The adventure of Monte Velho, an equestrian paradise for Lusitanian horses

This is a story that begins with a prescription, arrives at the Tokyo Olympics and continues as a wonderful equestrian adventure. Like any adventure, it is strewn with successes, defeats, pains and joys. In 1990, Diogo Lima Meyer, aged just 36, was already one of Portugal’s most successful architects. His firm had won the contract for the restructuring of the entire network of agencies of the BCP Group, the most important Portuguese private bank. He coordinated a group of dozens of collaborators, in Portugal and abroad. An important and demanding job, which earned him many awards. Success, however, had a price. One night, Diogo woke up with symptoms of a severe cardiac arrhythmia. Taken to the hospital and the crisis resolved, he was subjected to the necessary investigations. The cardiologist had no doubts: that illness was an alarm bell. “Too much stress – he told him – To ease the tension, he should do some sport.” “Which one?” Diogo asked him. “Horse riding would be perfect,” suggested the doctor, who was related to a breeder and knew the equestrian environment.

Thirty years later, Diogo tells me his story sitting on the patio of his estate in Monte Velho, in Aletejo. “A couple of kilometers from my home, in Sintra, was the Quinta do Pombal, the equestrian center of Pepe Iglesias, a pupil of Nuno Oliveira. So I bought a horse and took it to Pepe, to train and teach me Pepe was a very introduced person in the world of Lusitanian riding and his riding was frequented by some of the best Portuguese riders, such as Dr. Guilherme Borba, one of the most influential figures in the environment, and by Jo? o Pedro Rodrigues , which would later become Mestre Picador Chefe of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. That’s where I took my first steps, having the good fortune to meet true masters. ” Pepe Iglesias owned a splendid stallion at the time, with truly impressive movements. He was called Xaquiro. Doctor Borba, who was a great expert, as well as a superfine rider, had the intuition that that horse could give a great impetus to the breeding of the Lusitanian horse and proposed to introduce it as a breeder in the state breeding of Alter do Chao . The idea turned out to be right. The horse brought a real genetic shock to breeding, contributing decisively to the improvement of the Lusitanian breed. The agreement with the owner was that the mountains would be paid to him with three gray foals, while the bai ones would be destined for the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. “When those foals arrived at Quinta do Pombal – continues Diogo – we immediately realized that they were exceptional. Shortly after, we discovered that one of the mares that had generated them was destined to go to auction. With Pepe and another partner we decided to buy it, together with two other mares.Crossing them with Xaquiro we obtained foals that immediately began to reap success in breeding competitions.

Unfortunately, the third partner died of cancer and Pepe had to sell his riding school for economic reasons. So I decided to buy the mares. By a lucky coincidence, it was around this time that I learned that my wife’s family had put up a property in Alentejo for sale. At first I didn’t think about buying it, but with my wife we ​​still decided to take a trip and go and see it. But when we found ourselves in front of those hills covered with cork trees, we immediately understood that this was destined to become our place of the heart. “The Monte Velho property was almost abandoned at the time and only the ruins of the old manor house existed. and outbuildings. Diogo rebuilt the place with taste and respect for traditional Portuguese rural architecture. He moved his mares there and began to breed horses, in what would remain for twenty years only the country house of the Lima Meyer family . As the years went by and the world economic crisis of 2008, Diogo began, however, to wonder how to make that place economically sustainable, when one day he should have left it to his children. Thus the project was born to obtain a rural tourist residence, linked to the practicing equestrian sports. With the help of his wife, also an interior architect, he then created nine rooms, equipping them with all the comforts t of a real agritourism resort (to visit its website, just click on this link: Monte Velho equo-resort). It was immediately a success.

At this point, again, chance, a bit of luck and a lot of foresight play an essential role in the equestrian adventure of Monte Velho. Some time after starting the tourist business, Diogo welcomed a boy who was following a university course in equestrian sciences as a working student at his farm. He soon realized that the very young Joao Torrao had an extraordinary talent and dedication. After two successive periods of apprenticeship, he proposed to him to work permanently in Monte Velho, with the task of taking care of the horses, taming and training the foals and giving lessons to the guests of the tourist residence. Around that time, it was time to saddle a promising bay foal from the herd. The horse had a prestigious genealogy: the father, Quo-Vadis, had won a gold medal at the 2006 world championships, while the mother, Dam Que-Há was the daughter of another very famous Lusitanian stallion, Hostil. The horse was called Ecuador and Diogo entrusted its taming to Joao. It was a splendid specimen, powerful and elegant. Despite his proud character, he immediately proved to be intelligent, expressive and with an extraordinary aptitude for dressage. Above all, Diogo realized that there was a special understanding between him and Joao, which made him a couple that was still immature, but with enormous potential.

