Back to Belem. 
The inauguration of the new arena 
of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in Lisbon

Gonçalo Soares and Vejetal Picture © Melis Yalvac

Gonçalo Soares and Vejetal
Picture © Melis Yalvac

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini
pictures by Melis Yalvac, Rita Fernandes and Bruno Barata

At the center of the arena, Quejal is elegantly piaffing between the pillars. There is no tension in the ropes that secure him to the two poles decorated with flags. The beautiful Alter-Real stallion dances to the rhythm of the minuet of the Suite No.1 in F major of the Water Music by Georg Friedrich Handel. His movements are seemingly without any effort, as if to show off his power and elegance. Behind him, tactfully, João Pedro Rodrigues, mestre picador chefe of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, watches him, pleased, and encourages his dance imperceptibly waving his whip. Five other stallions, conducted in hand by their riders, file past on the track. In turn, they move towards the center, performing spectacular jumps, cabrioles, courbettes, ballotades, following one another, alternating with magnificent levades.

After over two hundred years, the equestrian art is back in the Belém district, in the heart of Lisbon. On July 16, with a special gala held in the presence of the Portuguese Prime Minister, Pedro Passos Coelho, and of the Minister of Agriculture, Assunção Cristas, the new covered arena of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art was inaugurated. Finally, this prestigious riding school, for years hosted in the gardens of the National Palace of Queluz, has a suitable place in the capital where they will be able to perform throughout the year. And the new Picadeiro Henrique Calado is located just a few hundred meters from the building which, in the eighteenth century, housed the Picaria Real, the riding academy established by João V to which the school explicitly refers.

The arena is made particularly striking by giant projections of images and video on one of the walls. Vasco Pinto and  Senior Picture © Melis Yalvac

The arena is made particularly striking by giant projections
of images and videos on one of the walls
Vasco Pinto and Senior
Picture © Melis Yalvac

The new arena is modern and functional, with two stands for a total of 282 seats, a cafeteria and a bookshop. The arena is made particularly striking by giant projections of images and video on one of the walls. From now on, every morning people can come here to watch the training of horses and riders and, twice a week, there will be shows with music and costumes. And just a few hundred meters from the new arena are the new and old Coach Museums, one of Lisbon’s tourist attractions even for non horse-lovers.

The bullfighter António Maria Brito Paes with the “tourinha”
Picture © Melis Yalvac

The debut was full of emotion. The riders of the military school of Mafra were the first to perform. Then, introduced by valets and standard bearers on foot, with a fanfare mounted on horseback in eighteenth century costumes, the riders of the School paraded around the arena, accompanied by two bullfighters mounted on beautiful stallions and by the falcons and hounds of the Alter Stud. Suddenly the spectators found themselves in another epoch. It was as if, by magic, the beautiful illustrations of ancient equestrian treatises, which were projected on the wall, became animated and the characters and horses represented in the pictures, materialized in the arena. The magic continued with António Maria Brito Paes and his brother Joaquim, who gave a demonstration of bullfighting equitation. They, in turns, made a duet with the tourinha, the typical wheelbarrow with a bull’s head which is used for training bullfighting horses.

João Quintas' solo, performed riding with just one hand, in the pure classical style Picture © PSML – Bruno Barata

João Quintas’ solo, performed riding with just one hand, in the pure classical style
Picture © PSML – Rita Fernandes

Then it was the turn of the School. First, came the airs above the ground in hand, followed by a wonderful solo by João Quintas. This was a real example of equestrian philology, with the rider performing half-passes, tempi changes, pirouettes, piaffe and passage, strictly riding with just one hand and holding the whip high in his right hand. The performance was just like the riders portrayed in the plates of Carlos de Andrade’s treatise, Luz da liberal e nobre arte da Cavallaria (1789), which inspire the School’s philosophy and technique.

