By Dominique Barbier and Keron Psillas, Photographs by Keron Psillas.
I heard the name Mestre Nuno Oliveira in 1991, when I rode in my first clinic with Dominique Barbier. As the years passed and the clinics became more or less frequent, my knowledge of French classical dressage expanded, as did the mystique around the name Nuno Oliveira.
I read Reflections on Equestrian Art and then moved on to texts from de La Guérinière, The Duke of Newcastle, Baucher, and others. All the time I was working to understand how to apply these principles to my limited ability with my own horses.
In my mind’s eye I would even try to envision what it must have been like to be tucked away in Portugal, at the edge of the European continent, and yet, have the world coming to you to watch, to ride, to learn. I was imagining and dreaming of a Lusitano that would make my struggles to achieve lightness disappear.
Many years would pass until a fairytale-brought-to-life had me living in Portugal. I was still a dedicated student of Dominique and Debra Barbier’s teaching, visiting them often in California, and by this time (2011), I was also traveling to Brazil, Europe, and all over the United States to photograph (and sometimes even ride!) Lusitanos.
Living in Portugal has given me a much more nuanced understanding of the impact of Mestre Oliveira’s teaching. He is discussed, of course, around the lunch and dinner tables of riders, breeders, and aficionados of dressage and the Lusitano horse. These discussions go on for hours!
As the years pass there are fewer students alive, but I am lucky to be able to hear the stories first-hand. A few will argue that Oliveira’s legacy is being lost. And then the majority will speak up and disagree. My voice is added at that time.
Every single person speaks of a passion so deep, so all-encompassing, that it seems Mestre Oliveira was a man possessed. It seems that his “laboratory” could be more accurately described as a crucible. Here, all that was unnecessary or ineffective could be burned away in the heat of his desire to achieve The Truth in the Art of Classical Dressage.
Over the last twenty-seven years I have watched Dominique do the same thing. He has tirelessly refined, expanded, and offered the teaching that has led to the compassionate, sustainable, honorable, and enlightened methods he uses to achieve oneness, a true partnership with horses.
Horses have been our partners for millennia. They have worked for us, carried us, and in this last century (as they are rarely used for work), for those who seek a personal connection to them, they have uplifted us. Having the wisdom and teaching, the light on the path to guide us from Mestre Oliveira and the students he left behind who are dedicated to the purity and Truth of the Art in Classical Dressage, is a precious gift for those who seek a more meaningful relationship.
For Dominique, this seeking has always had a spiritual component, as perhaps it did for Mestre Oliveira. But Dominique has taken the understanding he gained during his time with the Mestre and created another dimension to the teaching. Dominique has augmented and refined the methods so that anyone who chooses to listen and observe will walk away with a deeper awareness, an expanded consciousness of what is possible in your relationship with your horse, and indeed, with all we choose to encounter.
Dominique’s teaching offers a path to a sublime partnership with our horses, just as the horses give us the gift of helping to achieve lightness, oneness, unconditional acceptance, and love. Dominique’s journey to this understanding and teaching was nourished in a small picadeiro in Póvoa Santo Adrião, just a few miles south of my village in the Ribatejo.
This excerpt from Riding with Oliveira by Dominique Barbier and Keron Psillas is reprinted with permission from Trafalgar Square Books (www.horseandriderbooks.com). Find this book and more in our section on Books.