• VOLUME 61 • © HORSES For LIFE™ Magazine
Conversations with a Master
Schooling with Nuno Oliveira
By Stephanie Grant Millham
If someone were to ask me, “What is the greatest piece of advice you ever received from Nuno Oliveira?” I would probably answer with the quote we mentioned near the end of our last installment: “The most complicated airs of dressage are not difficult if they are tried on a mobile, light horse.”
It is achieving this lightness and mobility that is the never-ending quest. If we also adhere to his philosophical ideals of kindness, love and respect for our horses, then the methods used to achieve these goals are equally important.
Not surprisingly, paging through my notes from many clinics over the years shows repeated, equal emphasis on these maxims with horses and riders of all types.
With a green horse, insists Mr. Oliveira, “First put the horse forward! Don’t let the horse sleep. Use a working trot, not a sleeping trot. The rider must know what is his horse’s trot and do all things to maintain that trot. The hind legs must push all the body of the horse forward.”
“Look to your cadence in all work,” he reminded riders constantly. “Don’t forget cadence, especially when you think of impulsion. Good impulsion is when you feel the horse come up from the ground with a good vibration, with a good position of the head and neck. The horse is capable of keeping the same cadence and power without your hands and your legs. I don’t say loosen the rein, but keep a soft contact. If you need to do things constantly with the legs and the hands, the horse is not really in impulsion. He must carry it himself, and the back and mind of the rider hold.”
Also for green horses, “Come to a walk only after a good trot,” he advises. “If you ask for correct transitions and halts, if the horse does not have enough impulsion you can spoil the impulsion. When I ride a horse, I do halts in the beginning. With most riders I don’t ask too early because they are not capable of putting the horse forward.”
It is definitely worth noting here that Mr. Oliveira sought lightness in his horses and his students’ horses from the beginning. He upheld the French emphasis on lightness of the jaw, schooling his young horses in a simple snaffle and a classic dropped noseband if needed. He did not like the flash noseband, considering it too restrictive, and often had new students at a clinic remove it. The even more restrictive crank noseband had not yet invaded the scene. We still lived in an era when a horse lightly chewing his bit(s) was a desirable feature of the soft, classically trained horse, who went with a politely adjusted noseband (or sometimes no noseband at all).
The less restrictive equipment with which we rode under Mr. Oliveira’s tutelage, of course, contributed to the necessity of developing light, educated hands. “I cannot control my rage when I hear it said that the horse must be permanently pressed against the bit as this is the only way to vary the speed as wished, and the only way to have a completely straight horse,” he laments in “Reflections on Equestrian Art.”
“I would like to draw attention to the fact that there should never be any confusion between this heavy tension on the bit and the necessary