Paulo Sérgio Perdigão and Ajacto during the performance of the

Paulo Sérgio Perdigão and Ajacto during the performance of the “court games”
Picture © Melis Yalvac

Very interesting and innovative (at least for the program of the School) is the revival of the so-called “court games”. These games were those chivalric trials that, in the past, were practiced as a military training exercise and were held during public celebrations, as an opportunity to show off the beauty and the training of the horses, as well as the skill and courage of the riders. Two teams, marked by the blue and green colors of the clothes and trappings, competed in a circuit that included the Quintain, the “game of the heads”, in which the rider must pierce a puppet with a sword while cantering, that of the Medusa, in which, always at the canter, he must throw a dart against a plaque depicting the Gorgon, and the “ring joust.”

Gonçalo Soares and António Borba Monteiro during the performance of the mounted airs above the ground Picture © Melis Yalvac

Gonçalo Soares and António Borba Monteiro
during the performance of the mounted airs above the ground
Picture © Melis Yalvac

Subsequently Gonçalo Soares, António Borba Monteiro, Carlos Tomás and Vasco Pinto performed the mounted airs above the ground, recreating the same exercises which were first shown from the ground at the start of the show: spectacular cabrioles, dizzying courbettes, elegant levades. A performance in which they demonstrate supreme composure, even in the most impetuous movements, and apparent ease, while performing the most sophisticated gestures. After all, the essence of high school riding is all based on this unceasing pursuit of perfection. In fact, such spectacular and difficult exercises are just tools to make tangible the aspiration toward an ideal of absolute communication between man and horse.

The solo on the long reins was accompanied by opera arias. Paulo Sérgio Perdigão and Que-jovem Picture © Melis Yalvac

The solo on the long reins was accompanied by opera arias. Paulo Sérgio Perdigão and Que-jovem
Picture © Melis Yalvac

Accompanied by opera arias, the solo on the long reins was great. Paulo Sérgio Perdigão easily performed all the difficulties of a dressage Grand Prix, driving his horse from the ground and concluding his exhibition with an impressive series of tempi changes.

Il carosello finale è un vero e proprio balletto a cavallo Foto © PSML – Bruno Barata

The new arena is modern, with two stands for a total of 282 seats
Foto © PSML – Bruno Barata

Finally, the carousel. Eight riders: João Pedro Rodrigues, Francisco Bessa de Carvalho, Gonçalo Soares, Vasco Pinto, Paulo Sérgio Perdigão, Carlos Tomás, Rui Almeida and Ricardo Ramalho performed a real ballet on horseback, executing with extraordinary precision a complex choreography that was a feast for the eyes and the soul.

The carousel is performed by eight riders Picture © Melis Yalvac

The carousel is a true ballet on horseback
Picture © Melis Yalvac

I confess that when, three years ago, the news that the management of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art was changing, I was worried. Also, because the first, confused news said that the school was going to be “privatized” and even that the Alter do Chão Stud, which provides the beautiful Alter-Real stallions to the School, was going to be closed. Nothing more false! Instead, the company Parques de Sintra – Monte Lua SA which is a public-owned company formed to manage and enhance the monuments of Sintra after they entered the UNESCO World Heritage in 1995, has shown it’s belief in the cultural and touristic potential of the School, made the investment to continue and enhance its work. A brilliant young manager, Theresa Abrantes, was chosen to direct the School. Together with the new picador chefe João Pedro Rodrigues, she was able to make a significant change in its activities.

La giovane direttrice, Teresa Abrantes, e il mestre picador-chefe, João Pedro Rodrigues, hanno saputo imprimere una svolta all'attività della Scuola Foto © Cátia Castro

The young manager, Teresa Abrantes, and the mestre picador-chefe, João Pedro Rodrigues,
made a significant change in the School activities
Foto © Cátia Castro

The first time that I visited the School many years ago, I was struck by the relative poverty of its means. This made me admire even more the extraordinary mastery of the riders. In spite of the effectively difficult conditions in which they were operating, they practiced a very refined horsemanship, on par with the other great European academies: the Spanish School of Vienna, the Cadre Noir of Saumur and the Real Escuela Andaluza de Arte Ecuestre in Jerez de la Frontera. Today the conditions have drastically changed, and for the better. With the opening of the new arena in the heart of Lisbon, it will be easier for horse lovers from all around the world to enjoy the supreme beauty of the Alter horses and appreciate the ability of the Portuguese riders. Thus it begins a new phase for this wonderful institution, which is keeping alive a cultural heritage of great value to all those who love horses, fine horsemanship and history. Long live!

