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Rain Doesn't Dampen Spirits at the Lusitano Festival

Cascais, Portugal - June 15, 2006 – An annual event since 1991, torrential rain unfortunately dampened the opening day of the 18th International Lusitano Festival in Cascais, 30 kilometers west from Portugal’s capital city, Lisbon. Such weather at this time of year is viewed as something of a rare phenomenon that had the self-effacing Portuguese people apologizing endlessly to the numerous foreign visitors as they tiptoed around the showground avoiding the numerous large puddles. Similarly, a show that’s noted for its al fresco lunching and dining had people seeking cover to avoid the raindrops diluting the unusual, locally produced wine.

Taking place at the Municipal Hippodrome in the center of Cascais, this location provides a wonderful amphitheatre, with perfect acoustics for the sound of peacocks calling in the adjacent parkland, and bells periodically ringing from nearby church clock-towers.

The program in Cascais includes morphology classes for yearlings, two- and three-year-old horses separated into gender categories, broodmares and stallions in-hand, age-group classes in dressage and Working Equitation. Alongside the spectacle of Lusitano horses going through their paces on the first day, a group of ducks invaded the main dressage arena and a couple of suited judges, in true border collie style, made a good job of herding them through a gate into the surrounding parkland.

Dressage:

From a large starting line-up of five- and six-year-old Lusitanos, victories went to Urquero, ridden by Nina Berit Ruhler, and Talisco, under the saddle of Miguel Ralão Duarte respectively. Both winners were notably bred by Dr. Pedro Ferraz da Costa from Barcarena, Portugal, whose stud farm was established in 1987 with the express intention of breeding horses for functionality. One of their founding bloodlines was Opus 72 who became famous in the bullring with Alvarito Domecq and proved his worth as a sire of bullfighting horses who, quite naturally, possess sharpened instincts of courage and agility. They also used Orphée – the first Lusitano stallion to represent his breed at the 1992 Barcelona Olympic Games in dressage with Catherine Henriquet – up to the time of his death. As well as dressage, this stud farm has also bred two stallions who were selection for the national team in Working Equitation.

Working Equitation:

As the name implies, the recent addition of this fascinating discipline to the international stage pays tribute to those horses employed to perform a working role in everyday agricultural life. Obedience (dressage), versatility (obstacle course) and speed (another, different obstacle course) are the three mandatory tests demonstrated in competition, although a fourth category, working cows, is included as an option where location and facilities allow. The discipline is a conceptual masterpiece, and a wonderful marriage between English and western riding which encourages the perpetuation of national and cultural identities of the participants. It is practiced equally by boys and girls, men and women of all ages and at all levels, and the tack worn by the horse must compliment and be consistent with the style of dress adopted by each rider. Honoring the discipline’s roots and the fact that, so far, the majority of competing horses in Working Discipline are from Iberian origins (Lusitano and Andalusian), a great many riders choose to wear the costume of bullfighting picadors, with tight pants and bolero jackets for the men, and full-length riding culottes for girls and women, topped with black sombreros.

The first obedience/dressage phase – from elementary to the highest level which requires flying changes and pirouettes is followed by “versatility” when riders navigate an obstacle course, for the most part, in working canter. Here in Cascais, each rider followed a set course of 12 obstacles, chosen from 25 designated possibilities in the Working Equitation rulebook. Completed, for the most part, in working canter, several obstacles are mandatorily negotiated in walk: a wooden footbridge, for safety reasons, the lateral walk – either on a straight line or turning a corner around ‘L’ shaped rails – and passage through a gate that requires opening and reclosing. Speed is unimportant in this second phase, as long as the course is completed within a reasonable time limit. Marks are awarded for successfully negotiating each obstacle as well as the horse and rider’s style and finesse, and one-handed completion of the course, typically practiced by the more advanced level riders, naturally attracts higher marks.