It was then that he began to think about allocating them to a competitive career. But something was still missing. The horse was very young, as was its rider. They needed someone with the experience to help them grow. Diogo then decided to call Coralie Baldrey, an instructor, who worked at an equestrian center in the area, to work with Joao and Ecuador. Having graduated from the National Riding School of Saumur, France, home to the famous Cadre Noir, Coralie proved to be the winning choice. Her credit is due to her for having been able to harmonize the combination, instilling confidence in her young pupil and helping him to develop a reasoned training program, in which working in the rectangle was combined with relaxing walks in the countryside. The results came quickly and were truly amazing. Too many successes to list them all. Suffice it to say that on their international Grand Prix debut in 2019, Jo? O and Ecuador won the Cascais CDI, with 69,391%. And to think that before arriving at Monte Velho, Jo? O had only participated in a competition at the club level! In the same year, in the GP Freestyle test, of the FEI World Cup in Mechelen, they achieved their personal best, with a score of 78.9%. But, above all, in the European Championship in Rotterdam, they contributed to the first qualification in the history of the Portuguese team at the Olympics!

Meanwhile, Joao and Ecuador continued to prepare and were granted the privilege of training with what is perhaps the most talented rider on the current international dressage scene: Carl Hester. There are many knights who aspire to his advice. Only after seeing the videos of 4 Ecuador and Jo? O, Hester was convinced of the qualities of the horse and the rider and agreed to host them in his stable. “It was a very important experience – Jo tells me? Or, while looking after a horse at Monte Velho – Carl is a true master, gifted with an unparalleled sensitivity and experience. His advice has been a source of immense inspiration for me. and they allowed me a further leap in quality. ” In March 2020, Ecuador and Joao Torrao won the Cascais Grand Prix in Portugal with a score of 74,978, setting a new record for a Lusitanian stallion. The conditions for Tokyo were therefore excellent. Unfortunately, however, the summer trip to Japan, in an Olympics made very complicated by draconian anti-Covid measures, did not go as hoped for them, even if the Portuguese team was exalted by the magnificent performance of Rodrigo Torres and Fogoso. Everything gave hope that after the setback of Tokyo, Ecuador and Jo? O would soon return to new successes. Destiny, however, follows inscrutable paths which, at times, lead to tragic outcomes. One treacherous morning just over two months ago, when Joao entered the stable, he noticed that Ecuador was not well. Immediate veterinary checks revealed a serious and unexplained spinal injury because the horse had not had any accidents. Diogo and his son Diogo Jr, who leads the Monte Velho team, turned to a French surgeon, the only one in the world known to be able to perform operations on such delicate lesions. “He told us immediately that it was a very difficult operation – Diogo Jr tells me – He assured us, however, that he would try by any means. The horse was operated on. The operation was technically successful and the course, in the very first days, seemed good, but the situation suddenly worsened and Ecuador did not survive. ” There is no person in Monte Velho who has told me about Ecuador without his eyes turning red with emotion.

Only those who love horses can understand what this terrible loss can mean for them. Those who know and love animals know that unfortunately their life is almost always shorter than that of those who become attached to them. Despite this awareness, losing a life partner like Ecuador in such a sudden and senseless way was a very hard blow for everyone. “But life goes on – Diogo tells me, with a hint of a smile – Ecuador was not only a champion, but also a fantastic breeder. On the hills of Monte Velho run around several foals who are his children. And not only them. In our stable there are are new interesting subjects, which Jo? o is busy preparing for new goals. The team of Monte Velho, led with passion by my son Diogo JR, supported by the experience of Coralie and also composed of Nuno Neves, Lorena Souza, and Bernardo Neves, continues to work with enthusiasm. Just as my family continues to dedicate itself with dedication to welcoming 5 guests from all over the world, to try to make them feel at home in this little corner of paradise. memory of Ecuador. “

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