Master Miguel Távora: A Master for all riders
Article and Photos by Cátia Castro
(interview appeared in issue 9 (2013) of BHM)
Master Miguel Távora was born in Portugal, son of the 9th Marquis and Marchioness of Abrantes. He started riding with Master Nuno Oliveira at the age of 8, for about 10 years. Later Miguel Távora attended the Military Academy. In his military career he completed the Course of Instructors and later the Course of Masters in the Portuguese Military and Civilian Riding Academy of Mafra (CMEFED) where is was later appointed as Chief Instructor and Director of the Equestrian Division of this school. He competed in Eventing, Show Jumping and Dressage. Miguel has lived in Australia for more than 30 years, where he and his wife Dianne run their own Equestrian Centre (M & D Távora School of Equitation). Miguel is a NCAS Level III Instructor (dressage specialist).
BHM interviewed Miguel Távora in the centenarian Hipical Society of Lisbon – Portugal, where he held a 3 day clinic.
BHM: Where does your interest in riding come from?
MT: Perhaps because I had an uncle who took me riding when I was very young. I fell in love with horses and riding, which is an art and sport, that I consider more of an art than a sport. It’s something that you feel. My parents had no connection to horses; we lived in Lisbon in an apartment. My uncle was a very famous show jumper at that time, Rodrigo Pereira Castro, and he took me to Master Nuno de Oliveira and I started to ride horses. At that time there was neither small nor great masters, there was no difference if you were new or an old man. Before a great teacher taught everyone, not like now where you select people you want to teach. Today, riding teachers are more selective, as today there are more teachers and more people riding; now the riding instructor has to teach more beginners. At the time there was no differentiation and people had more access to the great masters.
BHM: Master Nuno Oliveira considered you one of his best students. How do you feel about this?
MT: I do not consider myself in any way one of the best students of Master Nuno Oliveira, I was his riding student and he was a great master who helped me a lot. I am a person who likes equestrianism, horses, teaching horses, teaching people to ride, helping them ride better with my experience.
I learnt from Master Nuno de Oliveira the respect for the horse, the respect for ethics and to use the correct techniques to ride a horse, using tact, instinct and always remembering that the horse is an extraordinary animal, who is our friend and who therefore has to be respected and then enjoy while giving the horse the best possible life he can have.
The experience of riding horses is both an art and a science, and like any other arts, arts have a technical background. If the person likes riding then that person can learn, and at my age I’m still learning. Every day that I go to ride, when I give a lesson, it never gets boring and this fact arouses curiosity and interest, is not that I can say that I know everything. We learn every day. When people fail to achieve those goals and dreams they sometimes have, they feel frustrated, they give up and turn to other things, and for those people it’s just the winning that matters. I tell all my students that winning is secondary, what matters is the respect for the horse, the love for the horse, and enjoying riding and the horse and its art, and receiving what the horse can give us and what the art can give us. When I am giving a lesson, and that horse who was very nervous and could not walk a step, when I get him to do a nice and relaxed walk, that for me is like winning a gold medal at the Olympic games – the horse was relaxed, felt happy for the first time in the lesson, that it is the goal of riding.
BHM: How do see Equestrianism today, what changed?
MT: In sporting terms it has never been as popular as it is today, horse breeding never developed as much before from when I was a young boy as it is now. Before equestrianism it was based on the army, because they were the only ones who had money to have horses, and it was said at the time, that if the army and the military failed to have horses, equestrianism was over, but now we see that the army no longer has horses and equestrianism is not over.
Today we have a more materialistic life, and the horse puts us in touch with nature and is a way of escape for many people. There are people with intellectual occupations that have a passion for the horse and can be turned off and relax, I think that’s what attracts some people. And we have the other part, the sport, that which is much more developed now than in my time. There are so many TV channels and magazines where you can see equestrian sports, and this attracts the sport and competition, and that of course influences the love of art. Today we see many people attending Dressage events, the world has evolved. Never did we see so many people riding like today, and with that people never rode as well as today, but people never rode so bad either, because there are so many more people riding, with more access.
BHM: What’s the secret to be a good riding master?
MT: You have to ask my students this. I’m not a good teacher, no way, I am an enthusiastic teacher. Because I’m an old man, and I am full of cold sometimes, and sit in the chair 2 minutes, but suddenly I see the horse doing something and I jump from the chair, and go to the middle of the ring, because I get enthusiastic, I want to take part, to participate as much as I can, because I like to be in contact with the student, to help, and I love it. To like what I do is maybe my secret. So I try to help as much as possible.
BHM: Do you think people must have a gift for riding well?
MT: No… you must have a minimum amount, then you must like to study and work. I consider myself a reasonable teacher because I am not a natural born rider, I had colleagues who have begun to learn at the same time I did, with more natural ability than I had, but because I liked it so much and studied so hard and applied myself I’ve managed to have reasonable results. And because I’m not a particularly gifted person that helps me to realize more most of the problems that students who are like me have. I can help them more than a teacher who finds himself a genie, who can not understand the problem of a human who is not like them, and is not able to transmit the teachings that for them became natural, as innate. For me, not being gifted, that’s an advantage I have, I don’t have any natural talent, but as I liked riding so much I could learn, I can understand the problems of my students, I had these problems when I was learning to ride and it helps me as a teacher.
