PEDRO TORRES: The Person and the Rider
Interview and photos by Cátia Castro – (Interviewed in 2013, in issue 10 of Baroque Horse Magazine)
Pedro Torres is a reference in the Working Equitation world by being several times World champion, and European champion. In his “pátio” or courtyard as he calls his equestrian home in Cascais, Portugal, it’s easy to be amazed by the beautiful surroundings, the landscape, the magnificent Lusitanos, and excellent riding. These are the reasons so many people from all over the world are attracted to and enticed to come to get to know this master, immerse themselves in the knowledge he delights to pass on and enjoy his relentless respect for the horse. Definitely a mark in the equestrian world, Pedro Torres is an intriguing man because on one hand he is such an energetic character, yet on the other hand, when riding and dealing with horses, he is serene and tranquil.
Let’s get to know him and a little bit of his story…
BHM: Pedro, tell us about you and how you began riding?
PT: I started as a five-year-old, riding a pony at my father’s house. At the age of 7, I joined the riding school at the Jockey Club in Lisbon (Hipical Society), and from then, there was an evolution of events. When I was 16, I started to ride professionally. Frederick Von Appelem had a farm in Sintra with Lusitanos; we made a team. From there, I went to Quinta da Marinha as a groom, where a horse named Navarro became very important to me. A lot of doors opened for me professionally, and I won a Europe Championship. At the same time, I entered the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, and I was there for seven years. Then I went to work for a Lusitano stud from Manuel Braga, and then I found this “pátio” or “courtyard.”
We formed a cooperative of breeders 11 years ago with João Pedro Rodrigues, Pedro Passanha, Tomas Kleber, Pedro Y. Oliveira, Henrique Paquete, and we set up this arena for the purpose of developing and training young horses. I invited Gonçalo Carvalho to come to work with me. At the time, Gonçalo was a student of João Pedro Rodrigues in Quinta da Marinha. He stayed with me for four years. Over that period of time, this place really developed, and I continued working with other clients.
Our team prepares for performances and internships here and abroad, and for competitions of any kind. I do not set specific tests, I do any kind of competition; it’s what amuses me the most, and it is what I do. I like all equestrian disciplines. I choose the one I feel the horse has the ability to do. For example, for several of the disciplines – show jumping, working equitation (WE), dressage – the first thing I do is evaluate the potential of the horse and try to exploit this potential in all these disciplines. People say “Pedro Torres is a WE rider”, but nothing could be further from the truth . . . I’m a rider, and I ride the discipline my horse tells me to ride. By pure chance, I happened to have a horse that was fantastic in the WE – Oxidado (JGR). In fact, he’s the best in the world at WE, and I was very lucky to have him and to be his partner for all of these years. This is what I do – I ride the best I can and develop the best possible horses to reach the maximum that I can achieve with them.
BHM: You mean the horse doesn’t adapt to you, you adapt to the horse…?
PT: Yes. The main function of a good rider is to evaluate the horse and teach the horse the best way to perform their functions. It’s not, “Now I want you to come to my parameters, and you must do exactly that,.” No! The horse must be himself. He must be true to his own character, and we must try to improve on that as much as possible; to develop their skills in order to develop their part, in which he feels most at ease.
BHM: It shows great respect for the horse …
PT: I think there has to be. There are many riders who have horses, and they are all the same profile. Sometimes to see some horses, there’s no need to see the rider. It is obvious that horse is ridden by a certain type of rider, because the horse’s head, type of placement, movement, etc., are all characteristic of that particular rider.
My horses are all different.
I now have Ahoto (JGR). He moves in a fantastic way. I’m not trying to get ahead of myself here, but, I think he might have an aptitude for dressage.
I also have Oxidado (JGR), and he has potential but has different characteristics to WE.
I also have Ulysses, also in WE, but he’s a totally different horse.
So we have to pick up the horse we have, try to improve it, try to develop their natural characteristics, try giving them gymnastics to be able to move better, to perform their functions as best as possible. And what are their functions? That’s where the horse shines. A horse can have a gorgeous trot, great elasticity in their movement, the ability to be a good performance/competition horse, but we must take into account their psychological makeup, because there are horses that need more activity, more challenge. For example, as a test of WE, especially the maneuverability and speed, these tests have a lot of things that oblige the horses to be concentrated, and the horses themselves are focused on the obstacles they appear along the way. In a dressage test, for the horse the exercises go/flow by motion. In the case of jumping, it’s a different type of horse. It’s interesting to see whether the spirit and character of the horse fit the discipline or not.
