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Master Luís Valença

Master Luís Valença



Article and photos by Cátia Castro

LuisValencaBHM14-4712A great master and a living legend, the reputation of Portuguese equestrian artiste, Luís Valença Rodrigues precedes him throughout the world. Former master of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, he performed at the Royal Horse Gala and Appassionata Shows for many years.

A living equestrian history book full of stories of important horses, and their associated important people, Master LuísValença has been shaping dreams in every show he designs. He has devoted his life entirely to the training of Lusitano horses and unusual riding talents. His palomino Sultão was unquestionably the very first chapter in this master’s amazing life.

Highly accomplished in classical riding, Master Luis Valença showcases all facets of high school dressage together with his daughters Filipa and SofiaValença. Whether they are being led or ridden, Valença’s horses have mastered various styles to perfection, including Iberian Quadrille and Garrocha, which are reflected in their riders’ brilliant skills.Hollywood actor Kirk Douglas visited LuisValença twice in 1986 to gain inspiration from the horses for his book “The Gift.” Both Queen Elizabeth II of England and the late American President Ronald Reagan were impressed by his art of riding.

BHM: First of all, thank you very much for the privilege to be here talking to you. Please tell us how this all began?

LV: All that happened here was based on the horse. Jerónimo Fenollos started the Centro Equestre da Lezíria Grande—CELG—35 years ago, and he bought a palomino horse I would train. That horse was Sultão, and after he appeared in my life, a series of strange things happened, like a star to light the way. Many positive things happened because of Sultão.

My second riding master, Don José Manuel da Cunha Menezes, was a “Baucherist”; he taught me a lot of the Baucher style of learning. When I got Sultão, he was a paolomino, (and my master Don José’s last horse was also a palomino, named Baudelaire), I taught Sultão the all programs that I learned with my master. Baucher had exercises that do not apply very often today, but at the time the circus and the army applied those types of teaching in every day life. But after two years of having Sultão, the owner made a proposition to build a new stable and arena, so that’s where CELG was born here in Vila Franca de Xira, Portugal. Before we established CELG, we went to the Canary Islands in Spain, and there we learnt a lot about equestrian tourism. This was pre-1974, so keep in mind that we did everything back in those days. We performed with the horses, and then we changed our clothes and waited tables. Sometimes you have to experience hard times in life to better appreciate the good times.

My life was divided in four parts: the first one was the experience with my godfather Don José, the second was when we went to the Canary islands and Jerez de la Frontera, the third was the opening of CELG; and the fourth, the opening of the gates to go abroad.

In 1984, we went to the Paris Horse Salon (Salon du Cheval Paris), and it was our first adventure through Europe. At first, I didn’t ride Sultão in the exhibitions, because his coat colour was considered ‘feminine’, so it was actually one of my daughters, Luísa Valença (who was then 11 years old) who presented Sultão without a saddle. Continuing on, we went to the jumping show of Paris, and Sultão performed the backwards gallop; he galloped in the same spot; he did rear passage. What people read in Baucher books they could now see in front of them, so it was a huge success. We were invited to go to Birmingham to the Royal Show in 1994. We went to Equitana in Germany in 1997. At Equitana we did the closing ceremony; my daughters Luísa and Sultão were in the middle of the pillars, and the crowd started to clap their hands and the horse started to beat his hoof on the ground in time and people loved it. Then in Paris, a Nigerian couple offered to buy Sultão, for a million French francs, which in those days was a lot of money! Of course, we didn’t sell Sultão—money is not everything in life. After that, the newspapers were all interested in Sultão, which also gave us a lot of free advertising, and people from all over the place visited us to see him.

We started to do tours in Europe for the German company ‘Royal Horse Gala’, and did that until 1996. In those days the Apassionata Show didn’t exist. We went performing in Arles, France, so many places… During the Royal Gala, interesting things happened; we were in Vienna, Austria, and there was the Olympic gold medalist, the dressage rider Nicole Uphoff with her horse “Rembrandt.” She asked me to present the show wearing our 18th-century costumes and ride Sultão. So we went—the three of us—my daughter Luísa, Nicole and I. Nicole is an extraordinary rider; she only rode Sultão for about five minutes before the show and performed the exercises in an excellent way. The German newspapers didn’t like it because she was there to represent the German horse—Rembrandt— and it was pandemonium.

