2023 U.S. Lusitano Conference - Pedro Torres: "Teach Your Horse the Code"

Wed, 02/15/2023 - 22:32
Pedro Torres demonstrating his principle of "opening the jacket" on Nero (by Riopele x Vasquito) at the first U.S Lusitano Conference at May Faire Oaks Farm in Loxahatchee, Florida :: Photos © Carmen Franco

- by Carmen Franco for Eurodressage

I’m so lucky to live in Wellington, a place famous for its Winter Equestrian season where, not only dressage, jumping, and polo competitions go on every single weekend, but also educational and social events happen non-stop. And how much more fortunate can I be that the first U.S. Lusitano Conference was hosted right at May Faire Oaks farm, my work home?

Held from 6 - 8 February, the inaugural U.S. Lusitano Conference was organized by the United States Lusitano Association (USLA) and they put on a fantastic event with two masterclasses featuring non-other than Kyra Kyrklund and Pedro Torres. There was a day of seminars on various topics, all about and around this wonderful breed, a special dinner for the Breeder members and a Gala dinner for everyone interested to attend. The event attracted many Lusitano lovers from all over the world, as a matter of fact, it was sold out!

Pedro Torres – How to train a Working Equitation or Dressage champion

I knew about Pedro because of my involvement with Working Equitation in the USA, but I had never met him in person. Well, he is very charming, well spoken, and an easy-to-be-with kind of guy. And you can clearly tell how much he adores this breed “because it can handle pressure and stays with the rider”. He couldn't hide how passionate he is about what he does.

Pedro coaching Kim Herslow on Elvis HI  (2008, by Travesso FC
x Leao - Breeder: Vallebella Participacoes)
“My techniques are sometimes opposite to what the book says, I actually ride the horse, not the book”.

Elvis is not the typical Lusitano in his looks or in his big gaits. Pedro offered many ways to help him articulate the hindlegs to engage better. Of course, transitions and slowing down the tempo, but also leg yielding across the diagonal at the walk, trot, and canter, making the angle steeper. Another one was leg yielding at the canter with the head against the wall. He asked many times, not only to Kim but to all the riders, to give the reins and let the horse have freedom in front.

“If I put my hands down into someone shoulders, that person can’t move free," he said. “The back of the Lusitano is the best because it’s elastic, but it’s also bad because it tends to be weak”.

We watched how Elvis progressively sat more comfortably on his hindlegs and performed in harmony with Kim.

“Riding is supposed to be a dance but both rider and horse need to be dancing the same music," he stated.

"Open the Jacket"

Torres and USLA president Sheri Prucka
In the second session of the day, we were treated to a demonstration of Pedro’s skills on the back of a 6-year-old Lusitano stallion owned by Wasatch Lusitanos. As with every horse presented, he spent a few minutes describing the conformation issues and qualities, giving already hints to what he needed to work on.  “If the neck is short, you need to focus on stretching it.”

He started at the walk and rode several circles right and left with a lot of bending into and against the direction of movement, asking the hindlegs to really step under the body forward and/or sideways. “If you have a tight jacket, you can’t move… open the jacket!”

He worked also on leg yieldings and went into trot and canter showing us how to engage the young horse by opening and shortening the strides. And while he kept making the horse supple, he insisted on making things simple for him. “If I want to learn to dance, I want to be taught slow” and “I don’t like to ride slaves, I like to work with friends,” making it clear that the horse needs to feel good about what we do with them.

Teaching Your Horse the "Code"

Jenny Knight on Horizonte (2012, by Zazu x Jaquetao)
- breeder: Casa Gouveia)
Since the horses were presented to Pedro on Sunday afternoon, he started by saying that Horizonte was a good horse, very solid, well behaved and remarked that he needed to keep taking weight on the hindleg to generate more freedom in the front end.

Jenny told Pedro that their weakness right now were the flying changes and he got on to explain his system: first, you need to teach the signals. At the walk, he started counting one, two, three steps and then he asked Horizonte to move the hindlegs sideways from the line of travel, like in a leg yield position. This “code” needed to be repeated several times, even at the canter. That became the preparation and signal for the flying change. Important for the horse to accept taking weight behind and to strengthen the weak hindleg.

He worked the flying changes on different lines like ten-meter circle to another ten-meter circle, serpentines or turns across the arena. He insisted on taking time communicating things to the horse: the results will come with a good pattern of preparation from the rider and good reaction from the horse.

