Jennifer Sims is an equestrian style and travel blogger who caught the travel bug while tagging along with friends’ rock band tours around the US. “I can’t count how many times we’d end up stranded on the side of the road in broken down vans in the middle of nowhere,” she says. “But that adventure was always thrilling to me.” Now, she works with brands like Ariat, Horseware and Asmar Equestrian Apparel, and gives her social media followers at @eqglobetrotter a glimpse of galloping through fields in Mexico, trail riding through waist-deep snow in Colorado, or playing Polo in Argentina.
How does this sound? Fully immersing yourself in dressage lessons daily, sleeping and lounging in a boutique hotel featuring ultra modern architecture and design, located on a Lusitano breeding farm where you can ride out into the 250 hectares of a National Ecological Reserve. Pretty dreamy, right? I got to make this dream a reality last month when I stayed at the Monte Velho Eco Resort in Portugal, and it was an unforgettable experience!
From the moment I stepped foot onto the beautiful cobblestone entrance, I knew I was in a special, equestrian paradise. The driveway takes you past a serene lake and winds around through fields of cork oak trees. When you pull up to the entrance, you are greeted by a pasture of broodmares and foals, frolicking in their fields. The Lima Mayer family have been breeding top Lusitano horses since 1994 and have produced many award-winning horses, including their star stallion Equador MVL. With their top-level professional team of trainers, Monte Velho has earned their position as one of the most prestigious stud farms of Lusitano Horse breeding.
As a jumper rider with little experience in dressage (having never set boot in a dressage saddle), I was a bit worried I might be out of my league surrounded by such high level, accomplished trainers, riders and horses. But I like to live life to the fullest and I embrace adventure, so I suited up and headed to the stables for my first dressage lesson, eager to learn on such fabulous horses.
A little stirrup adjustment later and repositioning of my leg and seat, I was on my way to getting the feeling up the uphill connection needed to perform the art of dressage. My abs got quite the workout! The schoolmasters I got to ride in my lessons were patient and picked up the slack when I wasn’t quite sure what I was doing. As I cantered around the arena, taking instruction from Coralie Baldrey who happens to be training MV’s main competition rider João Torrão as well, I thought to myself how grateful I am to get to have this opportunity.
When I first started modeling for equestrian brands four years ago, I would have never in my wildest dreams imagined that venture would take me to the beautiful country of Portugal, practicing dressage on incredibly well-schooled, fancy Lusitano horses.
After just five days of lessons, I was hooked.
In addition to my daily lessons, we would ride out exploring trails through the surrounding Eco Reserve. We would wind up and down green, grassy hills and gallop through the countryside. The only sounds were our horses’ hooves connecting with the ground and the pretty songs and chirps of the birds. I had discovered paradise and I wasn’t sure if I would ever want to leave.
For breakfast, lunch and dinner each day, all of the guests meet in the formal dining room which overlooks the Olympic-sized outdoor arena to enjoy delicious, traditional Portuguese dishes and wine. One of the things I have really enjoyed on my equestrian travels is getting to meet other like-minded, horse-loving adventurers. We all came together from various parts of the world to ride these fabulous Lusitano horses and learn from the best. Sharing our stories over a glass or two of wine became a special part of the whole experience, with friendships that will continue long after our departure. On guests’ last day many hugs are shared and I’ll admit, some tears too. Afterall, when you spend an entire week with new friends, you bond. Those bonds are part of what makes it feel like you have just discovered part of your family. It is a beautiful way to experience friendships.
In addition to the all of the amazing riding opportunities at Monte Velho, there are all of the amenities of a luxury resort including a gym, spa, swimming pool, jacuzzi, sauna and bar. The swimming pool and jacuzzi overlook the land that the hotel resides on, so you literally can sip champagne in the jacuzzi while looking down on a herd of horses. They even offer fishing, canoeing and bicycling if you need an afternoon off of riding or have brought a non-riding friend with you. Many of the guests I met while I was there had been there as many as 5 or 6 times, they come back as often as they can. I can see why, and I am already trying to plan when I can go again (and of course, what outfits I will bring)!
Photos and words courtesy of Jennifer Sims.