Book Review: Reflections on Equestrian Art by Nuno Oliveira

I wrote this review by request–for HorseJunkiesUnited, a site that posts my blog, and the Producer of this audio book said thank you with a discount for my readers. (See bottom.) Beyond that, I was not paid, and this is the only time I will endorse a product. I get asked often, but I don’t accept sponsorships on my blog, because loving horses is free. I agreed to this book review because I yell these quotes at the top on my lungs in riding lessons, and they just sound so much better here. Thanks.


Maestro Nuno Oliverira spent his life in the study of classical dressage, which he defines as a conversation with a horse on a higher level, one of courtesy and finesse. Times change but classical principles remain: The horse should be a partner and not a slave. The goal of Equestrian Art is the perfect understanding with our horses, which requires freedom of mental and physical contraction.

The joy of the horse is the ultimate goal and the Maestro talks often of love where horses are concerned: he explains how to show love from the saddle, riding in classical terms of kindness and compassion.

In our world today, we see two approaches to training horses and they can easily be traced back through history. In societies that valued culture, like the Greeks, horses were seen as sensitive creatures to partner with and in cultures that were more interested in war and domination, like the Romans, horses were used as tools. Oliveira writes eloquently describing the virtues of gentle work in chapters that cover all aspects of training, start to finish. The final chapter is entitled “Brilliance,” and it’s an anthem to work done well.

I confess, I have been familiar with Oliveira and this book for over two decades. There is no one who explains horsemanship more clearly or who I quote more often in training. This book is a treasure of information that the serious rider will refer to again and again.

“Ask often, be content with little, and reward greatly,” is the Maestro’s most common reminder.

The teaching is not new, but the format–an audiobook–is new. Technology has brought the opportunity to have the Maestro in your ear. The reader’s voice is calm and meditative, reading with clarity, making the text very understandable. Most of the chapters are short, around four minutes, making it an easy aid to listen to in available spurts. It’s truly classical information, delivered in a form that is a contemporary, real-time aid.

The process of learning to ride effectively and kindly is complicated. It takes time and study to comprehend and becomes most complete when all of our senses have a chance to take it in. Meaning we need to see it, think it, feel it, hear it–to assimilate it fully. An audiobook is a valuable technique to experience the information, quietly in your ear while driving to the barn, or as you are warming up your horse. It offers the classic method both personal and assessable.

The confidence and respect that Oliveira had for horses, and working with them, settles into the listener slowly, without arrogance but with humility. It gives the student a template to begin work, or if this peaceful approach to training is your current method, it will renew your pride in doing correct work, for the love and respect of your horse.

But more than that, listened to in the whole, this audiobook affirms why a philosophy of kindness in training make the horse/rider bond stronger. It explains the reason harshness fails a horse, and how methods using love and respect will always lift a horse and rider above the mundane to a place of art without mental or physical contraction. Another term for that is Oneness.

“Riding is a school of humility and selflessness, its practice if it is done well, tends to make better Human Beings” Nuno Oliveira

Reflections on Equestrian Art by Nuno Olivera, Audiobook available to download or stream at Gold Leaf Farm’s Classical Horse Books ( Originally published in 1964, with translation and reprints in following years, voice work by Sara Morsey.

Watch a video of Oliveira riding (Here) and see the very definition of less is more, a perfect pairing with this book.

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

AND this isn’t my first blog about Nuno Oliverira –Read here.

PS!  Gold Leaf Farm has offered  free shipping for my readers. Coupon code will be: InfinityShip and it will be good till April 30th.

Dog Day Dressage: Notes from Nuno.

WMSiestaThese are the dog days of summer. Initially, Romans related the hot weather to when the dog star, Sirius, was the brightest star in the sky. But we know better now. It’s the time that dogs lie around like half-deflated balloons on the bare floor because the sofa is too hot, because the weight of gravity is too much to bear. I can relate.

I try to do chores before it gets to the temperature skin melts (7 a.m.) Lesson schedules get adjusted to earlier or later to avoid the worst heat, and I’m hoping to achieve more today than just holding my head under the hose and groaning.  I suddenly consider taking out-of-state clients because my truck has air conditioning.

The horses have adopted a special, even more committed, midday siesta, the traditional daytime sleep of Spain. Maybe I should take my cue from them and mix heat exhaustion with a Spanish-flavored dream of classical equestrian elegance from Nuno Olivera. Would it inspire my thoughts above complaining about the slow, thick heat?

When the prairie breeze feels like a blast furnace and I wonder if there is a form of heat-related dementia, “Equestrian art is the perfect understanding and harmony between horse and rider.”*

When it is too hot to move, much less ride, “The secret in riding is to do few things right. The more one does, the less one succeeds. The less one does, the more one succeeds.”*

On the trail or in the arena, I rally the mush trying to pass for brain cells to remember, “To practice equestrian art is to establish a conversation on a higher level with the horse, a dialogue of courtesy and finesse”.*

 As the sweat, all the way from my slicked down helmet-hair to the droopy socks in my boots,  smacks down my determination and sense of humor,  “The true rider feels for, and above all loves, his horse. He has worked progressively, remembering to help the horse to have stronger muscles, and to fortify its body, while at the same time developing the horse’s brain and making it more sensitive.”*

Working in the arena and finding out that sun block doesn’t actually block sunburn anymore than it does the heat, “Riding is a school of humility and selflessness, its practice if it is done well, tends to make better Human Beings”.*

I am not sure what moisture wicking is, but I don’t think it means a cloud of hot steam between my skin and my breeches, but “Try to awaken curiosity by the tenderness of your aids.”*

 I have consumed liter after liter of water, am I becoming a giant blow-up pool toy? “A horse will never tire of a rider who possesses both tact and sensitivity because he will never be pushed beyond his possibilities.”*

The flies are mean, they hunt in packs, swarming and biting, actually trying to trip my horse. He begs me to napalm the whole barn. “Us humans love to make war. We even do it in the name of love. Being adversarial is so natural to us…”

Looking on in envy as my horse takes a dirt bath after riding, to scratch his sweaty back with a roll in the sand, “Training a horse is above all feeling and trying, according to what you feel, to help the horse and not to force him.”*

Dog Day Dressage is teetering between kind, classical training principles and joining the ducks in their wading pool, maybe without even changing the water first. “The horse is the best judge of a good rider, not the spectator.  If the horse has a high opinion of the rider, he will let himself be guided, if not, he will resist.”*

Anna Blake, Infinity Farm.

*All quotes attributed to Nuno Olivera, widely acknowledged as a master of the ‘baroque’ or ‘classical’ style of the art of dressage.