Surrounded by formal gardens and water fountains, Queluz National Palace in Sintra, Portugal makes for a magical horse show backdrop. Who needs Dancing with the Stars when you can watch dancing with horses? And these are not your ordinary horses, these are Lusitano horses from the Alter Stud Farm, the former stud farm of the Portuguese royal family founded by King João in 1748.
While the setting for this weekly equestrian performance, accompanied with Baroque music, is lovely for Queluz Palace spectators, the footing was not designed for these magnificent show horses and is less than ideal for the horse and rider dressage maneuvers.
Portuguese School of Equestrian Art – valuable heritage
“My experience is totally outside of horses,” said António Lamas, president of the Parks of Sintra Board of Administration. “Now I am an extremely enthusiastic supporter of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art! It is a very valuable heritage that we need to preserve.”
Future plans for Portuguese School of Equestrian Art
Lamas goal is to have a covered equestrian arena in Queluz and by the National Carriage Museum in Lisbon, Portugal, situated 15 minutes outside of Sintra.
Portuguese School of Equestrian Art
The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art was founded in 1979 to promote the teaching and cultural heritage of the Real Picaria, the equestrian academy of the Portuguese court during the 18th century. Formerly based at the National Coach Museum, a team of six equestrians and Lusitano horses perform precision manuvers, as well as baroque riding movements such as the “airs above the ground.”
These maneuvers on horseback were used in both bullfighting and war time activities. Acting as one unit, horse and ride defy danger in the bull ring and on the battlefield.
What to expect at The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art
Riders dressed in seventeenth century costumes, with their black leather boots, black hats trimmed with gold lace and white gloves, sit regally on Portuguese saddles, entering single file into the garden. Horses, with their ears and tails moving forward and back, listen for the cues of their riders, seamlessly starting the dance. Is this a tango between horse and rider or more of a waltz?
The music picks up the pace and the horses begin their classical dressage movements. Originally intended as entertainment for the King and Queen and important guests of Portugal, this gift of equestrian performance is now available to all citizens, from children to world travelers visiting the National Parks of Sintra.
Horses as teachers and goodwill ambassadors
On my visit to Queluz Palace, I noticed Director Teresa Abrantes giving a behind the scenes tour of the stables to a group of young school children and their parents. Each child was gently lifted up to nose level of a patiently waiting Lusitano horse.
I had the opportunity to speak with Paulo Sérgio, one of the Picacadors, about his experiences with the horses. Sergio is clearly as comfortable on the back of a horse as he is speaking with curious guests, educating them about the diverse Lusitano horse.
While only six horses and riders appear in the 30 minute equestrian show, there are 49 Altar horses in the stables and more student Picadors, ranging in ages from 18 -21, waiting for their turn in the spotlight.
If You Go:
Portuguese School of Equestrian Art
Telephone: 351 21 923 73 00
National Palace of Queluz
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 Parks of Sintra, VisitLisbon, Portugal Tourism and SATA Airlines.