Dressage on a shoestring in Portugal
There were many sad faces when Tiddy and Martin Hamilton left North Cornwall for Kenia some ten years ago.
On the other hand, it became many of their friends perfect holiday destination.
The pair worked hard and made their dream come true: running safari’s either on horseback or in a jeep... Martin‘s style (a bit scary at times but in safe hands).
The fact horses became part of their life again was no surprise. Although Tiddy insisted she did not really want to run a yard again, all of us knew that a life without these four-legged friends would be an impossibility for this experienced horsewoman.
Last year they decided it was time for another adventure. They successfully sold their now well-established business and left for Portugal, walking out of Lisbon airport with four suitcases and a dog.
Finding a project
Martin Hamilton, a project manager as much as a builder, found a contact in the area of Fundao, a town about one hours drive to the west of the Estrella mountains. The couple only looked at three properties and settled for a ruin of a barn set amongst an endless amount of delightful peach- and cherry orchards, olive groves and fields with cork trees. They have some ten acres of land which was left to go wild and is filled with wild thyme, mint and lavender, which they are hoping to turn into grassland as, of course, you can guess, they have already acquired three horses.
Their first attempt to reseed one field this spring failed, as colonies of ants dutifully carried the grass seed away. Their neighbour farmer who did the job forgot to tell them that because of this problem the locals tend to seed their fields in the autumn.
From Bolventor Vicarage to swimming pool with lion
Although I had been Tiddy’s dressage instructor for some years, our friendship solidified when Tiddy and Martin moved to the Vicarage at Bolventor. We had a great exchange going, Tiddy backing the youngsters I bred, I supporting her with her event horses. We laughed a lot, also occasionally cried together.
So seeing Tiddy at Lisbon airport was a joy and the drive back through the mellow Mediterranean evening air in a bright yellow Saab convertible great fun.
As we bounced along the last bit of the unpaved tracks towards the property a strange figure started to take shape. It was a huge white lion, bought in a garden centre, overlooking the new swimming pool in style.
The welcome was warm, the wine flowed and then it was time for bed.
I couldn’t wait to meet what was going to be my project for the next five days.
The next morning Tiddy and Jolie were waiting in the cool of the shelter. Luckily it wasn’t that hot as between the heat and the flies daytime riding is not always fun in this area. Jolie is a six year-old Lusitano mare who loves to eat. So, although once a rescue case she was now `looking well’. Tiddy found Jolie and the other two horses through Nick Burd, an event rider who also moved to Portugal. The great big black warmblood type gelding Zorro, still skinny, but apparently three times fatter than when he arrived is for Martin and there is the nice little dun youngster Obby, only just backed.
Jolie had a tricky mouth and a more or less non existent canter, however, she turned out to be a fast learner with a very sweet disposition. We were working on a nice flat area at the far end of the property near a little stream lined with alder trees .It was very romantic and so unlike how dressage training is done, these days; between walls on sometimes on twenty thousand pound surfaces.
The surface was naturally there. It was just harrowed and picked over for stones. As the soil is more or less pulverized granite it wasn’t too dusty, either. It rode surprisingly well.
We had five lovely days. Jolie was worked in the morning and after that some exploring around the area was done. Martin and Tiddy did not sit around in their first year in Portugal. The barn which was derelict until only a year ago is now a lovely up-to-date comfortable house with a veranda overlooking the swimming pool and with a view over their fields with the three horses.
On our last evening Tiddy and I were doing the numbers. And this is what I found fascinating about this experience. Jolie cost six hundred euros. Tiddy found a saddle on E-bay for ninety pounds. I am not a saddler but it rode nice and the mare was very comfortable with it. The riding area cost no more than a bit of fuel for the tractor and some sweat and a bit of back-ache picking stones.
The best bit though is the shoeing. Tiddy had the local farrier and was so disgusted with his lack of competence that she went to the local market and bought a set of shoes for ten euros and put them on herself. I can only say that I wouldn’t have picked up on it looking at the mares feet and she was as sound as a bell. The grand total of this operation is still well below the thousand pounds.
All who have known them over the years, though, know very well that your names have got to be Tiddy and Martin Hamilton to pull this of. And good luck to them!
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About Liz Barclay
Her love for horses together with her dedication made her into the trainer and dressage rider she is, today. She is versatile and inventive and likes a challenge; whether it is a technical training question, a confidence issue or a problem involving the management of the horse or pony.
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