The Finest Hand Made Saddlery

2We are very proud and excited to get to know and now be working with, Jose de Sousa and his lovely wife Cristina Sousa.

They have a remarkable family history, in crafting the finest hand made saddlery in Portugal. Their history dates back to before the twenties, when Jose’s grandfather Victorino de Sousa Mendes, ‘already well known for his harness making’ moved into a street called ‘Rua dos Correeiros’ located in the heart of Lisbon. Victorino was invited to manage a well known harness/saddlery making company called ‘Correaria Salgado’, owned by Júlio Alves Salgado. Prior to this change, Victorino had been in charge of ‘Correaria Abreu Chiado’, another harness maker and Correaria Salgado’s most direct competitor and the supplier, to the Royal Household.

The shop location, Rua dos Correeiros was very much the home for craftsmen and harness makers, even before the beginning of the century, when the original medieval villages were filled with craft shops. So it was very fitting for Victorino, a true craftsman to find himself in such a historic and appropriate location.

Born into a family of saddlers, Master Victorino was already, although very new to the industry,
a skilled craftsman. He was also proving to be an expert, at designing and making innovative tools and moulds for the trade. He designed specialist tools for every individual step of making the harnesses. These unique tools are still used today by his grandson Jose de Sousa. Victorino, was without a doubt a gifted man, and due to this he was quickly acknowledged and his work highly valued by everyone that saw it.

1Eventually with his increasing success Victorino de Sousa, formed his own family firm, Victorino de Sousa Lda’ , which employed 10 people. They specialised in supplying the domestic market, with top quality handmade harnesses – using only

the very best leathers and fittings. The fineness and quality of his work, led him to become internationally renowned winning the gold medal, at the 1923 International Contest of Rio de Janeiro.

Victorino had a son called Victorino Mendes Sousa Junior, who was set to ensure another generation of this family of harness makers. From the young age of 12 years, Victorino Junior began learning the art from his father. He quickly developed the same skill and passion for the craft showing himself to be as skilled as his father.

Victorino Mendes Sousa Junior, was very dedicated to the family business and this led to him making a significant contribution to developing another exciting business avenue. It was with the ever increasing use of cars, the company was beginning to suffer problems, forcing them to revaluate their market and look to expand their craft into new areas, otherwise they certainly would not have survived. They had to adapt to the ‘new world’.

This talented young man, designed and crafted a ‘new’ saddle and bridle for bullfighting. His innovative modern design was very much admired by Master João Branco Núncio, considered by most to be the greatest ever rider and bull fighter. Master João Branco Núncio, chose to use the new revolutionary tack in his shows. Naturally, as a result, other bull fighters wanted the same and the orders came in, taking the company’s fame to greater heights and diversifying the business.

3Some of the firm’s customers, included other famous bullfighters such as, Simão da Veiga, Alfredo Conde, Manuel Conde, Master Baptista, Luís Miguel da Veiga, Emidio Pinto and José Zoio. Victorino created unique designs for them all, adorned with silver buckles, crests, fancy stitching and wonderful colours.

Victorino senior died at the age of 57 years, but by then his son was very much able to take up the reins and with so many extra skills, he began making saddles and bridles for some of the most famous riders and horsemen worldwide. His specialist saddle and bridle designs, became ‘world acclaimed’ and his products so prized he came to be seen as, ‘The Expert Saddler’.

His talent wasn’t confined to the world of bullfighting and destined to design famous pieces, Victorino Mendes Junior, had a very special client that visited his workshop – Mestre Nuno de Oliveira. The great modern day classical master, ordered a saddle to be designed that was aptly named, “Nuno Oliveira”. This modern style saddle was created in the 60’s and still today is being totally hand made for local and international clients. The original saddle in brown leather is now with the son of Victorino Junior – Jose de Sousa.

In addition, there is a stunning brown, rolled leather bridle 50 years old, so soft and supple it looks as good quality now, as it was when it was first made.

Victorino Junior, went onto design saddlery for many other famous riders, politicians and royalty. Álvaro Domeq, at the School of Equestrian Art in Andalusia, admired his work so much, that he had all the equipment and harness for the School of Equestrian Art, designed and made by Victorino and it is still used today.

4The Duke of Edinburgh was awarded one of their Portuguese saddles. Oswaldo Pirow, Prime Minister of South Africa, ordered a saddle studded with silver.
In 1976 a saddle made by the company was presented to the Venezuelan Head of State, by President Ramalho Eanes.

More recently, President Mário Soares introduced, King Hassan II, to the famous tack.

Victorino Junior’s son Jose, who following the true family tradition, started his training at the same age as his father – 12 years old. He keenly learnt his father’s and grandfather’s craft, so ensuring the family skills were passing from generation to generation. Jose shares the same passion and love for the craft, learning everything from his father, until Victorino died at 81 years on 19th September 1992.