In the Royal Gala in Aachen, Germany
the following year (1997), Isabel Werth was there, and she knew about Nicole’s story, so she went to see me and said “I would also like to ride Sultão.” And so she did, but not with our costumes. When Anky Van Grunsven was here in Portugal for the International Lusitano Festival, she asked if Sultão still existed, and then she rode him there. What is so funny is that three Olympic dressage riders rode Sultão—this is part of Sultão’s history.

BHM: You are also a great ambassador of the Lusitano breed…

LV: Nowadays I do the Apassionata Show; we have huge support in terms of good conditions for the horses, riders, special effects…we sell about 500,000 to 600,000 tickets each year. That’s a lot of people who

see our Lusitano horses.We also do a few shows outside Apassionata like the one we did at the Golegã Fair 2013 and we were invited by the King of Morocco to perform in Morocco. My oldest daughter Luísa is now living in Bangkok, Thailand; she has Lusitano horses there, and she is in the dressage competitions. She has had a lot of success and has been developing good dressage there.

BHM: We have been interviewing many dressage riders, and many were your students…

LV: There is something in equitation that we must have, and that is know the world of the horse, appreciate the horse and then go to the equestrian path we would like to follow. Here our path is the Equestrian Art. From there we have a base and follow what we like.

The riders—Carlos Pinto, Daniel Pinto and Nuno Palma e Santos (he was married to my daughter Luísa)—began here in CELG with me.

The Classical equitation has less expression in terms of followers, but in terms of learning has a lot: what are the first steps we should take with the horse; the code that has to
exist between horse and rider; the voice; the feeling; the movement; the horse accepting us as his partner, to be part of his herd, but us being the head of the herd. Riding is not like shopping for clothes in the store, we have

to know how to cut and sew the fabric and make the clothes. Equestrian art is to give to the horse every chance to express his ego, to give to the breed every opportunity so that it may shine.

BHM: You were Master Nuno d’Oliveira’s student. Did you have other mentors?

LV: Of all of the learning methods I had, it was my godfather who gave me the horse experience. He was Don José Menezes, who was a specific master (he followed the Baucher method). He was a man like the ones that you go to university, and then you stay in touch with to master a single discipline, he couldn’t get out of that way of thinking…he was a very specific man.

In saying that, though it was great because Baucher was one of the most important men in equitation: he studied all horse functionality/morphology, and then he created a system, that by that time was intended for the army. His system was in a time that the sword fighting was replaced with gun fighting, and so they changed the type of horse that existed to attend the army’s needs.They started to use crossbred horses because they had a lot more speed in a straight line. There was there a bit of a shock in the preparation of these horses though, because they had a different temperament—they were harder to train. He thus invented a system to make the horse as submissive as possible. Baucher had fifty-four lessons and then the horse was ready. It was a science with very closed parameters. I’ve learned a lot with Don José, because he made me see the horse’s reactions in minute detail, how they could be substituted. Baucher’s philosophy was undoing the instinctive forces of the horse and replacing them with transmission forces. Place the horse in “zero” and then program the horse with what we teach them.

Later, Master Nuno d’Oliveira had a lot of contempt for other professional riders, he thought they should have the same learning that he had. One day he went to Don José’s place and asked me to ride the horse that Don José and I were teaching. I rode the horse and at the end he said:“it’s not bad, but riding is not that; riding is something more than that”…and he was right. That very same day, Master Nuno d’Oliveira went to see my mother (he was married to her first cousin) and he told her that he would like me to go to his place and start lessons with him. I must have only been seventeen at that time, and it was a big turning point in my life.

Master Nuno d’Oliveira’s methods were based on every master’s knowledge and “applying what was necessary to that specific horse. He did not follow the method of one or the other; he applied what was necessary to each individual horse. His arena was always a big riding laboratory, where he had a variety of horses for him to try, and then he developed his own training method that suited nearly all horses.

BHM: Can you tell us a story about Nuno d’Oliveira?

LV: Well I have a photo of Master Nuno d’Oliveira with his German horse.Yes—a German horse…he had a German horse
at the end of his life. He wanted to try his method on German horses, but as he could not afford to have one, he went to Belgium where they had Warmbloods from Russia.
He went to purchase the horse with Michel Henriquet and Hélène Arianoff—dressage champions of France at the time. There were eight or nine horses, and then Master Nuno d’Oliveira asked them to leave because he wanted to choose the horse alone. He chose a horse that was ugly and angular, with a ewe neck —it looked like a race horse, and then he sent it to Helena Arianoff to begin training. Eventually, when he learned the basics, he would go to Master Nuno’s house.