BHM: Oxidado, despite being a world champion WE, experienced dressage tests . . .
PT: Oxidado – we thought it would be a fun challenge for him as a 15yo, so we did a dressage Grand Prix in Portugal. We also went to the Sunshine Tour in Spain and managed to score 61%, and this was with a horse that only ever did WE all of his life.
But knowing Oxidado, he is much more comfortable in WE. He is a horse that needs a challenge; he’s a warrior and feels more at ease with speed; his character is to perform, to bend faster, to accelerate. He executes things with coldness and determination, and I think that’s what made him a champion.
Oxidado helped me a lot in my equestrian evolution. As a rider, I am able to analyze horses better. Oxidado is a horse with such strength of character we dare not go against it; it’s not worth it. If we do go against him, you diminish his potential. With Oxidado, you have to think differently; to think of him as a companion, not to force it. Instead of “Come here!”, The better way is, “Let’s both go this way”. That’s the way to handle him. So Oxidado has taught me how to deal well with the other horses.
The horses that are fantastic for me are the ones with a very strong mentality, with a very strong personality, that have great strength and yet are extremely sensitive. These are the horses I like!
There is an image that I like to see. When a rider and horse are connected, the rider goes unnoticed, and I only see the horse. All the attention is focused on the horse. I don’t like seeing the horse and rider partnership when really, all I am seeing is the rider. The horse is a means of transport; the horse is an entire painting; we’re just there to encourage the horse to move gracefully. That is the function of the rider.
My life, my challenge, my passion is to realize the understanding of horses; to ride the horse and feel his personality, his flexibility; to feel the horse move beautifully, recognize a problem with a certain muscle, or see that he has a fantastic back, has good balance. Even when we have a fantastic horse, we can still improve it . . . “Can I do this better? Can these muscles and elasticities be even better?” That is my challenge; to look at the horses, evaluate them, to understand what are the muscles that are working or can still work better, and develop gymnastics. Then, when it all works, we already have the raw material to work with, and we can then decide to do this particular discipline. Until then, we cannot do anything because we don’t know how it’s going to turn out! Even in a competition, at the end of the test, we say: “This is what happened today. Will it be the same next time?” In riding, there can never be certainty about the exact results.
Achieving good results can only be done with consistent day-to-day work. The awards we earn are due to practice and hard work everyday. If the practice that we do is very good, the results will be good. If the results are bad, we have to assess what is going wrong in our riding or in our training, so we can improve and achieve the goals that we want. It’s important that people don’t get stuck in time saying, “I won!” That moment has passed, and now it is time to look forward. Now we have to continue to work and do not focus on victories or failures; we have to think about the everyday life, and feel the horses; feel the riding, this is a constant evolution.
I think life is made of challenges, and it’s these challenges that makes us evolve. My challenges are all moderate. For example, about eight months ago, I acquired Ahoto. He corresponds to my way of being; he has a great personality. Horses that have a strong personality, have strong initiative, a “readiness” to take a certain freedom. Ahoto is going to have to show in which discipline he excels. About him I can say, of all the Lusitanos and other breeds, he is the best horse I have ever ridden.
Few breeds show the initiative I see in Ahoto. He has an unusual physique, an outstanding mechanic, and he has an elasticity and fineness that is very unusual. He is undoubtedly the best horse I’ve ridden so far. I’ve been having fantastic experiences with him.
We started with the tests of WE. Last year we went to Golegã Fair, where, luckily, he won the competition. I know Ahoto is able to do well in the WE test. In Golegã Fair, we also had the approval of stallions, and I saw his reaction being amongst people. He was really well behaved. I was so pleased with him that I’ve set some goals for this year: to make a jumping competition to 1 meter high; to perform a Prix St-Georges test; and a WE competition.
I’ve released a video about Ahoto on the internet, and in it, you can see he’s already sketching exercises of the Grand Prix. Although he will have of a certain equestrian discipline, I’ll always mix the training with some jumping, go around the slalom pole of the WE where he has to do a tight turn and flying changes because I know that all this will help for the dressage exercises. I don’t like to mechanize in some type of movement, otherwise the horse will be too focused, and I like them to be open minded because that way, the rest will come naturally.
BHM: You have a tight schedule. How do you manage your time?
