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Feature

Talking to

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João Torrão
Text by Jeannette Martens

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Photos by Bruno Barata

João and his top horse Equador, who took him on a meteoric rise, winning at the CDIO Hickstead (GBR) in 2019.

J
oão Torrão is a new Grand Prix star in the Jiménez explaining how to teach your horse he gained more understanding and sought
making. Only just out of his first season at the half-pass, shoulder in, leg yield and so on. lessons with more professional trainers, he
the highest level of the sport, together João of course immediately started decided at the age of 17 that he wanted to
with his Lusitano Equador the young experimenting with all of this on his own horse. pursue a more professional career in the
Portuguese rider is making all kinds of waves. Then when he finished high school, he found a equestrian world.
degree in equine sciences in university. “When
Growing up around animals I found that, I was 100% sure that this is what I Never told him no
João does not come from a horsey family, in wanted to study in university.” he says, and as As a teenager, his self-professed obsession with
fact his parents and his older sister know
nothing of horses. He grew up in a small
village in the Portuguese countryside
surrounded by animals, and the horse was Coralie traing João and
always his favourite. He had been very fond of Equador in Monte Velho (POR).
horses for as long as he can remember. The
small village where João grew up did not have
a riding school, but local people from the
village would give lessons on their horses each
Saturday morning, where João got his first
longe line lessons when he was seven years
old. When he was ten, these lessons stopped
and João was left without any place to ride.
Because they lived on a small farm, João
convinced his father to buy him a horse.
Together they went to buy a horse, and from
the time he was 13 until he was 17, João just
rode in the fields at home, in an area his father
had laid out.

As it so happens
As they lived quite close to the Spanish border,
as it happens João’s mother bought him a
Spanish equestrian magazine that included a
DVD by Spanish Olympian Juan Antonio

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“And if I am honest, I think I was playing
football more to please my father”
- João laughs

horses had his mother a little worried, as usually small details of the position of your seat and dream come true, actually it is more than I
teenagers want to go out and meet girlfriends, your hands, for instance. João continues; “To had dreamed of. Out first Grand Prix was in
but his parents were very tolerant. They might be a good trainer is to be a good person as February 2019. In Britain we did the nations
not have had a lot of understanding of the well, and she is such a good human being. cup, where Portugal historically won their very
equestrian world, but they never told him no. All the success I had is thanks to her. Without first dressage nations cup in Hickstead, where I
They understood his passion of horses and her it would not have been possible. I am so recorded some of my best marks ever in the
supported all his decisions. João did like sport, grateful to have her and so have learned so Grand Prix and the Special. That was one of
especially football, a liking he got from his much from her.” the most memorable competitions I had.”
father. When he was 16, João had to decide to João and Equador were also part of the
stop playing football because the horses were Equador Portuguese team at the European
taking up all of this time. “And if I am honest, I João has been riding his current top horse championships in Rotterdam (NED), and
think I was playing football more to please my Equador since he was a youngster, and trained being able to represent his country in his first
father,” he laughs. him all the way up to Grand Prix. “He is the first year at Grand Prix in such an amazing
horse I have taught all the way to Grand Prix.” competition was incredible. “Then we got an
The horse first, the sport second João remembers when Equador was younger, invitation to compete at Olympia (GBR), and
João did not start to compete until he was he had a nice canter but was a bit slow behind that was one of the best shows I have ever
nineteen years old. His very first competition so the changes were a struggle. Now the been to. To be able to be there was an
was with a mare he had at that time, and his changes are one of his strongest movements. honour. Our last competition was the world
second ever competition was already with his Equally, Lusitano’s are usually known for their cup in Mechelen (BEL) where I rode my best
now top horse Equador. João still has his first talent in the collected exercises such as piaffe score in the freestyle and we finished fourth in
horse, now in very old age. “Because I was so and passage, but Equador did not understand the Grand Prix. I feel very blessed and very
auto-didactic, I made such big mistakes with the piaffe at all. “He found it so difficult we were grateful for everything in my very short career.”
my first horse,” he tells, “I think that was both wondering if he would ever learn the piaffe.
good and bad. Bad because you are making After leaving it for a little while, we started Monte Velho
mistakes and you are forming bad habits, but working with it again a now the piaffe and João now works for the Portuguese Lusitano
at the same time when you are riding by passage are his highlights.” stud where Equador was also bred, Monte
yourself you develop a lot of feeling. I think Velho, and rides about five younger Lusitano’s
that was the biggest thing I learned from my Meteoric from this stud. Previously, João also taught a lot,
first horse. You learn to just ride. That horse 2019 was the pair’s first year at Grand Prix, and but now he is more focused on his competition
taught me a lot. And he taught me a lot what they have achieved is unreal. “It is a horses. João has been at Monte Velho for six
about loving your horse.”

