Portuguese School of Equestrian Art

The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art may be considered the least famous of the four schools recognised as the grand riding academies of the world. This was because the school was closed for many years during the 19 century with the invasions and political unrest. In fact the Royal court, in desperation to preserve it moved everything including the stud horses to safety in Brazil. However, it is important to remember that in fact like the other schools they have an equally long and fine tradition of equestrian art. Since re-establishing in 1979 the school has been dedicated to preserving Portugal’s fabulous heritage in equestrian traditions.

Today’s Portuguese School of Equestrian Art (EPAE) is a recreation of the 18th century Portuguese equestrian academy of the royal court, Real Picaria. The original maroon velvet costumes, the tricorn hats and tack used has undergone very few changed and the horses ridden today are from the same stud farm as previously. The riders of the school follow the principles as laid out in the book, Luz da Liberal e Nobre Arte da Cavallaria (1790). A very complete works that illustrates everything from basic grooming to teaching the airs above the ground and the mounted court games. The book is written by Manuel Carlos de Andrade in order to preserve the philosophy of his riding Master, Dom Pedro José de Alcântara de Menezes, chief Equerry of José I of Portugal and thus head of Real Picaria. Menzes is more well known as Marquis von Marialva and is at times called “the Guérinière of the Iberian peninsula”, he was an extraordinary rider who had the main objective of achieving lightness in his riding.  

The horses of EPAE are bay stallions from the stud farm Coudelaria Alter Real although in fact originally they were grey and bay. The stud farm was founded in 1748 by the Portuguese King D. João V with the purpose to provide the court with horses. Alter Real horses are a baroque type of ´the Lusitano breed, it’s said that these horses still look very much the same as they did 200 years ago. In the shows and displays

For the regular shows held at Picadeiro Henrique Calado in Belém, Lisbon, the stallions are dressed up in replicas of the 18th century saddlery, braided and adorned with red and golden silk bands. The weekly shows display a carousel, a Pas de Deux, and work in hand with the dramatic airs above the ground. Once a month there is an evening gala performance, here the spectators enjoy an extended show that also include the Mounted Court games, re-created after descriptions in Luz da Liberal. In this piece the riders are dressed in colourful 18th century costumes and perform exercises like hitting a dummy with a lance, pick up a bouquet with a sword, spear a small ring and hit a target with an arrow. This is all performed with the reins in one hand. To ride one handed is an art that has it roots in mounted warfare but has in many places around the world disappeared. Portugal’s tradition of riding with one hand has been kept alive through mounted bullfighting and now also by the Working Equitation sport.

The management of the school is today entrusted with the state-owned company, Parques de Sintra – Monte da Lua SA and has since 1996 been situated in the gardens of the National Palace of Queluz, just a stone’s throw from Lisbon. In 2015 the renovation of Picadeiro Henrique Calado in the historic quarters of Belém, Lisbon, was completed and this arena is now used for the shows as well as training sessions open to the public. This means that the approximately 50 bay stallions of the school are now split between stabling in Belém and in the gardens of Queluz.

The day to day running of the school

Amongst the riders working at the school there is a Master-Chief rider, João Pedro Rodrigues, and a Master rider, António Borba Monteiro. João Pedro organises the work in the arena, and he is also the one who decides which riders are going to perform in each show. António, is highly skilled in the training the horses in high school movements such as the airs above the ground, so he helps the riders with that work.They daily role of the riders of the school is to work their horses, select new horses, train for the shows and this is all done as a team.

When talking about riding history Portugal is often overseen, which is not entirely fair as the Portuguese or Iberian riders back in ancient days were world famous for their agile, brave horses and their superb skills in training horses for mounted warfare. These skills then later during the renaissance evolved into the art of classical dressage. And it’s this very long and fine tradition that the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art today aim to preserve. They are doing a very fine job, if you ever pass by Lisbon, make sure to pay them a visit.

For more details on training sessions, shows and gala nights, visit the websitehttp://arteequestre.pt/ of the school.

Text by Hanna Larsson

IMAGES – By Lena Saugen Photography for 60th Birthday party at Quinta da Varzea