For Antonio and Joana Do Vale Dressage is a Family Affair with Olympic Fire Burning

Wed, 01/24/2024 - 12:01
Horse Sales and Training Services
Antonio and Joana do Vale with four of their five kids at the horse show

Antonio and Joana do Vale are two Portuguese Grand Prix riders based at the famous Böckmann stable in Lastrup, Germany, who juggle a busy life of professional horse riding with raising five kids. At the start of 2024 they feel the Olympic fire burning as Portugal qualified a team for Paris.

The couple signed a partnership with Johannes Heinrichs for a boutique style, training and sales business, while getting support for their Olympic campaign.

From Portugal to Germany

The Do Vales have a family yard in Coruche (POR) but knew that in order to succeed in international dressage sport, they needed to be closer to the heart of Germany.

Thirteen years ago they arrived in Germany to work and learn, while gradually expanding their family from one child to a merry bunch of five. A decade of dedication and love for horses has led Antonio to become a Portuguese squad listed Grand Prix rider.  

Antonio and Fidertanz
Antonio's career in the saddle took off thanks to the unwavering support of the Böckmann family who opened their home and stable to the couple and gave them their first major horses to ride, such as Fidertanz, Bailarino and Hofrat.  

"We were lucky to meet the Böckmann family and owe them a lot," Antonio do Vale told Eurodressage. "They welcomed us warmly and supported us since day one without questioning. We have been with Böckmann for 12 years  and we intend to stay. We work with a diversity of clients and have different projects and businesses together, a collaboration we truly cherish."

Family Affair

Over the past ten years the Do Vale couple saw their family grow from one to five children, while horses remained at the core.

"We are two ordinary riders with great sporting ambitions," said Antonio, who first trained with Jurgen Koschel in Germany. "We always intended to be fully committed to our professional career, but also prioritized what we see as our life project, a family."

Francisca do Vale part of Team Böckmann
Antonio explained that as long as he remembers, he wanted to have a big family, even before becoming a high performance athlete. For Joana (née Serra Lopes) it started the other way round: she was more focused on sport in her childhood and as a young adult, before the biological clock started ticking. 

"I realized that many female athletes give up their family dream for sport," Joana explained. "I also had a big sport dream of the highest level, but I wanted to try to do both together and not necessarily wait for the big achievements in the arena before I start a family."

It was an ambitious project, building a career while being in diapers, but as a couple they jumped the hurdles and found true joy in both aspects of life. 

"Being an athlete is already difficult and requires so much dedication and effort," Antonio stated, "and our growing family made it even more challenging but we both desired it and went for it."

In 2014 their first daughter Maria was born, then Manuel followed in 2016, there was Francisca in 2019, and after that came Teresa de Jesus in 2020 and Jose Maria joined the family in 2023. In between babies Joana competed Daniel Ramseier's Ribery (later sold to Yoshie Ota) and Pavla Rubickova's Xangai at Grand Prix level.

Grand Prix is the Goal

Since their time in Germany the couple competed at national and international level. Both earned their Golden Rider Badge in 2019 for 10 S-level placings. 

With Fine Fellow H at the 2023 CDI-W Stuttgart
Antonio internationally campaigned Vicomte, Fidertanz and his own Paris hopeful Fine Fellow H. Joana focused more on national level sport, but also rode into the CDI ring with Bem Me Quer in 2017 and 2018 and with Shruti Vora's Magnanimous in 2023.

Antonio's number one ride in the barn is Johann Heinrichs' Fine Fellow H, an Oldenburg by Furst Fugger x Epikur, with whom he established his name in Grand Prix level sport. After winning the 2019 Oldenburg Regional Championships and competing in the 2020 Nurnberger and Louisdor cup qualifiers, the pair made its CDI debut in 2021 and is now squad listed for Portugal. In 2022 they were ranked #75 in the world and in 2023 named reserve to the team for the European Championships in Riesenbeck.

Joana has two FEI level horses coming along: Grand Prix horse For My Love H (by  For Romance x San Amour) and small tour ride Flash Gordon H (by For Romance x Sandro Hit).  Both will start their international career in 2024.

Not letting a band of five kids be a hurdle for a sport career, the Do Vales bring their brood to all the horse shows. 

"Everybody knows us for our big family because our children come along and help," Joana said with a smile. “Competition is a natural part of our life but so is our family. We try to keep them involved," Antonio added.

Inspired by Wittig and Kyrklund

Portuguese squad riders with team trainer Kyra
Kyrklund at the 2023 CDI Hagen
Through business partner Böckmann the Do Vales came in contact with several individuals that have been guides on their path, in particular trainer Wolfram Wittig and horse owner Johannes Heinrichs. 

"Wittig made us completely different riders, showing us how the classical German riding is, based much more on the basic work and the horses fresh and healthy for the big ring," said Antonio. 

Antonio also works with Portuguese team trainer Kyra Kyrklund, from whom he first got lessons in 2007 while still living in Portugal. "It is a joy to to have the chance to ride under Kyra's advise and expertise," Antonio added.

Partnership by Johannes Heinrichs

In 2019 the duo met Johannes Heinrichs, a business man with an international show jumping barn in Weert (NED) and a Global Champions League team, and set up a thriving partnership with him.

Antonio getting interviewed in Kronberg
"Johannes has a passion for Portugal and also does business there," Joana explained. "He had some dressage horses and a very interesting project in mind which we totally identified with, so we started a partnership. His dream is to take two Portuguese riders to the Olympic Games and make this project a profitable one."

Heinrichs has allocated Antonio and Joana the ride on six of horses, all from different ages and scouted and acquired by himself. 

"He wants them to be schooled through the levels to Grand Prix and then selected to either compete with us or to be sold to a very exclusive type of client. He wants to establish a brand of exclusivity, good quality horses that got quality training, instead of doing industrialiazed horse dealing we see so much at this moment."

The Grand Prix level horses are retained to establish the brand and try for the Olympic Games, such as Fine Fellow H and For My Love H, all owned by Heinrichs. A few of the younger, talented stars will be offered to 5* homes and riders.

Joana on Lolypop with whom she was
third at the Oldenburg Regional Championships
"The idea is to always keep the smaller number of horses to ensure maximum attention and care," said Joana. "Nowadays there are many horses with impeccable quality, but our focus is training while respecting them as animals. Customers want something exclusive that is not really for sale and tried out by a dozen clients. We want to present healthy, fresh horses, rather than those already tired from doing the miles at home and in the show ring."

Discover Do Vale Sportpferde on Instagram or Facebook or visit

Photos © private - Kiki Beelitz - Astrid Appels - Stefan Lafrentz - LL-foto

Related Links
David Stickland: End of Year Olympic Predictions for Paris
Portuguese Team Announced for 2023 European Dressage Championships
Antonio do Vale and Jose Cebola Sell Favorito to Christoph Koschel
Grand Prix Horse Luderitz to Roberta Hayler
Bailarino Sold to the USA 
Antonio and Joana do Vale Got Married 
Miguel Ralão Duarte, 2007 Portuguese Dressage Champion