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Iberian Magic: Nuno Oliveira Transforms a Doctor’s Life

By Pat Payne


or a retired New York psychiatrist and active Swedish Warmblood breeder, a few weeks in Portugal changed everything.

In 1984, Dr. Alden Starr spent two weeks

in Portugal with the famed Nuno Oliveira. It was a life-changing experience for him, both personally and professionally. “It was 25 years ago this month. And in my mind’s eye, it’s as if it was yesterday,” the 88-year-old doctor recalls. A psychiatrist by profession, Dr. Starr had

“Some saw his work

been raising Morgan horse for 20 years. When his children were young, he wanted them to have the experience of farm life, so he worked to create a place where they would have the chance to roam freely, combined with the responsibilities that animals bring. Since one of his daughters loved horses, they soon became part of life on the farm. Morgans were a logical choice, popular in upstate New York where he lived and offering the temperament and versatility needed for young riders.

as for the circus and some saw remarkable classical training. I wanted to see and decide for myself.”

His trip to Portugal was a spur of the moment decision so he did not make arrangements in advance. Instead, he says, he followed advice he had received in Europe and arrived with a bottle of Jack Daniels whiskey as a gift for the man he hoped would be his host. He had been

told it was “Oliveira’s favorite.” After flying to Lisbon, he picked up

a rental car and started driving, literally heading for the hills. After several hours, he turned through the entrance not sure what to expect. Slowly he drove up a long and winding

driveway, arriving at the Oliveira home. From there, after explaining his impromptu appearance, he was instructed to walk up the narrow road to the stable. There he found nearly a dozen horses, housed in stalls that would be considered small by American standards. Finally, at the top of the hill, he found the indoor arena where Nuno Oliveira was working. After presenting his gift, he was graciously received and immediately was able to make arrangements for a two-week stay.


“By the time my four children grew up, I had a collection of nice school horses. So I decided to run a riding school!” Not one to do things by halves, Dr. Starr decided to visit a variety of European riding programs before starting his own. He had already been introduced to dressage in the late 1970s, attending classes offered by the American Dressage Institute at nearby Skidmore College. “Once I saw classical dressage, I was completely taken with it, absolutely enthralled by it,” he explains. He felt it was important for him to see how students were taught around continental Europe and in England. Dr. Starr began his journey first in Strömsholm, Sweden

and next in Warendorf, Germany. He also spent several weeks in England studying the British Pony Club system. “And the last place I went was to Nuno’s in Portugal,” he says. “Some saw his work as for the circus and some saw remarkable classical training. I wanted to see and decide for myself.”

52 September/October 2009


“Nuno Oliveira was absolutely the worst teacher I’ve ever experienced,” Dr. Starr recounts with a chuckle. “If you wanted to be yelled at in three languages, it was the place to go!” To begin a lesson, Oliveira would simply point to the horse and then to the student, Dr. Starr continues. “So you get on and you try out your aids. Then you learn from the horse, which has been trained by Nuno to the FEI level.” Oliveira, Dr. Starr continues, was a man completely

committed to his horses. Because of that commitment and the education he gave each horse, he offered human students an unparalleled opportunity to learn by riding such carefully and sensitively trained horses. In the mornings, Dr. Starr recounts, Oliveira trained

his horses, all stallions. He did not object to students watching his work, although Dr. Starr says during his stay his three fellow students never joined him in the Page 1  |  Page 2  |  Page 3  |  Page 4  |  Page 5  |  Page 6  |  Page 7  |  Page 8  |  Page 9  |  Page 10  |  Page 11  |  Page 12  |  Page 13  |  Page 14  |  Page 15  |  Page 16  |  Page 17  |  Page 18  |  Page 19  |  Page 20  |  Page 21  |  Page 22  |  Page 23  |  Page 24  |  Page 25  |  Page 26  |  Page 27  |  Page 28  |  Page 29  |  Page 30  |  Page 31  |  Page 32  |  Page 33  |  Page 34  |  Page 35  |  Page 36  |  Page 37  |  Page 38  |  Page 39  |  Page 40  |  Page 41  |  Page 42  |  Page 43  |  Page 44  |  Page 45  |  Page 46  |  Page 47  |  Page 48  |  Page 49  |  Page 50  |  Page 51  |  Page 52  |  Page 53  |  Page 54  |  Page 55  |  Page 56  |  Page 57  |  Page 58  |  Page 59  |  Page 60  |  Page 61  |  Page 62  |  Page 63  |  Page 64  |  Page 65  |  Page 66  |  Page 67  |  Page 68  |  Page 69  |  Page 70  |  Page 71  |  Page 72  |  Page 73  |  Page 74  |  Page 75  |  Page 76
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