Having written about goats and even alpacas recently, it was suggested in our weekly editorial meeting that maybe I should try and find out a little about horses. This was an interesting but slightly daunting task, as I’m far from an eloquent equestrian. I’ve never even ridden a horse. So please, do roll your eyes but then forgive me if I muddle up a few ‘horsey’ terms.
So, with this mission in mind, it seemed only logical to go and meet the lady I know who has been involved with horses here in the Algarve for, well... donkey's years. Quite literally I dare say, as when she first arrived here in the Algarve in the early 1970s, as she put it “lock stock and barrel” with her five sisters and the family parrot (Sam), donkeys and carts were one of the main methods of transportation along the then, mostly dirt tracks.
I’m talking, of course, about Beverly Gibbons whose Pinetrees Riding Centre has been located in the pine forest, on the road between Vale do Lobo and Quinta do Lago since 1985. She was very busy over half term but when things calmed down she very kindly invited me round for a cup of tea and a chat.
When I arrived I caught Beverly at the end of one of her lessons, teaching two adorable little Irish girls to ride. She was also throwing in a bit of Portuguese here and there, telling them to “virar esquerda” and then “direita”, to “parar” and then to go again in “um, dois, três”.
Beverly thinks it’s good to teach the kids, who are here on holiday, a little Portuguese while they are here. As I spent more time with her however I found out Portuguese isn’t the only language she speaks and that she can “get by” in a lot of other languages as well. A good example of this was before we sat down under a pine tree for that cup of tea, a French family came by to ask a few questions and Beverly suddenly broke out into fluent French. She later told me, much to my amusement, that it sounds good if you don’t speak French, but if you do it's very Allo ‘Allo!. I suspect she’s just being modest, but then again, I don’t speak French so what do I know?
I spoke to the little girls who were beaming brightly after their riding lesson and wanted to book to come again the next day before they went home. Their parents told me that it’s hard to get riding lessons back home in Ireland and so they were so happy to find this beautiful place where their girls can learn. Beverly later told me it’s the same in England, with it being very difficult to get lessons if you don’t have your own horse. She says that this works out well for everybody as it encourages people to keep coming back here on their holidays and provides jobs for lots of people in the community. Something which, I could tell, she’s very passionate about.
The place has a lovely feel about it with many majestic horses and cute ponies, as well as lots of happy workers and volunteers taking care of them. There were also dogs. Benji, who spends most of his time indoors, old and faithful Clara and the latest and youngest member of the crew, a golden ray of sunshine called Tarzan who is a very chill and cuddly dude who hangs about giving new riders moral support.
I asked Beverly if I could get a picture of her and one of her horses, she chose Suan, a beautiful white Lusitano horse. Lusitanos are a Portuguese breed and a particular favourite of hers. Apparently, before cars, these horses would have been the Ferrari's of their day. Used by the Romans in battle as they didn’t need to use stirrups and are supremely fast, elegant, agile and pack plenty of ‘horsepower’.
For the photo, Bev said they look better with their ears pointed forward, which they do when they are happy or interested in something. Since me and my camera didn’t seem to be doing the trick, Beverly asked Sue, one of the volunteers, to come over with a bucket of food and it was funny to watch Suan's ears spring forward immediately.
Visit from the APPC
Beverly told me that on Friday they were going to have the children from the Associação do Porto de Paralisia Cerebral (APPC) coming around. Beverly is very passionate about giving people with all sorts of disabilities the chance to ride and has been working with the APPC and children with cerebral palsy for 30 plus years. Riding horses is very good for the children as it helps stimulate and engage their muscles and balance. Sadly, due to the pandemic, they haven’t been able to have them for the last 2 years, so this was a big deal.
Not wanting to miss it, I came back two days later. The French family had just come back all happy as they had just gone for a ride out in the beautiful pine forest behind the centre.
Two lovely ladies from the APPC arrived. One was a physiotherapist and the other an occupational therapist and, with the help of everybody covering all sides of a horse (except the back, never cover the back - even I knew that) they made a wonderful team making sure that the kids were happy, sitting up straight and focused as they slowly trotted around the arena.
The kids seemed to love it, especially the slightly older ones like Martin and Inês who had done it before and were thrilled to be back in the saddle. Alfonso, on the other hand, who was just 2 years old, wasn't quite so sure. However, he was happy to get carried around by his mum next to the horse and was eventually persuaded to get on, albeit briefly. (Understandable really. I’m a lot bigger than Alfonso and I’m not so sure myself.)
It amused me that they seem to have all different letters around the arena. They are so random and Beverly told me that nobody knows why they use ‘those’ letters in particular. But I thought it was nice that all the letters had a corresponding picture. Like B for butterfly (or borboleta in Portuguese) or H for Helicopter (helicóptero). This lets the kids know where they are and have something to aim at. “Bora visitar o elefante”, one of the ladies said.
Note: Unfortunately, my little theory that each letter corresponded nicely to an English and Portuguese word simultaneously was shattered when I just saw in a picture that C was, of course, for ‘cavalo’.
I really enjoyed my visit and learned a little bit more about horses. If you are in the Algarve and are looking to learn to ride, or even an experienced rider, no matter your age or skill set I'm sure Beverly will look after you. To find out more visit their website: www.pinetrees.pt/