A book that changed my life. A personal tribute to Sylvia Loch.

IMG_3005by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

It seems that nowadays we read less and less. Or rather, it seems we read fewer and fewer books. The crisis of this powerful means of communication is now supported by a thousand statistics. For most people, it seems that they are bombarded with too many messages to find the time to devote themselves to books. Undoubtedly, compared to television and social media, books require more zeal and concentration and, in an increasingly frantic and superficial world, this makes them less attractive than other means of communication. Nevertheless, I’m still deeply convinced, that those who regularly predict the inexorable disappearance of books are wrong. This is because books have a force that only books possess and that, even in the age of Facebook and Twitter, this force is still irreplaceable. Books keep on being the ideal vehicle for the irrepressible need of men and women to give voice to their feelings and to pass on their knowledge, overcoming the barriers of space and time. This is what continues to make books able to move and fascinate us. And it makes no difference if today they turn into immaterial objects, which we can download with a click on our tablets. A book is not, in fact, just an object, but it is first and foremost an intention: the vector of a creative energy that can change our existence.

There are many books that have influenced my life and my views, making me what I am today. However, I can say that only a few have really produced a deep change. And it is of one of these in particular that I want to tell you.

Ferdinand Albrecht, Later Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Bevern, by John Wotton  (1682-1764) (courtesy of Arthur Ackermann & Son, London)

Ferdinand Albrecht, Later Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg-Bevern, by John Wotton (1682-1764)
(courtesy of Arthur Ackermann & Son, London)

About twenty-five years ago, I was on holiday in London. As I always do (at least in the places where I still find them), as well as visiting museums and monuments, I also visited various bookshops in the area of Charing Cross Road, a place famous for its second hand and antique bookshops. At that time, I already had been riding horses for more than a decade and I had experienced how difficult it was to find books about horseback riding in Italy. For this reason, my curiosity was particularly attracted to the shelves devoted to publications about horses and the equestrian art. I remember that while I was scrutinizing the volumes in a very large, four story bookshop, my gaze was captured by a big, beautiful book. The cover was superb – a magnificent picture by the famous equestrian English painter John Wotton (1682-1764). It portrayed Ferdinand Albrecht, later Duke of Brunswick-Lüneburg, in his eighteenth-century dress, mounted on a beautiful gray stallion. For me, that image finally summarized the elegance, strength and dignity that I, vaguely, sensed as the most attractive essence of horseback riding. That picture showed me an ideal of rigor, grace and lightness, but also of strength and agility, that I had hardly ever seen in contemporary riders and that, in that moment, I realized belonged to a different era and to another way of conceiving equitation. That revelation brought me a new consciousness: that was the way of conceiving and practicing the equestrian art that I wanted to become mine too.

Capriola da fermo a fermo al piliere, in Carlos de Andrade, Luz da Liberale e Nobre Arte da Cavallaria, 1790, Stampa 83

The charm of an equestrian knowledge refined over the centuries.
Cabriole on the pillar, in Carlos de Andrade,
Luz da Liberal e Nobre Arte da Cavallaria, 1790, Plate 83

I already began to devour the book on the underground that brought me back to the hotel. I was fascinated by the beautiful pictures and by the story of an equestrian tradition rooted in classical antiquity. No matter if I did not understand everything of that story. There were, in fact, names and technical terms that I confess, at the time, I had never heard before and I did not comprehend. But I understood that in those pages, an ancient wisdom was evoked: wisdom developed in millennia of coexistence between man and horse. The same wisdom and skill that made possible that miracle of refinement that struck me in the cover picture of the book and that I also found in many other pictures of that beautiful edition. But above all, two things were clear to me. The first was that the culture of my country had, in the past, a major role in the evolution of the equestrian tradition. The other was that there were still places in the world where this tradition was kept alive by people who may still be considered its interpreters and custodians. These two certainties were a good starting point.

Ricordo ancora con quanta emozione sfogliai per la prima volta un'edizione cinquecentesca degli Ordini di cavalcare di Federico Grisone

Frontispiece and plate from one of the many sixteenth’s century edition of
Ordini di cavalcare by Federico Grisone

At that time, I was a young student of literature, who was on the point of discussing his graduation thesis. I had already begun to publish essays and reviews in various magazines and I dreamed of a career in the field of research. It was, therefore, quite logical that reading this book suggested to me the idea to deepen the study of the first Italian equestrian treatises. I still remember the great emotion I felt while leafing through, for the first time, a sixteenth century edition of the Ordini di cavalcare (Rules of Riding) by Federico Grisone, at the Central National Library in Rome.

Those readings sent my mind adrift. Some years before I already visited Jerez de la Frontera, in Spain, and I was dazzled by the beauty of the famous cartujanos horses and by the skill of the jinetes of the Real Escuela. Now I wanted to broaden my horizon. Among the illustrations of the book that had most attracted my attention, there was a picture that showed a group of Portuguese riders, mounted on beautiful Alter-Real stallions, performing in the garden of a mysterious Palace of Queluz. I had found another destination for a new equestrian pilgrimage.

