As our car drove down the country road toward the village of Monsanto, in central Portugal, I caught a glimpse of my first cork tree. Did you know that Portugal is one of the largest producers of cork and that once the cork tree is 25 years old, the cork is stripped from the trunks every nine years? But enough about cork, we’re here to talk about horseback riding vacations in Monsanto, Portugal!
Horseback riding in Monsanto, Portugal
Our car drove up the country road and stopped outside a closed iron gate leading into a fenced pasture with a couple of horses and a lone donkey grazing in the meadow. We had arrived at Descubra Monsanto a Cavalo or “Discover Monsanto by horse” a riding company owned by Portuguese native José Diogo Castiço. Diogo, with his dark hair and sexy smile, was the Portuguese version of mcdreamy from the television show Grey’s Anatomy.
Returning to Monsanto roots
How did a well educated former executive from Canon camera end up in the small Portuguese village of Monsanto, surrounded by Lusitano horses? “I’m going back to my roots,” said Diogo. “My family has been in Monsanto since 1732. I grew up with horses. I have become full circle with my life with horses.”
Diogo enjoys introducing people to the world of horses. His company, founded in November of 2012, operates on the family property with five Lusitano horses. From 1/2 hour riding lessons to one and two hour horseback rides, with or without a picnic, equestrians and riders without experience are matched to horses and mounted on English saddles.
Discover Monsanto in an ecological and safe way
Diogo had the horses saddled upon our arrival. He asked about our horseback riding experience and made sure we had riding helmets. We each walked around on foot with our horse to get to know him before getting on his back. Mounting blocks were not necessary, as the natural rocks and boulders covered the landscape.
Diogo’s horse program typically involves grooming the horses, putting on the bridle and saddle and learning to be one with the horse before venturing out on the trail. Ours was a short horseback ride, so we skipped some of the formalities and went directly to the trail.
Riding a Lusitano sport horse
While I would consider myself an experienced equestrian, with my recent hip replacement and my lack of formal English riding lessons, Thor and I got off to a bit of a rocky start. Thor, a former sport horse, knew what he was doing, and I thought I knew what I was doing, but I was an American in Portugal. I was literally speaking a different language from my mouth and my body language.
In the United States, under Western saddle, tightening and releasing the reins, accompanied with “whoa” while sitting back in the saddle, signals the horse to come to a stop or halt. In Portugal, under English saddle, a stop is requested in a completely different manner. In receiving my commands, Thor was confused as to my request and decided to rear up a bit.
My thoughts immediately went to protecting my new left hip and remembering my doctors request to give up horseback riding. Once Diogo understood what was happening, he explained to me that English and Western riding techniques were very different in Europe. My riding companion, who hadn’t gone horseback riding for several years, was taking all of this in while happily enjoying her ride on a wonderfully calm Lusitano. Once Thor and I understood what each requested of the other, we had a wonderful trail ride in the Monsanto countryside.
Overnight horse riding in Monsanto
As Monsanto by horse is a fairly new business, plans are underway for weekend horse riding between the villages of Monsanto and Sortelha, with an overnight in Sortelha, returning back the following day. Check the website or e-mail Diogo for current pricing and packages.
Need to know
Monsanto a Cavalo offers horse rides by the hour or overnight, as well as lessons in Monsanto, Portugal.
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If You Go:
Monsanto a Cavalo (00351) 96 519 89 60
Article written by, video and photos courtesy of Travel Writer Nancy D. Brown of What a Trip, Travels from Northern California. I was a guest of VisitCentro, Portugal Tourism and SATA Airlines.