navigate and went where I suggested. At times, the trail was rocky, and she was quite happy to let me help her pick a path.
In fact, Zafra turned out to be a really nice horse to ride. She was extremely sure footed and carried herself with an obvious sense of where she was putting her feet. It was clear that self-preservation is a big part of how she operates. Once she realized that I wasn't an idiot who was going to get us into trouble, she happily took my guidance.
Once my guide was sure that I wasn't going to fall off, she asked if I felt like trotting. I couldn't say yes quickly enough! After proving that I could do a rising trot, my guide asked if I was ready for a canter. Before doing so, she warned that Zafra might get a bit heavy. I appreciated the warning.
When Mano picked up a hand gallop, I gave Zafra a canter cue (not that she needed it), but then I gave her a soft half halt and let her know that it was just a relaxed canter that I wanted. To my delight, she settled into a quiet canter while maintaining a soft connection. She stayed so quiet that I had to actually urge her forward to keep up!
After that first canter, we picked up a hand gallop whenever the trail was sandy and fairly straight. We rode through mostly open country-side, but we did pass through a small forest of trees, and then we ended up at a small lake. We gave the horses a short grass break and then headed back to the barn.
Zafra's owner is actually a German but has lived all around the world. Her English was quite good which made the conversation a bit easier. She asked about dressage in the USA, and we compared prices of horse-keeping and lessons. While we rode, we talked about her tack (she uses bits with a lozenge mouthpiece like I do), working full time, having kids, and what it's like living in Portugal.
The reason I like to ride in other countries is not so much about the horses themselves, but about meeting the owners of those horses. No matter where you live, the symptoms of the horse bug are the same. We all scoop poop, use a farrier, and fret about the quality of our feed. We all pine for new tack, fancy pads (Mano's was bright orange!), and new saddles (my guide's dressage saddle was a new purchase).
During our two hour ride, I got to have a peek at what it's like to have horses in Portugal. That's not a bad way to spend a morning.
As a little post script ... I packed my breeches, boots, helmet, and gloves for that two hour ride. It all took up a lot of suitcase space, but it was worth it to feel safe and comfortable!
About the Writer and Rider
I am a lifelong rider.
I began endurance riding in 1996 where I ultimately completed five, one-day 100 mile races, the 200-mile Death Valley Encounter, and numerous other 50, 65, and 75 mile races. I began showing dressage in 2010.
Welcome to my dressage journey.
About Speedy G
Speedy went from endurance horse to dressage horse. After helping me earn a USDF Bronze medal in the summer of 2020, he is now semi-retired. Speedy is a 2004, 15'1 hand, purebred Arabian gelding. His Arabian Horse Registry name is G Ima Starr FA.
Izzy was started as a four-year old and then spent the next 18 months in pasture growing up. I bought him as a six-year old, and together, we are showing at the lower levels. He is a 2008, 16'3 hand warmblood gelding. His Rheinland Pfalz-saar International (RPSI) name is Imperioso.
National Rider Awards
State Rider Awards
State Horse Awards
CDS Sapphire Rider Award
Third Level: 63.514%
Third Level: 62.105%
2023 Show Season
(r) Ride-a-Test Clinic
2023 Show Schedule
2023 Completed …
2023 Qualifying Scores
Regional Adult Amateur Competition (RAAC)
Qualifying Training Level
3 Scores/2 Judges/60%: