The main arena at the Ponte De Lima showgrounds is of the same footing that was at Kentucky for the WEG. It holds two competition dressage arenas and one schooling dressage arena, so everything from warm up to the classes to the awards is within view of the tribune that runs the entire long side. The tribune is a work of art: 20 foot high sliding floor to ceiling glass doors that retract to create a huge lanai that catches all the hilltop breezes. Add the arena’s great lighting system and sound system, and Ponte de Lima is ready for a gala. Good thing there was one planned!
The CDI itself was small, but there were quality horses in both the Grand Prix and the small tour. The dressage runs concurrently with the Feiro do Caballo, a festival that includes young horse classes, driving classes, and Traditional Working Equitation, which shows the movements that a horse that works the bulls would need for his job.
Friday night was Gala night, and the place was packed with thousands of spectators. They filled the tribune, enjoying the good catering and wine; they lined the hillside terraces, they stood on tables and climbed the lower branches of trees near the ring. The show started at 10:00 pm because that was when it was finally fully dark and the stage lighting could shine. We did notice that the show program stated that the festivities were not scheduled to end until 4:00 am. Of course I didn’t believe that… at first! The program opened with a parade led by a traditional ox cart, followed by a pageant in traditional dress, powered by a band of Portugese instruments, including drummers carrying huge drums that were nearly their own height. You could feel the thunder of them reverberating in your chest as they pounded them with all their considerable strength.
The Gala is all about the Lusitano horse, though. Whatever music or instruments were in the arena, they were there to accompany the horses and riders. Caballeros did patterns with the long pikes they use to move the bulls; an acrobat twirled on a silk rope with a stallion below it; riders did pas de deux with dancers. The finale was a quadrille of caballeros riding with burning torches: it is a testament to the bravery and solid temperament of the Lusitano horse that they all moved among the torches and fire bowls in the arena with complete ease and assurance.
The partying was still in full swing when we left at 2:00 am.
Saturday evening was Freestyle night. I had expected to photograph again under the ample lighting, but there was a shortage of English-speaking scribes. Even though I’d never scribed for a freestyle, let alone the Grand Prix Freestyle, I parked my camera bag under the table in Axel’s judge’s box, picked up a pen and started “pencilling”. I found it actually more fun to scribe for the freestyle than for the Grand Prix: any comments are given after the ride is completed, so you have moments when you can look up and watch. And it’s a good idea to watch the ride, so you know what movement is being performed. That way you’re prepared to add the score to the appropriate box on the test sheet. Rubi, a 12 year old Lusitano stallion, and Goncalos Carvalho from Portugal were very much the best that night, with a piaffe that was very close to garnering a 10.
After the awards, the dressage arena was dismantled and Horse Ball commenced. If you haven’t seen it before, it’s played by teams of four, in an area about the size of a dressage arena. There are baskets at either end, and the ball is a soccer ball with handles. It’s played a bit like basketball on horseback, and it looks like a blast. They were just getting started around midnight, and when we returned the next morning for the last day of dressage, we found that again, things had only wound down around 4:00 in the morning. Therefore I was quite surprised to see so many spectators filling in the shady areas in the building heat of Sunday morning to watch the Grand Prix Special. I wondered how many of them just hadn’t ever gone home!