“Nuno would always push you to give more to your riding”.
Riding in front of Nuno Oliveira for the first time, I felt as though I knew nothing. The lesson followed a pattern which was to become very familiar to me over the next three years: shoulder-in, travers and half pass in walk on straight lines and circles, then repeated in trot and finally canter work. That particular lesson is marked so clearly in my memory because I rode my first flying change.
Our days would start early when Nuno was at Quinta do Brejo. I typically worked from 6.00am until 8.00pm – the day was full and I relished every opportunity to learn. We started with the young horses and I would assist Nuno as he lunged them and worked them in-hand. He would observe closely while they were loose schooled . Because of this careful approach with the youngsters before they were ridden, there were rarely any problems and all the horses felt strong, balanced supple and able to carry a rider from the first time they were ridden.
Morning sessions ended with lessons for the students who travelled across the globe to spend a few days watching and learning from the Master. They had a second lesson in the afternoon and both followed a similar pattern with group warm-ups in walk and trot. In the morning they would do individual canter work, counter canter, flying changes and pirouettes. In the afternoon, piaffe and passage.
After lunch, Nuno rode his advanced horses whilst listening to his beloved opera. I made the most of every opportunity to watch him riding. I could see the change in the horse as he gave an aid, but it took many hours of observation to understand the subtlety of his riding.
My own riding improved beyond measure. I remember riding passage on a horse called Jabute: I was focused on trying to sit well and not interfering at the wrong time, letting Jabute follow through the movement. I followed the instruction from Nuno: “Diana, right rein to left”. Jabute paused. I felt his hind legs gather under him as the fore legs lifted gently off the ground. My first levade! As Jabute came down, Nuno asked me to passage again. This time the movement felt bigger and more powerful. Nuno was happy.
My three years in Portugal were spent happily immersed in Nuno’s exceptional dressage training, being taught by him three or four times a day and listen to discussing the intricacies of dressage with him. When Nuno was away teaching clinics, I worked with the horses on my own. This experience was invaluable as it allowed me to consolidate what I had learnt and develop my own understanding and skills.
Nuno Oliveira taught me many things. Perhaps the most important thing I learned from him is that no two horses are the same – every horse develops at its own pace. As a trainer, it is down to me to recognise what each horse is capable of at any given time and not push them beyond that. Like Nuno, I believe that if we approach each horse as a friend and partner, never taking them for granted, they give us their best.