Nadja Maria at Quinta da Varzea
As my life in Portugal develops I am finding more and more people like me, who have been captivated by Portuguese life, culture and of course the Lusitano Horses. Nadja is such a person, she has carved out a life here along with a team that could be the envy of many. Keen to hear her story we’ve got to know each other over long chats. I like me she loves her horses, her dogs and her life. We share a similar vision and I think she brings a fresh approach with her exciting project close to Santarem. I thought it would be great opportunity to share some of her story and future plans
On the 1st May 2012 I arrived in Portugal in an old van I had bought in Denmark, my home country. With all my most important things tightly packed inside and my dog on front sit beside me, I drove through Europe to find myself in Santarem. It had been earlier that same year I’d met a Portuguese rider and he had inspired me to visit. I instantly fell in love with the country, the culture, the way of life and – most importantly – the Lusitanos. I had always had a restless feeling in Denmark which meant I was constantly searching for something, but I didn’t know what it was. When I came to Portugal I just felt at home. I’ve never looked back, I feel Portugal is my home and where I am going to spend the rest of my life.
I quickly settled in discovering how difficult it was to learn the language but I have keep working on it. In the first years I continued to work as a copy-writer and used my Danish network to arrange clinics in Denmark with the teacher I had met previously. I also helped international guests looking for Lusitanos, riding-lessons and equestrian holidays in Portugal. The first years for me were about getting to know the country, the culture and the history of the Lusitano. I have always felt humbled by this proud breed and my passion is to understand as much as possible about their heritage. I am just a novice but I have a profound love for the Lusitanos and a very deep respect for the work that has been done to preserve this horse’s true characteristics. I aim to give visitors an opportunity to fully grasp why this horse is so perfect, and why it should be preserved. I imagine I will spend the rest of my life learning. I am lucky to have met so many wonderful people that have offered me their knowledge and support.
What did you do before in Denmark ?
I am the only person in my family that is interested in horses. One day at the seaside by the ice cream stand I met my first pony and to my delight my parents let me sit on him. I was only 5 years old but ever since that day, my passion ignited I have brought horses into their lives so much that my mom has had to accept my horses and especially the foals as her grandchildren. In my younger years I was a very ambitious competition-rider, and at the age of 16 I made it to the Danish national championship. I come from a normal family that couldn’t support an expensive pony, so that was a proud moment. I didn’t win, but it didn’t matter, I achieved a goal.
After school I became a journalist and business communication graduate, but horses have always been my passion. I spend all the money I earned (and then some) on my horses and trying to learn through clinics with various riders.
I had a few years with German physio-therapist and horse trainer Klaus Schöneich, with whom I learned a lot about understanding the natural behaviour and movements of equines. I constantly look to how I can apply this knowledge to my every day riding. I lost the thrill of competing as I dived into a more academic direction to learn more about anatomy and biomechanics. I look at my self as my horses student, so I was thankful to have the opportunity to go into greater details in functionality, I saw things in a way that I had never seen before. I am always trying to improve every step and movement in order to achieve my goals without ever compromising the wellbeing of my horses. A few years ago I was fortunate enough to meet some very special and amazing people from Denmark. We shared both vision and values about horses. They, as I, fell in love with Portugal and the Lusitano. Inspired we decided to found a project where the Lusitano and the Portuguese riding would be the main focal point.
Quinta Da Varzea
We found Quinta da Varzea in a rural setting close to Lisbon and Santarem. I think we where so lucky to find this beautiful farm, it has the perfect conditions to breed Lusitanos. Now we are rebuilding the old buildings into an equestrian facility whilst maintaining the Portuguese spirit.
Our first goal – to create a place where horses and humans can dance and shine. Our ultimate goal is to create a foundation for all riders at all levels to find inspiration, harmony and joy in riding, and expand the knowledge about Lusitanos and the traditional Portuguese art of riding. We call it ‘Art” because we feel Portugal has a very special sense of allowing the Lusitanos to grow into the very best they can be, no matter what the discipline, the respect for the horses and the way of working that allows horse and rider to be the best they can be.
Riders from all over the world can come to meet the Lusitano in a natural environment, where they have lived and worked for centuries, in a lovely Portuguese rural landscape. We want to give our guests the most natural and honest experience of Portuguese riding and the Lusitano breed and set new standards for quality in welfare for horses through combining modern knowledge with classical traditions. Now in 2016 we are looking forward to opening the farm for equestrian holidays and riding clinics, where guests might also find their perfect Lusitano to take home. We are also breeding Lusitanos, this is a specialist task so we are embarking on it slowly with the help and advice of very successful and renowned Portuguese breeders. I love to see our foals playing in the fields and imagining how they will grow up.
THE PROJECT – Who else is involved
I am so lucky that Eduardo Almeida agreed to be the Main rider at Quinta da Varzea. He is a fantastic trainer. He can balance on the edge where he always pushes a little bit but always makes sure you have understood the previous step before he ask more. He is a very compassionate rider with a love and respect for the horses I rarely see. He gives both the horses he rides and the people he teach a feeling of confidence – he is able to push you to be better than you thought you could be, without ever compromising confidence in either horse or rider.
Since he started working with us our horses have grown tremendously and it is absolutely amazing to see how the horses are always so happy and relaxed after their work. No stress, just patience and confidence. I knew he was great, but I am stunned at how much better he has made me and our horses here in such short time.
In the beginning of 2015 I started riding with Pedro Torres. and to be honest, who wouldn’t want to have lessons from the man who makes Working Equitation look as easy as the blink of an eye. He has been an iconic figure to me for many years, I’ve spent hours watching videos of him riding Oxidado. I was very star struck when I first went to him, and I still am. His world of equitation is a place where the horses are deeply respected with no compromises, a horse to him is a friend you are working with, not a means to an end.
He is a fantastic rider, teacher and horseman. It’s difficult for me to express my gratitude to him, as he has taught me so much in little time. He introduced me to Eduardo and by that helped make it possible for me to find the perfect partner for our project, and he is a wonderful friend and mentor! I feel blessed to have these two amazing riders as my trainers, and I am thankful for everything they have done for me.
Now we are excited for the future and look forward to welcoming people and Lusitanos to Quinta da Varzea.
I am delighted that Lusitano Horse Finder have the opportunity to work with the team at Quinta da Varzea to promote equestrian holidays. There will be more details and news on what is available at the farm in the next couple of weeks so stay posted for the announcement.
Image – Pedro Torres with Miguel Ralão at Quinta do Cedros by Lena Saugen
Credits – Interview by Teresa Burton and images by Lena Saugen (excluding Eduardo Almeida images)