Today, Jose continues hand making the fine saddlery, with all the original tools and moulds and he too has made bridles and saddles for clients all over the world. Among other things, he designed the stunning saddlery for the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in Lisbon.

He continued to run the shop in ‘Rua dos Correeiros’, refurbishing the premises in 1993, to offer a larger show room area and removing the workshops so that clients had more space and better meeting areas. Sadly the premises were forced to close when a large company came and bought all the buildings in the area.

6Now Jose works close to his home, still using all the original tools and moulds designed by his grandfather, none of which are now produced as they are replaced by modern technology and machinery. Jose takes great care to select the finest leathers, often from Italy and he hand makes everything. His skill is second to none. He can create stunning individual pieces, designed especially for you and your horse. The hallmark stamp of VS, is on his work and is still sought after internationally. The very sad ‘nip in the tail’ to this wonderful history, is that Jose is the last in the line to have this skill, no son follows on, to pick up the work and continue it into the next generation. It is such a sad thing, to know that this will eventually come to an end.

We are so keen to bring the opportunity to

you, to have one of these special and unique pieces steeped in history and second to none in workmanship.

If you have not come across truly hand made saddlery, then you are in for a treat, as Jose, literally hand sews every piece, except for the fancy stitching designs, which is purely for looks and not functionality. A hand stitched saddle or bridle, is much stronger, for instance if one stitch is snagged, this doesn’t result in all the rest coming loose. This saddlery lasts much longer, is with the very best materials and can be exactly as you want, it in terms of design and size.

We have a small range of special hand made bridles and also you can create your own design, along with Jose we will help you to design your own unique signature pieces.

7You can choose the leather colour, have a different colour leather lining, for padding on the noseband and head piece, choose from a wide range of simple, hugely ornate buckles in silver or gold, even have real silver buckles. You can have your own brand, family crest or a logo of your choice pressed into the medals, that sit at the sides of the browband or anywhere you want. The pieces are made to measure and personalised especially for you.

There are even fabulous bits available, lunge cavessons, chaps, saddles and other unique products.

We feel very proud to be working with Jose and to be able to offer his unique hand made work.

We have a small range of special hand made bridles and you can also work with Jose, to design your own unique signature pieces.

Visit our shop to see the designs.

 

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mares under cork oaks

A journey to Coudelaria VILA VIÇOSA

Coudelaria VILA VIÇOSA, breeders of the PURO SANGUE LUSITANO – Where Wild Horses Naturally Meet Modern Day

It is always a wonderful treat to visit the source, the place where it all begins, the Coudelaria’s (stud farms) in Portugal, where the Puro Sangue Lusitanos are bred and reared. None more special than the Coudelaria Vila Viçosa, a cutting edge Lusitano Stud, founded 1995 by husband and wife team, Thomas and Michaela Kleba, who shared and realised a dream to breed top level modern sport Lusitanos.

At my recent visit, as I stood under the cork trees admiring the mares with their foals I felt it would be a lovely opportunity to share a brief glimpse into life here. 

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The stud farm is located in a beautiful estate, 3 miles from the royal town of Vila Viçosa. The property has the perfect conditions for breeding pure bred Lusitano horses, giving them the best start in life. All the young horses and the breeding mares live in herds, close to how it would have been for wild horses more than 5000 years ago. They roam free over large stretches of land, made up of the rolling hills and valleys, characteristic to the area. There’s plenty of forage year round and the cork oak trees to provide the vital shelter from the hot sun in the summer and the rain in winter. 

This environment gives the horses, the best possible opportunity to grow healthy bodies, stay fit, supple and lean, develop strong  limbs, hearts and lungs. In addition the young Lusitanos learn respect and are well socialised through the herd hierarchy, beginning with their mothers, in the mares and foal herds and later when they are separated into their all male and female groups. These young horses really couldn’t have a better start in life. 

I see this as the perfect blend of modern breeding choices and the most natural growing environment for horses, very traditional to Portuguese breeding and exactly how Thomas and Michaela visualised their dream.

Often when you drive into the farm, you will pass the mares and foals, swishing their tails under the trees – it’s a very peaceful, joyful sight to behold.

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At the heart of the property, Thomas and Michaela created the training and breeding facility, which is made up of 34 large airy stables, an indoor arena and a full size outside arena. Both the arenas have top quality surfaces for training Lusitanos at all levels. It’s a friendly tranquil atmosphere, plenty of bird life and lush planting, shady areas and friendly horses.