Finding the Balance

Jorge Arauz with Marques DC (2016, by Escorial x Zico)
- Breeder Rafael Chavez Monzon
I was very happy to see Jorge come all the way from Texas for this event, even though he didn’t get to ride too long for us. Pedro showed again conformation details about the length of the neck and muscle over the topline. Once he got on, he remarked the importance of letting the horse stretch at the walk with a lot of bending lines. “Help him find the balance by giving the reins, not by holding”.  It is very important for the rider to be self-aware of his own body position to be able to affect the horse positively. And he stressed also how important it is to give simple signals: we want to make horses easy to ride.

Once more, Pedro described the advantages and issues of Hebreu’s conformation as he is right now a bit under muscled. He suggested exercises to help develop a better topline, like bending on circle lines into and against the direction of the movement.  It was impressive to see the willingness of this horse execute what Pedro asked from him. They did fabulous half-passes and working pirouettes.

Pedro was very pleased saying that here and there, in all the clinics he gives, he has great surprises like this one. “The horse offers so much!”

Wait for the Rider

Ashley McCormick on Hebreu HM (2011, by Luar x Famoso)
- breeder: Jose Carlos Garcia

Marshmallow, as Jennifer calls her horse, is one of those that we all want to have because of his looks, temperament, movement, and training. He is powerful which makes him sometimes difficult to balance with an open neck. Riding with a short neck might cause back blockages and Pedro explained how important it is for riders of Lusitanos to pay attention to the suppleness. For the control of the power, he insisted on slowing down the tempo through circles and on short sides. For the topline roundness and suppleness, he suggested to start with lateral elasticity first. Once the ribcage moves, it will be easier to activate the muscles on the back. Once the back is activated, the horse becomes more comfortable to sit as it starts to swing.

We watched Pedro perform collected movements like pirouettes, piaffe and passage, playing with the degree of collection and positioning of the frame. “Grand Prix horses know what they need to do, variate so they wait for the rider”.

For the Love of Lusitanos

Pedro on Jennifer Huber's internationally competed Grand
Prix horse Vistoso de Massa (2009, by Maestro x Xaqiero)
The day concluded at May Faire Oaks farm with a short reception with wine and cheese, everyone looked very pleased. Later I joined several attendees at the Breeders Dinner, hosted by Sons of the Wind farm, the only Gold Level Sponsor of the Conference. Delicious food was served, and everyone enjoyed it while having nice conversations around the Lusitanos, of course!

Tuesday was a very interesting day of lectures held in a beautiful classroom at the Palm Beach State College. Sheri Prucka, the president of the US Lusitano Association,  opened the day with a welcome speech. Topics and speakers were:

  • The Lusitano Horse Studbook - João Ralão Duarte
  • The Portuguese School of Equestrian Art and the Riding Traditions in Portugal - João Pedro Rodrigues & Daniel Vaz Silva
  • The Responsibility of a Continuing a Breeding Tradition - Manuel Coimbra
  • From Hair to There: Genetic Testing in the Horse - Rebecca Bellone, PhD
  • A Precursor in Showing Lusitano Horses at the Top Dressage Level - Catherine Henriquet
  • Special Tribute to Manuel Paim and Manuel Braga
  • Demystifying the Prepurchase Exam: Finding Common Ground – Dr. Candace Platz & Dr. David Silva
  • Working Equitation - Pedro Torres
  • The Lusitano Horse in Dressage competition, João Pedro Rodrigues
  • The Lusitano in Our Days! What is its Future in Dressage? – FEI 4* Judge Carlos Lopes
  • APSL Judging - João Ralão Duarte

Lectures on the Lusitano at Palm Beach state college
The second day finished with a fabulous dinner at the Wellington Community Center. The weather was wonderful for the first part of the reception by the deck in front of the lake. A delightful dinner was served later inside, and some awards and recognitions were presented to different people.

Kyra Kyrklund had brought a baseball cap from the Olympics in Tokyo, signed by the members of the Portuguese team. It was auctioned right there for US$1800!

Please stay tuned for the second part of my report: the Kyra Kyrklund Masterclass.

Text and Photos © Carmen Franco

Related Links
United States Lusitano Association Conference 2023: a Historic Event for Lusitano Lovers feat. Kyra Kyrklund & Pedro Torres
Rodrigo Torres Claims Third GP Champion's Title - Broega, Vintila, Lopes Win Youth Classes at 2022 Portuguese Championships
Eighteen Horses Selected for 2018 ASPL High Performance Lusitano Young Horses Division
Jennifer Huber Expands String of Horses with Vistoso de Massa