BHM: What makes a good riding teacher/master?
MT: Most of all you have to respect the horse, first thing. After that, do not take the horse as a slave, or an object of pleasure, but as an animal created by God or nature or whatever you believe, and that we have to respect. Think of it as a sport but it is a sport connected to art, always thinking that it is not a matter of winning or losing but a challenge to perfect ourselves, to improve.
BHM: What makes a good horse?
MT: Nowadays, a good horse must have a good morphological conformation, good temperament, good functionality. Functionality is linked to the model, movements and temperament. It has to be functional, not like a horse breed I know who are very beautiful but does not function, it must be a horse that is functional. So someone who knows about horses can look at a horse and say this horse can run, can jump, can bullfight, can do dressage. This functionality that depends on blood lines and temperament is what makes a good horse. There are good horses today, there is more knowledge. in the past people crossed the horses only because they were good, and sometimes a good father can have bad sons, because the son can have traits of his great grandfather that was a bad guy. You have to go much further back; now with the studies is a world that is increasingly discovering, and also the experience helps, today everything that is not good is eliminated, in the past all that was not good people just went to try again…
Now you have much more chances of buying a good horse, because there are more good horses as a result of good breeding.
BHM: About the skills of the rider, what do you suggest?
MT: The rider must know the capabilities and possibilities of the horse, the rider has to know that the horse does not think and it’s not like a person, it’s an animal with the instinct for self preservation, and has the instinct to escape, he’s shy. The most dangerous thing is a person who likes the horse but thinks the horse is like a person, but the horse does not think. The horse has an extraordinary memory, and all education and training must be based on understanding the memory of the horse, and using that memory. If I want my horse to perform well, he has to be comfortable and my duty as a rider, as a trainer, is to do everything I’m going to ask the horse to do, all the physical and mental gymnastics that we have trained before, until it becomes easy for him to do. If it becomes easy, then the horse will perform the exercises with ease, that for me is the most important factor namely, understanding the horse. Realise that the horse cannot be taught well with tricks, but make the horse an athlete, that is comfortable, who can show all his ability to work, to perform. This demonstrates the love for the horse.
BHM: How do you feel about Lusitanos?
MT: The Lusitano horse has a very hot blood. Unfortunately abroad, people think the Lusitano horse is only a gentle horse, which everyone can ride. The first Lusitanos that were sold abroad from Portugal were like that, and then the writers described the Lusitanos as a gentle horse, nice boys, but they are not that, it’s a horse of a very hot blood, the hottest in the world that now is improving a lot, but we can not have the illusion that we can suddenly overcome certain breeds that are creating quality for many more years. In Lusitano breeding we have to go slowly, I think we have improved and we have an extraordinary horse that I really like, and I like riding Lusitanos, but I also like to ride a warmblood, my personal horse is a warmblood, he has a good temperament and has English blood, he is a horse that moves beautifully.
We Portuguese, if we want to create a Lusitano horse with international projection, we have to eliminate this idea of people, the idea of the horse that everyone can ride. Lusitanos has a great evolution, has ancient blood lines, has hot blood. Now if the breeders want a Lusitano for sport, they have to promote internationally the Lusitano as an athlete, with athletic training, not as a domestic pet to walk around the garden…
We are at the beginning, we have a long way to go to be competitive, but the result with Gonçalo Carvalho and Rubi (AR) was fantastic, and proved that if you have a correct rider and horse, they can pass ahead of many horses. If you see the prices of many horses who were ranked far behind Gonçalo and Rubi, compared with a much cheaper horse that Rubi was… maybe this is a good advantage for the Lusitano, If you ride well, maybe you won’t win, but you can rank well and with merit. Maybe to win you must have that $ 5 million horse, and a bunch of talent and wisdom, but nowadays with a relatively affordable horse and correct riding, maybe you can place well.
I believe that each country has to form riders in their own country, if they lack trainers, they can invite people. No one learns from one day to another to have gold medals, it is the younger generations that have to be touched, forming new generations that is what is important in riding. They only think about teaching top riders, for me more important are the young people that are learning now, that will make the future and will make a good or bad riding. We must have a strong generation with enormous possibilities, which to me is fundamental.
People in Australia only teaches the top, and the top riders are buying horses for thousands of dollars and set a bad example of the basics, the basics are weak, just me and a few teach the basics. Australia has possibilities, lots of money, but there is still the mentality of if I have money I buy a good horse and win. In Australia we have to have the well organised mentality, otherwise everything fails.
BHM: What’s the advice you can give to riders/trainers?
MT: If you like to ride lot, you have to like to learn, because if you learn you ride well. By riding better you have more pleasure in riding, the horse works better and is more happy and fulfilled. Do not think you can learn with tricks, it’s a long work, and if you use the correct techniques you can do it, and studying and thinking. You must continuously evaluate, and you have a good judge who is the horse. For example if I play tennis alone against the wall, I do not know if I’m playing well or badly, but the horse is always telling me if I’m doing well or not, if the horse feel good and performs well I’m doing well, if the horse comes into resistance in struggles and difficult, is because I’m doing something wrong, unless the horse has a problem which in most cases is unlikely. This assessment is very important.