Una foto nel libro ritraeva un gruppo di cavalieri portoghesi che si esibivano nei giardini del Palazzo di Queluz

A picture in the book showed a group of Portuguese riders
performing in the garden of the Palace of Queluz

You should consider that at the time the Web did not exist. Today if you want to know something about a place or a person, you just search for them on Google. At that time, instead, someone had to tell you about it. Or you should have the luck to stumble on a newspaper article, on a book, or on some rare television documentary. My first riding master (who had worked in Spain with Sergio Leone’s crew) often told me about the splendors of Andalusian horsemanship. She mentioned once that in Portugal there were riders who were considered even more refined. And it was exactly for this reason that that picture of the equestrian carousel in the gardens of Queluz ignited my imagination.

A couple of years later, I crossed Europe in a camper with a group of friends in the direction of Portugal. My friends were simply on holiday. I had, instead, a clear goal: Queluz. We arrived early in the morning. Outside of the magnificent palace there were few cars parked. At the ticket office I did not find any trace of the presence of an equestrian school. I asked the guy who was at the entrance. He looked at me quizzically. Then, when I finally managed to explain what I was looking for, he said that there was no school there. The horses were in Lisbon, at the Jockey Club. They had performed a few times in the gardens of the Palace and it was perhaps in one of those occasions that the picture I had seen was taken.

The beautiful Palácio Nacional de Queluz, built between 1747 and 1770, was one of the Portuguese royal residences  © PSML - Wilson Pereira

The beautiful Palácio Nacional de Queluz, built between 1747 and 1770,
was one of the Portuguese royal residences
© PSML – Wilson Pereira

In short: a failure. However, it was during that trip that, in a small bookshop near the famous cafe A Brasileira, in the center of Lisbon, I found the French edition of Nuno Oliveira’s complete works (Éditions Crépin Leblond) and the beautiful volume by Fernando Sommer D’Andrade, about Portuguese bullfighting on horseback. More tracks for me to follow and other ideas to make my imagination run wild.

Since then, many years have passed and I returned many times in Portugal. Not only I have seen many shows of those incredible riders of Queluz who form the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre, but I also assisted in their training, visited their stables, met them personally and become friends with many of them. I also had the pleasure and honor to take riding lessons from some of them. Meanwhile, although I became a journalist in the field of politics, I kept on studying the ancient treatises about horsemanship and I finally published the results of my research in a book.

Francisco Bessa de Carvalho of the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre performing a cabriole in hand © PSML - Pedro Yglesias

Francisco Bessa de Carvalho of the Escola Portuguesa de Arte Equestre
performing a cabriole in hand
© PSML – Pedro Yglesias

I do not think this would have happened, if one afternoon many years ago, in London, I hadn’t bought Dressage: the Art of Classical Riding by Sylvia Loch. That book has literally changed the course of my life. It induced me to travel, to study, to write. It opened a window to a wonderful world and showed me a path along which I met many people and great friendships were born, I read books, I learned a lot of things, I got excited, and I had fun. All of this was gifted to me by a person who I did not have the pleasure, nor the honor, to meet personally, but in spite of this, I am grateful to her as to a benefactor.

Every writer first of all obeys to the personal need of expressing his dreams, of giving shape to his own experiences and, in some cases, of exorcising his obsessions. When this impulse is translated into action, and feelings and ideas become written discourse, the author abandons his work to others, hoping that they can benefit from it. It is impossible to determine which short circuits trigger the decisive spark, but some books speak to us differently. They touch keys to which we are more sensitive and so they produce great changes.

Sylvia Loch riding (picture from the Classical Riding Club website)

Sylvia Loch riding
(picture from the Classical Riding Club website)

I recently joined the group that Sylvia Loch founded on Facebook and I began to regularly post small excerpts of my articles. On several occasions Sylvia’s comments confirmed to me that she appreciated what I had published. But it was an extraordinary accident that induced me to write this article and to let her know what the influence her work has had on my life and to tell you an example of the unique power of books. At the beginning of this summer, I visited the beautiful equestrian library that has been recently opened in the Palace of Queluz (you can read the article I wrote for this blog by clicking on the following link: The new Equestrian Art Library in Queluz, Portugal). After seeing, with enchanted eyes, the shelves on which are preserved many precious ancient books about horsemanship, my gaze was drawn to the shelf of recent publications. That’s when, with a soaring heart, I discovered the American edition of my book right next to that volume by Sylvia Loch’s from which everything began so many years ago. The circle had finally come full. Thank you, Sylvia!

The American edition of my book, The Italian Tradition of Equestrian Art, side by side with Sylvia Loch's book on the shelf of the Equestrian Library of Queluz © PSML - Fabiano Teixeira

The American edition of my book, The Italian Tradition of Equestrian Art, side by side with Sylvia Loch’s book on the shelf of the Equestrian Library of Queluz
© PSML – Fabiano Teixeira

Sylvia Loch’s links:

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:
http://www.arteequestre.pt/

Address:
Picadeiro Henrique Calado
Calçada de Ajuda 1300-006
Lisbon

Melis Yalvac website:
http://www.melisyalvac.com

Bruno Barata website:
http://www.brunobarata.com/

Rita Fernandes Facebook page:
https://www.facebook.com/ritafernandesphotography?fref=ts

_________________________________________________

The inauguration backstage (© GB Tomassini):

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