Monday, April 8, 2019

Portugal: an equestriennes dream come true

View of the living area. Pic by Riikka Hakala.

I had the opportunity to visit Portugal a few years ago when we were looking for a big white horse for my friend. After a few days spent driving around with our trainer Mari Manty Faria Carvalho, we found the most amazing horse Eça who moved to Finland shortly after our visit. 

Katja Ståhl and Beaufitul Regalo (Regalo means gift in Italian)

During my first trip to Portugal I already fell in love with the country, the people and particularly their red wine and food. When I met one of the owners of Monte Velho Equo-Resort at Helsinki International Horse Show and they asked me (together with Horsexplore and the Finnish organiser Riitta Kosonen) if I wanted to teach yoga to their Finnish clients, it was of course an immediate yes on my side. It was a dream come true for me, and we started to plan the first visit to Alentejo immediately. 

We arrived in Portugal on a Thursday afternoon in January and had two drivers pick us up from the airport. The road to Alentejo was really beautiful and we crossed the longest bridge in Europe on our way to the resort. The bridge is 17 km long and is named after Portuguese explorer Vasco de Gama, who was also the first European to reach India by sea.


As we arrived to Equoresort we had our lunch ready before heading off  to our first riding lesson  with the Portuguese Lusitano horse. As soon as we saw Monte Velho I think we all dropped our jaw and were totally in awe with the beauty of the place.

Many years ago, the owner of Monte Velho, which means "Old Home", Mr.  Diogo Lima Mayer was a hard working architect when he suddenly suffered a heart attack. As a result of the heart attack the doctor told Mr. Diogo to get a hobby and to try out riding. So Mr. Diogo obeyed the doctors orders and started riding horses. 

A few years later Mr. Diogo was visiting a farm in Alentejo that was totally run down and in ruins and decided there and then to make it his home, move the horses there and start breeding the Lusitano horse. Together with his beautiful wife and their five sons, they have slowly restorated and built an earthly paradise only one and a half hour away from Lissabon. 

During the trip we had one dressage lesson on Thursday and two lessons on Friday and Saturday. On Sunday I held a yoga lesson to everyone before heading to fabulous wine estate Monte da Ravasqueira on our way to the airport. 

Entering the living area.
View of the outdoor arena from the kitchen.

View from one of the rooms.

In the best company with Katja Ståhl and Riitta Kosonen

This view is just breathtaking.
Paikallinen poreallas.

All food is local and organic.

Outdoor arena.
The beautiful little chapel at Monte Velho.

Since I was visiting Monte Velho for the first time Riitta from Horsexplore wanted to take me hacking on Saturday so that I could see the surrounding area. So instead of our afternoon lesson we had the possibility to head out with the leader of the pack, Cesar, Finnish Jaana and a Mother and daughter from England. 

Getting to know these cute horses. My horse is Don Quichote.
I thought it was Donkeyshot (I mean, did I ever speak French and Italian)?

Feeling so happy doing what I  ove doing the most.
The horses that are used for trail rides are different horses from the ones that are used for the lessons. They live outside in a herd and are taken out for the rides whenever needed. Some of the horses have been previously used for lessons but have not been suitable for all level of riders and have therefore been assigned to a life of hacking (not too bad). All of the horses were very well-behaved and fantastic trail ride horses. We did however have the lead horses with Jaana and Cesar so we were asked to stay next to Cesars horse when we took off in a canter.

And canter we did. The horse that I had was Don Qichot and is the horse of Mr. Diogo. At the beginning  he seemed very relaxed and at ease but when we headed off into a canter I have  never felt a power like that. The energy was so huge and he had such a forward going pace that it took me a while to gather how to get into a good contact with him. When we however had worked out each other we had such a pleasant ride together and at the end we were cantering in front of everyone else at a beautiful, rhytmical and supple canter. Definitely my kind of horse. 

Darling Ben,

Most horses at Monte Velho have been taught both piaff and passage and many of us got to experience what those gaits feel like from the saddle. I did however get the most help when our trainers Joao, Lorena and Diogo Jr. concentrated on my seat. The words that were mostly repeated to me during my lessons were shoulders back and open up your upper body.


