Welcome back to Paradise!


by Giovanni Battista Tomassini

We are back at Monte Velho, in Portugal, where the Lima Mayer family breeds magnificent Lusitano horses, destined to shine in international dressage competitions, with the commitment to honoring the memory of its champion, Ecuador, who died a year ago.

He’s a monument. A giant of about 6 feet at the withers, but with the shape and proportions typical of an Iberian horse. It’s like looking at a Lusitano through a magnifying glass. But as he strides across the arena, he conveys the same feeling of lightness. In his gestures, there is the same prodigious elasticity and flexibility. João Torrao accompanies and dominates him with ease. Despite been slim and minute, he seems to be at one with this giant, who canters elegantly, performing with a serene eye, the continuous variations of amplitude and speed, which his rider requests from him with aids which are invisible to bystanders, but which the horse understands very well. Along the diagonals of the arena, they perform a splendid series of flying changes. First every four strides, then every three, and finally every two strides, the stallion reversing the foot that leads the canter, while suspended in the air. At the end of the last diagonal, João gently brings the stallion back to walk, shows his appreciation with a pat on the neck and gives him long reins, rewarding him with a moment of rest. A few times around the arena and they start again. João requests an even more energetic, but not faster, canter. Rhythm and suspension. The horse bounces at every stride, springy as a rubber ball, majestic as a statue. On the three-quarter line, João first asks for a few two-tempi changes, then, on the three-quarter line, only one tempi-tempi. The voice and the hand reward the horse immediately. Finally, on the diagonal, the tempi changes follow one after the other, in a series that leaves the people watching speechless.

Do you remember the story of Monte Velho, the paradise of Lusitano horses? A little less than a year ago, we wrote in these pages about the adventure of Diogo Lima Mayer, who in just thirty years, starting from scratch, managed to bring a horse from his own stud farm and a very young rider, raised in his stable, to the Tokyo Olympics. With emotion, Diogo told us the magnificent and tragic story of Ecuador, the splendid bay stallion, who had made his debut with scores hitherto never achieved by Lusitano horses in international dressage competitions, who later died following an unfortunate accident, which occurred in his box. We are back in this enchanted corner of the Portuguese Alentejo, where the Lima Mayer family continues to carry on its project of breeding Lusitano horses to be destined for the highest levels of international dressage competition.

The gigantic dappled gray stallion, which we have seen skillfully ridden by João Torrao, is called Maestro and is a son of Ecuador. From his father, he inherited the proud character, the brotherly light in his eyes, the physical charisma. In mid-April, in Abrantes, Portugal, he made his debut in the FEI Preliminary Test for 7-year-olds, achieving an impressive 75.9%. A year ago, Diogo promised us that his commitment, along with that of his son Diogo junior and that of the talented rider João Torrao, was to honor the memory of Ecuador. At the first major competition, Maestro MV proved that he lives up to expectations and that the work of the Monte Velho team continues in the right direction.

Lirio and João in Abrantes

In Abrantes, that of Maestro was not the only fantastic debut. Lirio MV and João won the Grand Prix, with a score of 70.91%. Lirio thus became the first Lusitano and Iberian horse to pass the 70% barrier, at just 8 years of age! Furthermore, Bernardo Neves, the youngest rider of the Monte Velho team, also made his debut with another son of Ecuador, Oelvis, owned by Cheryl Moore, obtaining a score of 76.6%, in the FEI preliminary test, for five-year-old horses.

And this is not all. On April 30, in the International Small Tour, in Alter, Lufada and Joāo arrived second (in the Inter 1 test), with the splendid score of 70.1%, and third in the Prix St. George, with 69.6%, behind the Spanish champion José Antonio Garcia Mena, who rode a central-european stallion. This is also a first important result for Lufada: in fact, she reaches Ecuador in the restricted club of Lusitano horses capable of passing the 70% barrier in international Small Tour.

Lufada and João in Alter

They are very different horses – João Torrao tells me – Lirio is a horse with great heart, with enormous potential and who is already very mature. Maestro is a very big horse for his breed, yet he has the qualities of lightness and elegance typical of Lusitano horses. Despite his imposing size, he is an easy horse, who, I think, will go a long way. Lufada is probably the most gifted of the three, but she has a slightly more difficult character. She has explosive strength and has yet to fully mature. With her I want to take as much time as necessary, because I strongly believe in her potential”.

We meet Diogo Lima Mayer junior, who leads the Monte Velho team, as he takes the guests of the agritourism resort, attached to the stud farm, on a small tour of the property. We are near the lake, which is located in the center of the estate, along whose banks the breeding mares graze blissfully, accompanied by this year’s newborns. Seeing them immersed in this sea of greenery and flowers, dotted with the shade of centenary cork oaks, one can’t help but think that they really lead a very good life. Day-old foals and their mothers are not at all intimidated by the presence of people. On the contrary, they seem rather intrigued by it and among them there is a filly who comes forward to be stroked by anyone who comes within range.

The breeding mares and foals by the lake of Monte Velho

“Thirty years ago – explains Diogo – my father’s idea of breeding Lusitano horses for dressage competitions was seen as a bit of an extravagance. These horses have been bred for centuries for bullfighting and high school. Changing them into sport horses seemed impossible to the many. Yet, if there is a future for this breed, it is in the sporting arenas. The results are already coming. In Tokyo, the Lusitano was the third most represented breed in dressage. For this, we continue to select our horses with the aim of making them Grand Prix horses. They are animals with great qualities of docility, strength, and elegance and, in recent years, the breed has undergone an impressive evolution. We need breeders who have a long-term vision and have the courage to innovate. You must consider that there are only about 3,000 Lusitano mares in the world! It is a small breed in numbers, but which has already achieved important results in international circles.”

Vision, ambition, a pinch of healthy madness, together with a lot of method and rationality. This is the recipe of this family that has made its passion for horses a lifestyle and an entrepreneurial project. The beautiful mares and the foals that frolic around them on the banks of the Monte Velho lake are unaware of all this, but enjoy the peace of their paradise all the same.

Living the dream in the horse’s paradise


* This article was published on May, 10 2023, in the website of the Italian newspaper la Repubblica (you can see the Italian version by clicking on this link: Bentornati a Monte Velho, il paradiso dei cavalli lusitani)

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