The 12 obstacles in Cascais, in order were:

#1 A figure eight around two plant pots, including appropriate lead changes

#2 Clockwise and anti-clockwise around the inside of a round-pen

#3 Serpentine around slalom poles with six lead changes

#4 Enter an ‘L’-shaped corral in canter, ring a bell, and rein back to exit

#5 Straight-line slalom with appropriate lead changes

#6 Capture two hanging rings with a lance

#7 Unlatch, pass through, and close a gate (in this case a chain)

#8 Lateral walk over ‘L’-shaped rails

#9 Circle the points of a three-point triangle, in both directions,including lead changes

#10 Jump a mini-oxer

#11 Cross a wooden footbridge

#12 Halt at a table from which the rider lifts and replaces a jug of water

The youngest children’s age group of 11 and 12 year olds – from which the working cow option was omitted in Cascais – saw just four participants, representing the best nationally, who are challenging for team places in the European Championships to be held later this year. The youngest and smallest of this group, 11-year-old Guilherme Ornelas Rosado, whose feet barely cleared the lower edge of his saddle flap, was competing with Nabão, a handsome gray Lusitano stallion who was a former World Champion in Working Equitation. It’s not uncommon for older horses who are passed their prime at the upper levels in this discipline to continue competing successfully in a children’s category. Unfortunately, an error of course when Guilherme missed a slalom pole in the third obstacle resulted in elimination for this youngster and he finished last in this group. Coincidentally, if a rider realizes they’ve made a mistake, they can redo an obstacle as long as they don’t proceed to the next obstacle on the course. In the lead after two phases is 12-year-old Mafalda Afonso Silva riding Jesuita, followed by Dora Duarte de Oliveira – whose father is currently the #1 ranked Working Equitation rider in Portugal – with Opalino.

The most stunning display of the day at the senior and highest level came from reigning World, European and National Champion in Working Equitation, Pedro Valente Torres, who naturally performed his entire test one handed and in perfect harmony with the stunning gray stallion, Oxidado. It wasn’t a flawless demonstration, however, as they dislodged one rail during the lateral walk and dropped a ring from the lance, but it was sufficient to retain first place going into the final speed phase. Oxidado, from the Xaqueiro bloodline, was bred by the stud farm of João Pedro Rodrigues, local to Cascais. Torres was immediately followed by Portugal’s #3, #4 and #5 ranked Working Equitation riders, David Duarte Oliveira, André Pica da Conceição and Eduardo Almeida, respectively riding Mulato, Nohio and Olé. These four hold the top places in the order in which they are mentioned above.

Postcard from Cascais:

Lying west of the Pillars of Hercules that guard the entrance to the Mediterranean, the waterfront town of Cascais (pronounced Cash-kysh) in southwestern Portugal was the last sight of the civilized world for ancient seamen departing the Tagus estuary in their quest to explore uncharted waters. Likewise, the people of this historic town were the first to see ships returning laden with African treasures, Indian spices and Brazilian gold and, in 1558, the local people watched from their beaches as the Spanish Armada, the largest naval fleet ever to exist until World War II, sailed on its ill-fated trip to England.

Traces of mankind in this area date back to the Paleolithic period and, earlier, to a time when dinosaurs ruled the earth, evidenced by their footprints that have been preserved in various places. The Phoenicians, the Romans and especially the Arabs all left their mark on the local architecture, and their influence is apparent in many of the place names.

In June, with bougainvillea in a multitude of blinding shades cascading down from ancient stone balconies, the undulating, cobbled streets of Cascais provide a feast of color, matched only by the smells of gourmet cuisine wafting out of the back doorways of local pastelarias (bakeries). Occasionally, a warm breeze off the sea brings the smell of fish. It’s impossible and ill-advised not to stop and enjoy this visual and olfactory feast. Life is slow, tourists stroll and browse the shop windows for postcards and local crafts, pull up a chair outside one of the numerous bistros, sip dark coffee that will skin your mouth, relax to the mournful music of the Portuguese Fada – there is no need to rush. The less adventurous waste the atmosphere and slip unobtrusively through the door of a small backstreet McDonalds!

 

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