"First you need impulsion, then straightness and then the bend. You need to have a bend but you also need the control on the outside of the horse." - Sandrine

We also had the opportunity to train with Diogo Jr. one day. 

These moments were more than amazing.

Opening up the upped body. So much work to be done there. 

As our fourth instructor, French Sandrine so well put it: ”Whoaw with your shoulders, canter with the legs.” 

For my first lesson I was very lucky and got to ride a wonderful gelding called Ben. He became my horse for all other lessons except the last one on Sunday morning and I really really liked riding him. He was very supple, soft and gentle and we got along very well. I had the opportunity to concentrate on my seat and really work on getting the hips more forward, legs a little more back and a straighter upper body. I also worked on my core as instructed by Joao and was told "core, core, core" almost the whole lesson while riding for him. 

On Saturday I also met with another nice gelding but he was really not my type of horse and we just had a fun lesson and I tried to concentrate on my seat once again. Especially in the canter because he had a very nice and rolling canter so I could just enjoy it and try to be as straight as possible. As you can see in the video ´Laukkaa Monte Velho´ I tend to turn my body to the left even if we are going in the right direction. So all in all my lessons were very good for me since I could clearly find that I need to work on my upper body and posture extensively right now. I did however enjoy the hack out so much and felt truly alive when we cantered around the fantastic fields.

The horses were always waiting for us tied up together like this in their halters. 

Someone heading for one of the last lessons of the day. 

We also celebrated Katjas birthday. She was clearly suprised.

There were the cutest dogs everywhere. 

And probably one of the cutest dog that I have ever seen. 

Our dining room. Beautiful area overlooking the outdoor arena. 

We also had time for some winetasting.

We also went to see the mares and their foals in the fields one evening. Diogo Jr. came with us and talked about their breeding program and how much emphasis they are putting into breeding their own horses. They have high goals and are looking toward getting Equador MVL together with talented Joao Torrao to the Olympic Games. 

Walking toward the fields.

During our visit out in the field Diogo was telling us what they are looking for in the mares that they use for breading. One of the things is a feminine head with a light connection between the neck and the head. They also pay a lot of attention to the back of the horse where all the power lies and according to Diogo the Spanish horses croup is more flat as the lusitano croup is more angular.
Checking out the horses back and the angular croup.

Our beautiful pool area and where we practiced yoga.

Enjoying the sunshine

One headstand a day keeps the doctor away. 

The food is fantastic in Portugal. During the whole trip we got to enjoy lovely homemade food and of course some fantastic Portuguese wine. On the last day we no longer had riding lessons so we did some yoga outside by the pool instead before heading of to see one of the biggest carriage collections in the world and to learn some more about Portuguese culture and their wine production. 

Yoga by the pool

The tour leader Riitta Kosonen relaxing into the Savasana.

We arrived to Monte (huge farm) de Ravasqueira (translated as the land of the black pig because the area is famous for its black pigs) in the early afternoon on Sunday and spent a wonderful afternoon there. The huge carriage collection in itself was a wonderful sight for sore eyes and strolling in the wineyard in the sun just made the whole trip that little bit more perfect. 

I also learned this interesting facts about wine barrels and their pretty long life span: 

At the wineyard they are used for 3 years.1st year for the premium2nd and 3rd year for the interlevel ranges.Then the barrels will move forward.1st to Porto for portwine2nd to Scotland for whiskey3d to Belgium for craft beerThen they are done and will be used for furniture such as chairs and tables.
50% of the Portuguese wine production is local and 50% is exported. 

Always eager to learn something new. Thank you Portugal!

Monte Da Ravasqueira

The whole crew gathered together. 

One of the biggest carriage collections in the world. 

Some wine tasting and olive oil purchases before heading to the airport. 

I think these pictures say it all. A dream vacation. 

See you soon!

The next trip together with HorseXplore combining yoga and horses to Portugal is organized in May and we still have one spot available. We are also organising another trip on the 28th of November to the 1st of December 2019. For more information don't hesitate contacting me on 

Also check out Riitta Kosonen's blog Talvi ei tunnu kouluratsastuslomalla Portugalissa.

More on my travels can be found under travel stories in my blog. 
Also read the story from our May 2019 trip to Montevelho here

No comments:

Post a Comment