Rui Almeida on Uxico, performing the carousel  Picture © Melis Yalvac

Rui Almeida and Uxico, performing the carousel
Picture © Melis Yalvac


For information and tickets:

Picadeiro Henrique Calado
Calçada de Ajuda 1300-006

Melis Yalvac website:

Bruno Barata website:

Rita Fernandes Facebook page:


The inauguration backstage (© GB Tomassini):

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The new Equestrian Art Library in Queluz, Portugal


Picture © PSML – Wilson Pereira

by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

Perhaps some of you may think that this is a place just for scholars or old-fashioned professors’ stuff. But the Equestrian Art Library “Dom Diogo de Bragança, VIIII Marques de Marialva”, which was inaugurated one month ago in the National Palace of Queluz, near Lisbon, is quite a different matter.

First of all, it is a charming place for anyone who loves horses and equestrian culture. Set up at the first floor of the “Portuguese Versailles”, the library is housed in three wonderfully bright, large halls, overlooking the palace gardens. It is here that the beautiful collection of books dedicated to horseback riding, which belonged to Dom Diogo de Bragança (1930-2012), one of the most significant figures of the modern Portuguese equestrian milieu, was recently relocated to and opened to the public. There are more than 1,400 works, some of which are quite rare and precious. But above all, the visitor will be thrilled by the many original engravings of equestrian subjects which are on display. There is no need to be an expert to be stunned by their beauty. The eyes of horse lovers will easily recognize the originals of many very famous pictures published in books of equestrian topics worldwide. Like the beautiful eighteenth-century engravings by Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767), or the famous portrait of the General Hotte, riding Laruns. And then etchings by Goya and Velasquez, and even the beautiful plate representing the use of long reins from Federico Mazzucchelli’s Scuola equestre (Equestrian School, 1805). In short, a real feast for the eyes and for the mind.

The library overlooks the gardens of the Palace of Queluz

The library overlooks the gardens of the Palace of Queluz
Picture © Carlos Pombo

Descending from one of the families of highest and more ancient lineage of Portugal, Diogo de Bragança was a man with a refined culture, a passionate horse lover and a great rider. He was a friend of Nuno Oliveira, who considered him one of his best students. He did not just collect books, but he was himself the author of several works dedicated to horseback riding, among which stands out L’équitation de tradition française (1976, now available also in English under the title Dressage in the French Tradition, Xenophon Press, 2012), in which he analyzed the close relationship between the Portuguese and the French equestrian tradition. Throughout his life he picked up, with curiosity and expertise, books and manuscripts about horsemanship, ranging from the sixteenth century to the present day. After his death, this heritage was in danger of being divided and sold. With great foresight, the company Parques de Sintra – Monte da Lua, SA, which manages the monuments of Sintra and the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, decided to buy the collection from the heirs. A choice felt by the company’s chairman, António Ressano Garcia Lamas, almost like a “national duty”, which required a significant investment (€ 468,750 in total), which was made possible also by the support of the Calouse Gulbekian Foundation and of the Banco Português de Investimento.

Tra gli esemplari più pregiati, spicca una magnifica copia del volume

Among the finest specimens, stands a magnificent copy of the book
“Equile Ioannis Austriaci” (1578) by Jan Van der Straet

Some perfectly preserved antique editions stand out in the catalog. Such as the volume Equile Ioannis austriaci (Antwerp, 1578), containing the portraits of the horses of different breeds present in the stables of the governor of Flanders Don Juan of Austria (1547-78), son of Emperor Charles V. They were made by the painter Jan Van der Straet, in the second half of the sixteenth century. The work is very interesting, because it shows the different types of horses used during the Renaissance.