PT: It is not easy. I’m a very active person, always have been since childhood. If I had been analyzed when I was young, for sure I would have been diagnosed as hyperactive – to an extreme degree (laughs). But this energy allowed me the opportunity to do several things at once, but at the same time, calmly, and I was always careful not to leave anything behind, and I never crossed my limits. But I think by managing my time well, I can get to the places and people I need to. I have a really busy life, but I feel good with it, and I’m used to it, and when I have a free weekend without anything to do, I really miss the activity.
A normal day for me starts by coming to the “patio”, riding, helping students, at the end of the day I pick up my daughters from school because my wife teaches in the afternoons. Every Thursday, I catch a plane and give clinics abroad. I have no days off, no holidays, my life is dedicated to horses, clinics, competition horses, clients, my students who are going to competitions, my family. It’s very intense work and the people around me respect that and help me a lot because otherwise it would be unthinkable. If I didn’t have such a fantastic wife, who accompanies me, and helps me and gives me so much support, it would be impossible to do this.
My team is fantastic; they are very committed, and I thank God I’ve had the good fortune to meet these amazing professionals, who give me so much support because they all share the same ideals as me. I can come home and know the horses are receiving good physical preparation. They have a fantastic groom, and there is a team here that, when I am out, they just keep working the horses, and keep everything, including our clients super excited. I can then have my battery recharged for the next day, surrounded by great people, friendly understanding people, who help us to have this kind of life.
BHM: You have a new internet project that is called Lusitanos Market?
PT: Every day I would get phone calls asking me to come to see a horse that someone is interested in buying. I don’t sell horses, that’s not what I do. So this website is fantastic because we redirect contacts for people. Today if someone asks me for a horse, I say go to the Lusitanos Market and see Lusitanos, and all the contacts there. The goal of this website is to reach people who want to buy a Lusitano. There they will find a showcase of great Lusitanos to choose from. And that’s not all. We also have a riders section to complete the great need to monitor the horses. People who are used to riding a Warmblood have no idea what an Iberian horse is; they aren’t ridden in the same way. Why? The Warmblood is a horse of 600 kg that can make the reins feels stronger and heavier for a much longer time. It’s a totally different horse – in balance, in everything. With the Iberian horse, you can’t be pushing on the reins for a long time otherwise ,he will stop and won’t walk. Some people need someone who can help them with this breed that is new to them. People are coming from abroad to try Lusitanos and have lessons to feel what a Lusitano really is. Sometimes people want to buy a Lusitano, and find them cute, but where can they try them first? That’s where the idea for this section of the website came from- people can contact us and have lessons with several riders such as Bento Castelhano, Miguel Ralão, with me, and many more. Most importantly, we don’t take any commissions from anyone!
BHM: About the Lusitano breed . . .
PT: The Lusitano horse has a lot of history and tradition. The Lusitano breed has remained almost the same since the ancestral Iberian Peninsula Horse to this day, with the same qualities. These horses are very important. They come from the war; they were the best horses; they were used by the Romans to conquer. Most horse statues and paintings are of Iberian horses. This breed has great value, and we were fortunate to keep this type of horse recently thanks to bullfighters. Today we breed the best horses for several equestrian disciplines, but also we do a lot of good bullfighter horses. 40 to 50 years ago there was no dressage competition in Portugal. We had a little bit of show jumping, so most of the horses were bred to perform in the bullfighting arena. WE also select horses with these characteristics.
BHM: What do you think about your riding career?
PT: People say that I am lucky, but what happens is you have to work hard in order to achieve good results, and the luck is the opportunity to show those results. Also, all your hard work at home has to match the horse’s physical high performance. I see a lot of people who work hard, have made great sacrifices, try to have good horses, but they lack the fortune star. I try to honor my fortune star the best I can. What I advise riders to do is work as hard as possible, because that “fortune star” day will arrive eventually; don’t try to force it, because when the time comes, it is on that day that you and your horse have to be at their very best; calm so things will go well. The regularity of good work gives really good results.
Surround yourselves with good people who want to help you, and tell you the truth about your work. I have good friends who are very sincere with me. João Pedro Rodrigues is my great master. He is my inspiration as a person and a rider. He is honest, and has great horse analysis; he always tells me the truth. When I finish a competition, and I achieve a great result, I think “How am I going to repeat this?” I don’t really dwell for too long on the fact that I have won. My immediate thoughts are, “How am I going to prepare the horse for next year?” I try not to stay stuck in the world of European champion winning; these results are there on the wall, in these photos, in these memories. These are the memories that gives us the ability to evolve.
