I am really taken by the Spanish Andalucian horse on account of its strength and attitude to work and had been told that the Portugese Lusitano breed was very similar. So, it was with great delight, after a warm invitation from Raquel & Fernando Firmino and the promise of top class Lusitano stallions and expert dressage instruction, I travelled to their place called Solar Espirito Santo in Portugal to find out for myself.
I actually took some great clients along for the ride too, 2 of which are professional riders and one that has her own produced show horses, I was very interested to find out how it compared for them too as none of them as yet had been on a riding holiday.
We arrived into Lisbon airport and were met by the warm hearted Fernando – the venture is run by his wife and he actually works full time himself, but where he can, he helps his wife, making for a great team. The drive to Azinhaga is about an hour, taking you out of the city onto country roads, giving you a real sense of the area. It was a real surprise to find that the Manor House was actually set in the heart of the village – we stopped at a huge wooden doorway and once opened, we gazed into what I can only describe as an equestrian paradise. The main focus is a covered arena at the heart of the place, surrounded by the Manor House itself, a gorgeous pool and terrace to the side and opposite that an old olive press that was converted into the restaurant, games room and sitting room. At the far end, are the immaculately kept stables, tack room and yard.
We were met at the front door by Raquel, our charismatic, relaxed and hugely entertaining host. She gave us a warm welcome and showed us immediately to our rooms to drop our bags. The rooms are all tastefully designed, recently renovated but in keeping with the Portugese style. Our room was huge with a stunning shuttered window looking out onto the village street below, with huge heavy curtains, a traditional wooden floor, antique dressing tables and a Narnia wardrobe. The beds were extremely comfortable and every day, our rooms were serviced. We had our own bathroom, a huge old style bath with feet, hand held shower, and this really cute basin that was made of ceramic and painted. We were all seriously impressed, the rooms felt like Manor House rooms should.
Next stop was a guide around the place and meeting the horses, our first impressions were great, the horses were friendly, the yard was clean and tidy and everything seemed just tickety boo, we all couldn’t wait to ride after lunch that afternoon.
Our first lunch was great, there were some other guests there who we met, from Sweden, really warm lovely ladies and we all sat down together, getting to know one another and enjoy a typical Portugese lunch of chicken and potatoes, with fresh salad, bread and cheese to follow.
We were careful not to eat too much as straight after, we were going to get our first taste of riding the stallions. First up were the boys, and they got the Grand Prix level stallions, Big Brown and Big White (genuinely these are their names) both as I say ride professionally, combining show riding and event riding and ride really well, but dressage as such, especially at this level isn’t something they have experienced, but it didn’t matter, they listened to Hyke our fantastic instructor and before we knew it, both of them were performing piaffe, passage and canter pirouettes with ease!
Their faces when they finished were a delight, both were hugely impressed and I felt more relaxed. It’s hard trying to persuade professional riders to do a riding holiday, often the reply is ‘why would I go on a riding on holiday when that’s what I do anyway’ which I understand, BUT it’s so different on a holiday, everything’s pretty much done for you, the responsibility and welfare of the horses are someone else’s concern and what I see often is professional riders, relax, reflect and discover the joy of riding for pleasure again, rather than for work.
Next up was Lindsay and I, we were put on stallions who were working at a lower level than the Grand Prix horses, but equally as lovely to ride and responsive. We worked on our positions and collection and our instructor Hyke was fantastic, giving us lots of encouragement and guidance so we got the stallions working well.
Each day went on like this, 2 lessons per day and each time we got better. Lindsay and I also got to ride Big Brown and Big White and boy were they just the best! Taking our instruction from Hyke, we were also able to perform piaffe, passage and canter pirouettes with ease and what a feeling it was on this incredibly powerful and patient schoolmasters. It was such a privilege, there are so few places you can ride on such fabulous horses, I understand now how versatile the Lusitano breed is, forgiving, love their work and willing you on to ride better.
Outside of the riding, after hot and sweaty lessons, we had great times chilling by the pool, swimming, drinking beers and shooting the breeze, eventually persuading each other, we would come back the following year to the Horse Festival in Golega every November with the view to buy one of these beautiful horses, watch this space – I know Lindsay would have bought Big Brown that week if he had been for sale!
Evenings were great fun too, around 6pm we’d set off on the bikes and ride round the village singing songs from the ‘Sound of Music’ before stopping off at the local bar to socialise with the locals and have wine (a Euro a glass) before heading back for our delicious evening meals at the restaurant and catching up with Raquel and Fernando.
I’d urge anyone with an interest in dressage to visit here, whether you are starting out or ride professionally, you’ll learn something and get to ride beautiful horses at all levels. I’d recommend the 6 night stay from Sunday to Saturday and costs £895/€1,050 per person sharing and includes all your riding, full board accommodation and wine with meals. I think it’s great value for money and it’s open to non riders too, so bring along your better half too.
For more detailed information please go to the ride page, Click here