Alcune opere di grande formato sono esposte in apposite teche

Some large-format books are appropriately exhibited in special showcases
Picture © PSML – Wilson Pereira

Some large-format books from the collection are appropriately exhibited in special showcases, located in the halls of the library. In particular, the beauty of the illustrations and of the bindings of two of them, leave the visitor breathless. One is the famous volume that reproduces, with magnificent engravings, the costumes, the horses trappings and the choreography of the great carousel held in Paris, in 1662, under the reign of Louis XIV, to celebrate the birth of the Grand Dauphin (Courses de testes et de bague faittes par le roy et par les princes seigneurs et de sa cour en l’année 1662, Paris, 1670). The other is the monumental edition of Philippe Etienne Lafosse’s Cours d’hippiatrique (Paris, 1772), illustrated with sixty-seven engravings, most of which are hand-colored. It is a true editorial masterpiece. And then, the most famous Portuguese equestrian treatise could not be missed. We are talking about Luz da liberal and nobre arte da Cavallaria, by Carlos Manuel de Andrade (Lisbon, 1790), decorated with wonderful plates. This is the text that inspires the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, which has its headquarters in the gardens of the Palace of Queluz. In this treatise, the fourth Marquis of Marialva, who was regarded as the greatest rider of his time, is often mentioned as an example. So much so that, in Portugal, the high school dressage is still called “the art of Marialva”. He was an ancestor of Dom Diogo de Bragança who was the eighth Marquis of Marialva.

Moltissime le stampe di argomento equestre esposte nelle sale, tra le quali le bellissimi incisioni Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767)

There are many beautiful engravings of equestrian topic, displayed in the halls,
including those by Johann Elias Ridinger (1698-1767)
Picture © PSML – Wilson Pereira

Being a lover of books, I’m tempted to keep on listing the many beautiful volumes kept in this library, but I don’t want to annoy my readers. Anyone who is interested will soon be able to consult the catalog of the Library on line (we will provide you notice when it becomes available) and then discover a treasure trove of bibliographic information and a significant opportunity for research. It is time that not only riding enthusiasts, but also professional historians,  can begin to study the equestrian culture in a systematic and scientifically reliable way. By doing this, they will soon discover that the history of horsemanship is a fundamental chapter of the history of our civilization which cannot be limited to the field of material culture, but that has deeply influenced the imagery and the ideological orientation of the European, Muslim and Asian cultures. A specialized library with such a rich collection of books is an opportunity not to be missed by researchers all around the world.

Il marchese di Marialva, antenato di Dom Diogo de Bragança, in una stampa del trattato di Manoel Carlos de Andrade (1790)

The Marquis of Marialva, ancestor of Dom Diogo de Bragança, in a plate of
Manoel Carlos de Andrade’s treatise, “Luz da liberal e nobre arte da cavallaria” (1790)
Picture © PSML – Wilson Pereira

The Library stands alongside the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, the riding Academy that for over thirty years has picked up the baton of the Portuguese equestrian tradition, becoming its most recognizable and influential representative in the world. A vital synergy is thus established between these two institutions, destined to arouse the admiration of all those who love the noble art of horseback riding.

In short, there is now one more reason to visit the splendid Palace of Queluz and then discover that a library is not at all the dusty mausoleum of a mummified erudition, but it is a living and adventurous place.

La Biblioteca è strettamente collegata alla Scuola Portoghese d'Arte Equestre

The library is closely linked to the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art
(picture: Rui Almeida and Que-Jeito performing a beautiful cabriole)
Picture © PSML – Pedro Yglesias

The Equestrian Art Library of Diogo de Bragança, 8th Marquis of Marialva National Palace of Queluz
Opening times: Monday – Friday, 9.30am – 1pm and 2pm – 5.30pm
Entrance fees:
Researchers and academics: free (subject to prior reservation at
General public: National Palace of Queluz entrance ticket