A Birthday Portuguese Equestrian Style

On a starlit velvet night, we fall silent as through the gates charge proud stallions ridden by elegant riders fire torches in their right hands. It is quite a sight as they spill into the arena forming a cantering circle in front of us, you can feel the heat from the torches and the heavy beat of the music pulsates through our bodies, people shiver with anticipation – the working equitation fire show begins. A thrilling display made even more so by the closeness and knowledge it was just for us.

It’s all part of the entertainment at Danish Business man Niels Zibrandtsens’ 60th birthday party. He is a man that knows how to have fun and celebrate in style, his weekend party was no exception. Action packed and largely featuring equine entertainment combined with Portuguese Culture it was an experience never to be forgotten.

So what prompted a businessman to celebrate his 60th in another country enjoying their culture and traditions?

Increasingly we are seeing horses forming a greater part of our lifestyle. It’s not a new phenomenon looking back through the centuries horses has played vital roles supporting us in our day to day requirements. Not only acting as our transport and farm help and even our partners on the battlefield but as a major part in our ceremonies. However, in modern times, with so much available to us the status they claimed had been a little lost casting them as our friends in sport and leisure riding and less in our events.

All has turned full circle, once again horses are everywhere. In advertising, marketing, fashion shoots, dramatic artwork on our walls and they are almost seen as a stylish lifestyle ‘must have’ in some form or another. Certainly in our business we are receiving many requests for combined events and weddings in which our equine friends are playing an important part of the day.

Niels’s is the chairman of Global Connect which he started 18 years ago and he is also the CEO of Zimbra Digital Media Group with offices in Denmark and Germany. A few years earlier  he and his wife Lisbeth took a trip to Portugal to take classical dressage lessons on Lusitanos. They were so captivated by their experience they bought a farm with the intention to develop a business in eco tourism with Lusitanos at the heart.The initial plan is well underway with Quinta da Varzea taking shape under the watchful eye of their talented farm and equestrian manager Nadja Maria, who is also Danish.

Niels decided for his birthday he couldn’t think of anything better than to show his family and friends their project and give everyone an authentic experience of Portuguese equestrian culture. So one sunny day we met him and Lisbeth to make a 3 day party plan. After what seemed like a mountain of organising and more emails than you can imagine we found ourselves early one Thursday morning greeting 80 guests through the arrival gates at Lisbon airport. They were clutching just a party invitation and a whole host of clothes ready for anything! They clearly know Niels well.

The three day extravaganza took them on a journey of traditional restaurants, Portuguese wines, music, history, manor houses and of course the Lusitano horses and horsemen. On the main party day guests spent the morning discovering the historic, wonderful old town of Santarém finishing up with a light lunch at Portas do Sol – a restaurant with an expansive view of the surrounding lands. Then back to the hotel to change, hop on the coaches transporting them to Quinta da Varzea to begin the party in earnest.

Greeted by waiters serving champagne and canapés they enjoyed the afternoon on the house terrace and taking tours around the farm on tractor and trailer or 4 by 4’s. They were shown by Nadja and her team the farms’ agricultural projects, the mares and foals while soaking up timeless glory of the Ribatejo landscape with it’s cork oak trees, pine trees, meadows and wildlife.

The equine entertainment was without a doubt a major ‘wow’ factor. How could it not be with the stylish pair of grey Lusitanos and handsome driver in the beautiful carriage to give them rides around the farm, followed by a ‘Private’ show from one of the four most famous classical equestrian schools in the world – The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. Guests lined the arena as the riders in wine velvet coats and ribbon braided bay Alter horses filled their glaze with a pas de deux, caprioles, levade, pirouettes and a stunning carousel. The elegance and grandeur of the school not lost being performed away from their home in Belem (Lisbon).

After the show dinner was served in a beautiful open sided marquee overlooking the old house and gardens. It was a Portuguese style barbecue interspersed with Danish style speeches and toasts. At dessert the Fado singers appeared accompanied with two guitarists to perform their laments of love, Lisbon, the sea and life of the poor. It’s a mournful sound with a sense of longing that cannot help but touch the soul but this handsome Fado group have a lightness to their songs and they perform them in true showmen style  – everyone’s captivated. Even the riders on their horses waiting to perform the working equitation display join us to form a respectful line along the front of the marquee creating quite an atmosphere of old Portugal.

At the last note of their soulful songs the guests follow the riders to the arena where they performed their jaw dropping show culminating in the fire performance. It’s an energising spectacle that puts everyone perfectly in the mood to dance the night away to a talented Danish Band, flown over especially to entertain them.

The next day, to our surprise guests wasted no time in being up and ready for the next round of activities. The day planned was as filled with museum and mini zoo visits, wine tasting at a manor house and Lusitano stud farm called Quinta da Lagoalva. The party goers were treated to a performance by a traditional Ribatejo group of singers and dancers. We were expecting about 8-10 performers so were delighted and astonished when 30 adults and children tumbled out of the cars and proceeded to give a charming, fun show even managing to encourage Niels and guests to join in the dancing.

Everyone returned to Denmark feeling satisfied with few days they will never forget. I believe all of us love to know that some of the World’s traditions are very much alive and still giving us all so much pleasure. What’s more there is no doubt that we are destined to see more equestrian entertainments in our events. Our equine partners bring that extra special something into our lives in so many ways. Long may they continue to enthral us and put a little skip in our hearts – after all, two hearts are better than one.

My thanks to Niels and Lisbeth for allowing me to give a glimpse into their fabulous weekend at Quinta da Varzea.

Text by Teresa Burton Lusitano Horse Finder
Photography by Lena Saugen Photography