BHM: The victory is a recognition of the past . . .
PT: Exactly, I used to say that when we won, we go home and keep doing what we have been doing until then because it works. But when you lose, we go home and improve because that’s not what we want, and it’s there where you can see the evolution. I’ve been lucky to have winning horses, and those horses have put me in 1st place many times. We have to have a logical evolution inside the possibilities of the horse. When I make a 60%, I’ll try to make the next test with 62%, but all within the analysis of, is it possible for the horse? Can he make it? If he doesn’t we stay at 4th or 5th place, and it’s good, I’m not going to push him to his limit and break him. Otherwise, you end up in 10th place or no place at all.
BHM: How does your family deal with all of your victories?
PT: When I started riding professionally, everyone criticized me, because it had no future, never thinking I could have a future in riding. I wasn’t really interested in studying. I always was a bad student because I was energetic all the time. When it came to horses, though, that was something I learned with great ease; all the names, all the exercises. For all of these things, I had a good memory. My family is very humble, so I’ve built it all with the friendship and support of my family. My parents saw my career evolution with great concern; now they have a great pride. Because I was busy all the time, five years ago I made a video about my life, with images of them. It is their support and love that has made me who I am today. That video also showed me riding, and that Christmas, I was able to show my family what I really do, because they had no idea (laughs).
BHM: What about your two daughters, Leonor, and Carmen? Will they have the legacy to ride?
PT: If my daughters wish to follow this life, I’m happy to pass on my experience, my life, the horse analysis, all of what I’ve done, if they wish, of course. They have all that is needed to be good riders. I would like to pass on this philosophy of life, this way of being, for them to pass on to other people too. Well, they have to learn how to ride, that’s for sure (laughs). It’s like learning to walk, to talk, and also they will have to learn how to dance Sevillanas and flamenco dance, because their mother is a dance teacher. There will be 2 activities. They will have no choice. What’s not to like (laughs). Later on, they can choose which they like. Life is too short to do anything you don’t like. I think it’s important to be happy in our day to day life. I can say if I die now, I die happy because I’ve done everything I love doing, and I wish them that, that they will be happy in all they do. Leonor, who is one and a half years old loves riding with me. Carmencita is four moths old so we can’t tell right now if she likes horses (laughs).
BHM: Do you think one day you will slow down your routine?
PT: I like to be with my family, with my children. I want to follow their development, but until they’re five years old, I’ll try to keep this routine, then I’ll slow down and try to halve the number of clinics just to be with them more. I don’t know what is going to happen with Ahoto regarding future sport, whether he’s going to be in national/international competitions. It may be that there are new horses that I have to dedicate more to the competition. We will have to see. This year of 2013 has a full schedule of clinics. I’m taking bookings for 2014 now.
Pedro Torres Highlights:
- Portuguese nationality, DB 20/10/1973, married, two daughters.
- Rider from the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, 1996 to 2003.
- Represented Portugal in the discipline of Dressage, Grand Prix level in 2007.
- National Champion of Working Equitation in 2000, 2004, 2006, 2008, 2009, 2011.
- Europe Champion by teams of Working Equitation in 2000, 2001, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011.
- Europe Champion Individual of Working Equitation in 2000, 2004, 2008, 2009, 2011.
- World Champion by teams of Working Equitation in 2002, 2006, 2010.
- World Vice Champion of Working Equitation in 2002.
- World Champion Individual of Working Equitation in 2011.
Curiosity – did you know?
- Pedro Torres’ trajes and competition clothes are kept at his mother’s house. Before any competition, Pedro goes to his mother’s house to pick up his competition clothes. He says it’s a way for his mother to be a part of his equestrian life.
- The most important Lusitano horses in Pedro Torres’ life were:
Riopele and Oxidado at WE
Hucal, the horse he rode in the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art. Hucal made ridden caprioles between the central pillars (few horses in the world can do that).
- Oxidado is a Shania Twain fan: One time when Bo Derek and Shania Twain (the singer) visited Cascais, Portugal, they came to see the horses. Oxidado was there. After a while of watching the horses, someone realised that no one had seen Shania Twain for a quite a while. They eventually found her in Oxidado’s box with his teeth in her jacket. He wouldn’t let go.
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