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balcony set aside as an observation area. Dr. Starr himself spent every morning studying the work Oliveira was doing. “Nuno appreciated students who acknowledged and observed his work,” he adds. Oliveira would ring a bell when he was ready for the next

horse, which would be brought to the arena tacked up and ready for work. The schooling process began with lunging. “He would yell and the horse would go like crazy, getting all charged up. My impression was that it was meant to put the edge on the horse before riding,” Dr. Starr recounts. Next, after taking a moment to pet and play with the horse, Oliveira would mount. Once in the saddle, he would simply sit, seemingly motionless, as if he was meditating. In fact, Dr. Starr says, Oliveira would often light a cigarette at that point. “Without any visible movement from the man on his back, the horse would begin to move. Passage, renvers, travers…all done at a very slow pace, the walk or the sitting trot. And at the trot, he was absolutely not moving. He was so balanced, so quiet— and he never looked down!” Dr. Starr says he often watched Oliveira work a movement on only one side and once asked him why that was so. “The master replied that he often preferred to simply work on the weaker side and avoid the stronger side altogether,” he reports. Being a passionate man, Oliveira loved Italian opera. He

cleverly had the entire indoor arena wired with speakers, and there he and his Lusitanos were immersed continuously with operatic arias as he schooled the horses. Dr. Starr felt that there was something about the music that fed Oliveira’s psyche, allowing him to feel the expression of human passion—love, hate, joy, depression, etc. At one point he looked at Dr. Starr from horseback and whispered, “Love the opera.”


“He rode his horse as if the two of them were riding together— connected as one. It was amazing—neither one dominated. It was completely a ‘we’ thing,” Dr. Starr continues. “What I saw was a combination of incentive and discipline imposed on an enthusiastic animal. Every single horse I watched was eager and spontaneous.” “I never saw him raise a whip,” he continues. “He started these horses as green three-year-olds and brought them along as if they were his children and he was guiding them through life. There was no outward conversation, of course, it was all in the aids.” “With Nuno, it was all very subtle communication,” Dr. Starr

explains. “The aids were diminishing all the time. The horses were sensitive, but in a good way—so eager to listen to his minute aids.” Those indiscernible aids let to both frustration and

illumination in his lessons, Dr. Starr says. He describes one day early in his two-week stay, when he was mounted on a large stallion. “I was pushing him to keep him going and restraining

Nuno Oliveira schools Lusitanos in his indoor arena in Portugal. A legendary classical dressage trainer of his time, Mr. Oliveira

passed away in 1989. Photos taken by Eleanor Russell, a long time student of Nuno’s and author of The Truth in Teaching of Nuno Oliveira. See more info at

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