Even today, Helena remembers that she started to work on the horse and the horse was not evenly balanced in cadence and rhythm, he delayed movement of a leg… and so she phoned Master Nuno saying that was better if they decided to ask for a vet’s opinion… he said “No way! The vets will come up with some theory and I want that horse.” Well, the horse came to Master Nuno to train. In the first year, we all said he was wasting his time with that horse; in the second year he managed to put the horse’s neck round in the right way; and by the fourth year of training, the horse performed all the exercises requested in dressage Grand Prix, and he did haut école exercises like the Spanish trot. Master Nuno transformed a bad horse into piece of art. There was an extraordinary rider; he was a true man of horses.

Another quick story…I had a horse, a pinto horse, and he was physically weak. We didn’t give him much attention, but Master Nuno told me to train the horse, that he would be a good horse. Everybody told him the horse was no good. With no logical arguments to back up our opinion, Master Nuno went for a drive in his car, and he come back and told me: ”You have a young daughter, you will teach the horse with her on his back”. For me, even if I didn’t agree, all Master Nuno’s wishes were automatically carried out. So I trained the horse, and he became a really nice horse, performing the Grand Prix exercises.Then I sold him to a really nice new owner, and it was with the income from that horse that I bought the house that I still live in today…I have Master Nuno to thank for that.

It’s not bad, but riding is not that; riding is something more than that.




Address: Estrada Nacional 1. 2600 Vila Franca de Xira – Portugal

Phone : 351 263 285 160


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More Info about this article:

Sultão: Lusitano crossbreed, palomino coat. Born in April 20th of 1976, died in August 12th of 2005. An outstanding horse with superior character. His exceptional and unique curriculum vitae: In 1984, he debuted at the Paris International Horse Salon, when he made a performance of light and sound that swept Paris. He was a true riding “Globe Trotter” and an annual attendant at the major equestrian stages of Europe. He was the element most searched for by thousands of visitors of CELG Equestrian Center.

François Baucher (1796 – 1873) was a French dressage master of the 19th century.
Baucher took great pride in his ability to produce a horse quickly ridden, claiming to have trained horses to perform the airs within months. His ideals based on the search for ultimate lightness remain with us today.

Appassionata Show: During its nine-year history, Apassionata has brought almost five million viewers their fair share of astonishing moments, tears and laughter. The magical connection between people and horses is enjoyed year after year thanks to the beautiful horses, breathtaking riding, unique light effects and wonderful music. Visit Europe’s most successful equestrian entertainment show and immerse yourself in a world of adventure and imagination.

Nuno d’Oliveira: (June 23rd, 1925. Died February 2nd, 1989). Nuno Oliveira was a brilliant riding master of the 20th century, recognised worldwide. A Portuguese national, he started to ride at the age of seven. He devoted his life to teaching and dressage, becoming Portugal’s ambassador
of the Equestrian Art in all four corners of the world. His riding master was Joaquim G. Miranda, following the French classical style of Versailles. When his master died in 1940, he pursued his own career. In the ‘50s, he began his public appearances and opened his own riding school in Póvoa de Sto Adrião. During the ‘60s, he gained visibility for both him and for the Lusitano horse, performing all over the world: the Americas, Australia, and Europe.

A great reader of all classics, his equestrian knowledge is all-encompassing. His main readings are:  La Guérinière, Steinbrecht and Baucher.

In 1973, he acquired Brejo’s Farm (in Avessada, Malveira, Portugal) to continue his riding school. He kept a written correspondence with the French rider Michel Henriquet for 30 years.

Master Nuno left several written works in the Portuguese, French and English languages, showing his equestrian methods and reflections, leaving an Equestrian Art message of beauty and the natural aptitude of the Lusitano in the complex aesthetic culture. He drew the High School action line, promoting the Lusitano horse as a perfect example of “equilibrium and lightness.”

Michel Henriquet: was a member of the French National Commission for Dressage and technical advisor to the Cadre Noir of Saumur. Trainer of many riders, he trained his wife Catherine Durand to dressage Vice-Champion and Champion of France, and the Olympic Games in Barcelona with a Lusitano. He is a recognised specialist in the Iberian horse. He was President and Founder of the French Association of the Lusitano Horse.