Just across the river from Lisbon, located amidst the pine forests, grasslands, and cork trees of the Ribatejo region, João Pedro Rodrigues breeds and trains some of Portugal’s top Lusitanos at his stud farm, Coudelaria João Pedro Rodrigues. Also the Headmaster of the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art, as a breeder João Pedro has won the most championship titles of any Portuguese breeder at the National Feira of Golegã, and bred the most Lusitanos competing at grand prix level as of 2021. Among his most well-known horses has been the legendary Oxidado, the unbeaten stallion with the most titles won in Working Equitation worldwide.
So, what is it that has made João Pedro so successful at producing some of the country’s top Lusitanos? On a visit to his farm, and walking with him through his stables, pastures, and seeing his current and up-and-coming horses, João Pedro shared about his background, approach to breeding, and what has made his stud farm and horses what they are today.
An Exceptional Background
With his warm and energetic character, João Pedro described his training, experience, and the founding bloodlines he selected for his stud farm while we visited the mares, stallions in training, and yearlings still grazing at pasture.
In his early years, João Pedro trained with classical masters such as Dr. Guillherme Borba and Luis Felipe, as well as other friends and students of Nuno Oliveira, with a focus on developing lightness and collection. Starting in 1980, João Pedro then joined as a rider at the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art in Lisbon. Now, João Pedro is Headmaster of the Portuguese School, and has been with the School for over 40 years.
With this classical foundation, extensive experience at the Portuguese School riding and training the horses, and performing up to the highest levels of Haute École, João Pedro additionally went on to become a national judge for the Lusitano breed (APSL). For 10 years, João Pedro further honed his eye for correct and characteristic conformation, movement, and temperament among Lusitanos, scoring them at the country’s biggest and most famous national event, the Feira of Golegã.
A Keen Eye for the Best
When analyzing a Lusitano for its conformation, João Pedro looks at several key components that influence its movement and performance; a longer croup for a better ability to collect, a long, sloping wither for more freedom of the shoulders, a gentler angle of the shoulder for greater length of stride, and a ribcage that isn’t overly round, to allow the ribs to easily expand and contract and to keep the saddle in place.
When it came to founding his stud, João Pedro combined two distinctive and renowned Portuguese bloodlines; the Alter Real (the Royal bloodline used exclusively by the Portuguese School) and the Veiga (one of the most respected and long-established Lusitano breeders in Portugal). João Pedro explained that in doing so, he combined the sensitivity of the Alter Real line with the bravery and baroque-type conformation of the Veiga horses, which had previously been developed for bullfighting as well as working equitation and dressage.
Since the beginning, João Pedro has regularly used Alter Real horses such as Olympic stallion Rubi, and other horses such as influential Lusitano stallion Hostil bred by Guilherme Borba, and mares from the Veiga line. Now, João Pedro primarily uses two of his current stallions in his program, Rouxinol and Garimpeiro.
One of the unique things about João Pedro’s approach has been that, when he began his stud farm, he would ride all the mares to test their performance – a rarity among Lusitano breeders, who typically focus on developing and riding the stallions almost exclusively. He explained that this allowed him to get to know each bloodline even more thoroughly, to the point where today he knows how they would perform, without needing to test each mare. Gaining this sense from riding the mares, he believes, has helped him in combining bloodlines to produce the top-quality horses he has.
Watching the Lusitano Breed Evolve
When asked about how he’s seen the Lusitano breed evolve over the years, João Pedro first noted that a breed often develops in a way that reflects the quality and types of riding predominant at a certain time. He explained that the Lusitano has been bred for functionality; shaped to suit the high-level riding of Portugal’s traditional disciplines, such as classical dressage, working equitation, and bullfighting.
“The one is connected with the other. Because if we do this type of equitation [for bullfighting], you develop a horse for that. If you develop horses only for sport, in a few years we don’t have the same horse, and don’t ride [as] traditionally […] as we [still in Portugal] do now.”
In Portugal, with its long history of bullfighting and traditional Portuguese riding such as working equitation where canter is the working gait, in the past the trot among Lusitanos was often not as heavily selected for. As a result, among more traditionally bred Lusitanos, such as those for bullfighting, the trot is often quite short-stepped.
“…if we do this type of equitation [for bullfighting], you develop a horse for that. If you develop horses only for sport, in a few years we don’t have the same horse, and don’t ride [as] traditionally […] as we [still in Portugal] do now.”João Pedro Rodrigues
Now, however, João Pedro explained that because Lusitanos are being selected more and more for dressage and high-level sport, they have been selected over the past few years to be slightly larger, and have better-quality movements including the trot, which he says has improved the breed overall.
Some purists may say this is changing the tradition of the Lusitano. However, as the breed is developed to suit predominant riding styles, as long as Portugal’s riding traditions remain, the Lusitano will continue to reflect this, while perhaps developing certain lines to reflect the increased interest in the breed for sport.
An Eye on the Future
Looking forward to the future, João Pedro continues to be ambitious; he’s focused on continuing to improve on what he’s begun, and produce even better-quality horses that go on to achieve more on an international level. Already having produced some of the best in Portugal, João Pedro shows that his training and experience has given him a keen eye for, and a deep understanding of the Lusitano, that continues to help make his farm and horses among the best in the country.
There are many ways João Pedro continues his work; as Headmaster of the Portuguese School, as an established breeder, and as an international clinician and instructor sharing his lifetime of experience and knowledge. You can also visit João Pedro and his horses at home on his stud farm, where he has stunning country cottages for riding and training holidays, and hosting events in the Ribatejo countryside. Of course, visiting is also a fantastic opportunity to see his current horses for sale, as well as stallions available for breeding.
With his rare depth of his knowledge and experience, and by breeding the Lusitano for high-level riding today, João Pedro is pushing the recognition of the Lusitano forward on the international scene. And, having become one of the top breeders in Portugal, and with his characteristic energy and enthusiasm for his work, one can expect much more from him and his horses to come.
If you’re curious to learn more or connect with João Pedro, his work and his horses, you can explore his website JPRlusitanos.com, Facebook or Instagram, or see him at work at the Portuguese School of Equestrian Art.