Basics are everything


João had his first real, professional riding
teacher only when he went to university. “That
was very important to me because I was
beginning to ride more professionally and
doing it right. It was a lot of basics, from the
beginning. About your seat, the position of
your legs and hands, following the horse’s
movements, that were the things I was working
on the most. And these basics are the most
important I think. With a good base, you can
improve far more on higher levels.”

Without a doubt
The most influential person without a doubt in
his professional life is his trainer Coralie
Baldrey. As João says; “I have been training
with her for the last five years. Everything I
know about riding Grand Prix and teaching
your horse the Grand Prix movements, I
learned from her. I look at her as more than a
trainer, she is my mentor and I feel a strong
connection with her; with the way she sees
horses and the way she looks at riding. The
rider I am now, I am thanks to her.” The very The beautiful grounds of the Monte Velho stud.

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years, it actually was his first job after
graduation from university. At the age of 17, he
already did some internships as a working
“I am living my dream and
student at Monte Velho when he was still in I feel so blessed”
university, and came to work there full-time at
the age of 20, straight after university. - João
The Lusitano’s
At the moment, because Monte Velho is a
Lusitano stud, all of João’s horses are Lusitano.
“I did have the opportunity in the past to work The biggest stage someone else to get there, then I do not want
with warmbloods and all kinds of breeds, but One of João’s goals is being part of the to be there’. Riding and dressage to me is
the Lusitano’s I think are special. They have Portuguese team for the Tokyo Olympics, that more than a sport, it is my passion and my life.
such gentle characters, and they always, is his dream. “I think it is possible, and we will Sometimes I see the ugly side of the sport, and
always try their best and try to please their keep working hard to achieve that goal. We I do not want that. It makes me sad that good
riders. Even if they cannot always be the are always trying to improve, and we will see. riders with nice careers need to step on other
strongest or most athletic horses, they always Whatever comes will be good. Definitely I people to make themselves feel better. Yes, I
try their best. They are small horses with a would love to be in the final of the Olympic want to be on the top, but I want to be able to
huge heart; and that is what I love most about Games, and of course after the Olympics I put my head on my pillow and be able to
the Lusitano breed.” would love to do another Olympics, and sleep well every night. Life is short, I am living
another one!” he laughs. “My dream is always my dream and I feel so blessed to have what I
Downtime to represent my country in the biggest have, I really do not want to destroy any of this
When he has some time off, João likes to walk championships. To be able to be on that big around me. Let the negative things be behind
with his dog; “Sometimes I go hiking, or go to stage and do my best.” you and the positive things all around you.” ■
the lake here and sit on the rocks overlooking
the mares and foals in their fields in all About values in life
freedom. That is my favourite thing to do.” He João tells us how important good values are
likes to watch movies and spending time with to him. “I am an ambitious person, but I am
his closest friends, but he does not like to travel not the kind of person that will do anything to
as much; “I always miss my horses and my get what he wants. I once said to my boss; ‘I
dog and I am always thinking about them.” want to be on the top, but if I need to step on

João and Equador competing at


Jumping Mechelen (BEL).
Photo by Hippo Foto/Dirk Caremans

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