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 in 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.
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 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.
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.
The 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.
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
Visiting 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.
“Teresa Burton drove me, a German , through the whole country of Portugal to the Spanish border, we ended up at the most beautiful horse place one could think about – of a German in Portugal – breeding these great Lusitano horses and there I found my new cool, wonderful Lusitano.
Actually he was the one whose picture she had mailed me as the first one.
Thanks for listening carefully what kind of a horse I was looking for and thank you very much for introducing me to “my” perfect new Lusitano.” Brigitta
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”.
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.