Home-Bred Olympians

How the Almeida family is producing top horses and riders for Team Brazil.
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Credit: Arnd-bronkhorst--arnd.nl Brazil's Luiza Tavares de Almeida made history as the youngest equestrian competitor at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

Credit: Arnd-bronkhorst--arnd.nl Brazil's Luiza Tavares de Almeida made history as the youngest equestrian competitor at the 2008 Beijing Olympic Games.

With two Olympic Games already under her belt, Luiza is a veteran competitor. But her younger brothers have considerable skills and podium time as well. Last October, at the CDI*** during the International Lusitano Expo in São Paulo, Rocas do Vouga riders dominated: Pedro took the Grand Prix victory on Samba SS, Luiza’s Olympic mount. Fellow Rocas do Vouga rider and WEG-team contender Edneu Senhorini, riding the Rocas do Vouga-bred young stallion Xaparro do Vouga, took second place. The next day, Luiza took the first-place spot on the podium in the Grand Prix Freestyle and brother Manuel (known as Manu) achieved second place—and recorded a needed index for the team selection—on Viheste, a stunning Alter Real stallion. Manu has been riding Viheste since 2010 but competitively for only two years. In fact, Manu rode his very first Grand Prix test just over a year ago. 

The Tavares team has been working with Dolf Keller to hone their riding, each working on different aspects. “Since [that first Grand Prix last year], I have been working mostly on trot work, especially half passes,” says Manu. “Viheste is a quick learner and has a natural talent for both piaffe and passage.”

Says Pedro: “After the first qualifier last April, it was easy to spot the qualities and the flaws, so I have been focusing the work on my weaker points.” He has created a great relationship with Samba. “Samba has changed in many ways, and I believe he has improved in most of the movements since I started riding him one year ago,” says Pedro. “Samba has been very keen to work and that is a very important aspect to achieving a higher level of performance. It is vital that the horse is happy and willing to work with the rider.” 

Luiza, relying on her 18-year-old veteran, Pastor JB, has won four of her last five Grand Prix dressage outings (losing only to brother Pedro and her Olympic mount, Samba SS). 

Keen to keep her scores around the 70-percent level during the Brazilian team qualifiers, Luiza and Keller have been fine-tuning aspects of their performance. “Since December, Pastor’s canter pirouettes and piaffe have especially improved,” she says. “But I’m focusing on his overall image, with more energy and impulsion.” 

So the stage is set for three siblings and possibly a fourth member from the same team—all on mounts from the same owner—to make up a WEG team for the first time in history. This would be an unprecedented feat for Rocas do Vouga, the stud created by Manuel Tavares de Almeida Filho in São Paulo. 

Credit: credit-keron-psillas Reitmeister Dolf Keller, dressage coach for Rocas do Vouga, with Raul Maura Silva, farm manager, and former rider Sergio Geremias after a test during the October 2013 Lusitano Expo in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Credit: credit-keron-psillas Reitmeister Dolf Keller, dressage coach for Rocas do Vouga, with Raul Maura Silva, farm manager, and former rider Sergio Geremias after a test during the October 2013 Lusitano Expo in Sao Paulo, Brazil

Manuel has been selectively breeding prize-winning Lusitanos since 1996. Relying on exceptional mares from traditional Brazilian breeders and important mares and stallions from the best-known Portuguese breeders—Manuel Braga, Manuel Coimbra and Manuel Veiga—he created a foundation to achieve a distinct level of excellence. With the fruit of this program, Rocas do Vouga has achieved the enviable status of best breeder four years in a row at the International Lusitano Expo in Brazil. 

But it is not just the father and offspring who are involved. Manuel’s wife, Thereza, is the founder of the CAPA Project (Advanced Performance of the Equine Athlete). Using the parameters of high-tech human sports medicine to develop a continuous methodology pattern of high performance with horses, CAPA seeks to quantify and enhance the performance and health of equine athletes. Thereza's passion and commitment to the well-being of the horse is felt throughout Rocas do Vouga, and this regard for the equine athlete is a hallmark of the farm. 

Carlos Oliveira, champion Portuguese presenter and trainer of young horses, visits several times each year to train and help choose the horses to be presented at the breed competitions. “Each year the horses improve, and it’s exciting to see now the offspring of D’Accord do Mito, a favorite of mine, winning their classes,” Oliveira says. “I look forward to my time here every year. Working with Edneu at the farm and helping all the riders gives me great pride and satisfaction. It’s gratifying to see the success of Rocas do Vouga and the commitment to excellence from all the team members. After WEG, the next goal will be five years in a row for best breeder! It’s a good way to live, always with optimism for the future. The horses give us this. Each year with a new crop of foals we can judge our progress and refine the vision for our future.”

“It is a very special thing that the family wants to compete with their own breeding,” adds Keller. “Each of the kids spends as much time as possible after their studies in the university, working with their horses. It is not always easy for them, but they are committed to their individual goals and to the family goals as well. I’m happy and proud to be a part of it.”

Manu’s philosophy about horses explains the family’s success both as riders and breeders: “Besides being a very good reason to spend time with my family during training or even looking at the young generations at the farm, horses teach us many things. Living with horses provides lessons on how to win but especially how to lose, to deal with frustration and plan how to find the way to success again.” 

Thanks to Raul Silva, Rocas do Vouga farm manager, for his assistance with this article.

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