There’s an area where the foals come in for weaning and handling, before they go out into their single sex groups. One of the stud policies, is that they want all their horses to have the most natural start possible, with least amount of human intervention, but also that the horses are relaxed with human contact and handling. At weaning time, when the young-stock are approximately six months old, all the foals come in for weaning together and at this time they are handled. They’re taught to be lead by head-collar, to be in a stable, to be brushed, bandaged and tied-up so that there is less of a shock when they come in for training at 3-4 years, it also helps hugely when they are handled for worming, or if the vet is required.

In addition to the original breeding/training base Thomas and Michaela have recently established a second facility, 5 minutes away with more lovely cool stables, land and a small high walled arena ideal for starting young horses. This is where the young colts and some fillies come in to begin their work and be backed for riding. In addition there are a few horses here in training for clients.

D3X2389 copyThe dynamic stud team is made up of Thomas and Michaela Kleba, (Michaela is a vet) and two equine and riding professionals both of which have achieved degrees in equine management, brothers – Pedro and Luis Azeitona. There are three grooms, regular trainees, and a farrier. Several veterinarians support the horses daily, with the reproductive and feeding management.

Thomas and Michaela are two people with huge passion and vitality  for the Lusitano Breed and for life. When they decided to start their, now ‘world renowned stud farm’ their aim was to breed Lusitano Sport Horses with good character and outstanding gaits. To achieve this they set out to choose the best possible mares and stallions for their project.  

I asked them about their initial breeding choices. 

“The first Lusitano we had was a lovely bay Stallion called CASTOR, and he is responsible for our dedication and involvement in the breeding of these fine horses. We found and bought the mother of Castor and so the first step to breeding was made. Our main aim was to breed Lusitanos with superb gaits and excellent temperaments. Thomas went onto say, “when we started this project, other breeders were still largely focussed on breeding horses for the bullfight.

We didn’t want this model of horse and were more interested in focussing on sport such as working equitation and competition dressage. We spent long hours researching the lines and eventually came to the conclusion, that there were two lines that were fundamental to achieving our aim.

We crossed the bloodlines of Firme and Quieta, we are extremely satisfied with the results. The solid structure of our horses with good characters, combined with swing and lots of suspension in their movement, gave us horses we are truly proud of”.

There is no doubt about it their dedication and devotion to their goal is now bringing them great success and a world wide reputation. Now the stud has over one hundred horses and many of their horses are achieving outstanding results in high level dressage competition and working equitation around the globe.

Good examples are:-

Rieto at the Massa Stud

Vietkong with Juan Jimenez Cobo

Vifogo 5 year old winner in the Sunshine Tour

Zuelo performing at Grand Prix level with Luis Azeitona

Bueno performing at Grand Prix level with Luis Principe in UK

Fazenda starting in dressage with lots of potential

Guelo – 2014’s champion of champions in Ponte de Lima and champion 3 year old in Lisbon Lusitano Festival. European Champion.

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Guelo by Susanne Weiderhker

In testament to their success, today, other well respected breeders look to purchase the Kleba’s horses or their stallion’s semen. Introducing the genetics into their breeding lines, in order to produce better performance characteristics demonstrated by the Coudelaria Vila Viçosa’s Lusitanos.

The stud now has 6 breeding stallions and semen is available. The stallions are :-

ESTOIRO ( with frozen semen )

FINORIO ( with frozen semen )

QUE – ESTOIRO

ZUELO

TOXICO

ZINFONICO

cafeVisiting Couldelaria Vila Viçosa is a real pleasure in so many ways.  Firstly the welcome from Thomas, Michaela, Pedro, Luis and all the staff is first rate – warm, friendly and fun. Their passion is so apparent and their commitment to the horse care and quality is everywhere you look. The visit will give you a full experience from seeing all the breeding stallions, the mares and foals, the horses in training, ridden and in liberty, the young horses and of course a safari trip out across the Alentejo to find the herds of colts and fillies. Walking under the cork oak tree amongst the tranquil mares and foals is quite magical. Not only are the horses a pure joy, but estate boasts wonderful wildlife with many bird varieties and mammals the land is well managed to encourage all natural wildlife. 

I asked Thomas and Michaela to tell me what is the most important aspect of the business for them, they answered – “receiving riders, breeders and horse lovers into our stud is always a great pleasure for us. If any visitor finds the ideal horse at Vila Viçosa Stud, then our project proves to us that it makes sense. Our motto is to serve our clients as well as we can so that we gain a new friend and find the best homes for our Lusitanos”.

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A visit to the stud can be finished with a delicious lunch or dinner in the wonderful town of Vila Viçosa, with it’s numerous quality restaurants serving traditional Alentejo cuisine and wines. Not forgetting of course the Royal historic town, has a fascinating history and lots to see such as the elegant and extremely grand palace ‘Ducal Palace’.

We regularly arrange trips to the stud farm, if you are interested to go contact us to arrange your visit.

Teresa Burton 

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