What can I say that would do justice to Nuno Oliveira’s influence on my philosophy? Perhaps it is enough to say all I know about high school equitation is attributable to Maestro Oliveira, for had I never seen the remnants of a blurry black and white clip showing him artfully, effortlessly, exhibiting a lovely bay Spanish stallion in a tiny riding house, I would never have been motivated to pursue high school equitation.
Seeing the clip, I had to know who it was. The style of equitation seemed very different from anything to which I had been previously exposed, and, well in my thirties by then – and having ridden since before I could walk, breaking and training in earnest in my early teens, I was certain I had seen it all and knew it all.
In watching the Maestro, it was obvious I had missed something. A big something. Compared to anyone I had ever personally met or seen, I was pretty talented. It will sound arrogant, and I suppose it was, but I was certain I would never meet anyone who could teach me anything fundamentally “new.”
Nuno Oliveira was long deceased by the time I discovered him. I would never meet him, but I imagine I know of him as much as he would have had anyone know through his work, that of his students, and fellow admirers. I researched him and found his book (Reflections on Equestrian Art, Oliveira 1976). Here was an equestrian genius, who, with all the god-given talent one could ask for, refused to compete in the “sport” of dressage. Having been an ecuyer at Lisbon, he certainly had the credentials to do so. But to him, high equitation was an art, not a sport. The only thing that mattered was getting it right – the right way – never subordinating higher principles to the whimsy of show ring fashion. Who would be qualified to judge him?
Through advanced age, Oliveira rose at 4 a.m. to work his client’s horses. He gave lessons from late morning through the afternoon. He worked his own three or so horses through the evening. All the while, Verdi oozed from the loudspeakers of his manege. Who could not resist him?
Oliveira motivated me to revisit everything I thought I knew – soon leading me reconsider Francois Baucher (whom, up until then, I’d only known vaguely as a byword within the dressage camp). The rest, as they say, is history.