Captivated for Life – My Journey with Lusitanos

First kiss - Cicero with Brigadira

The powerful Lusitano! We are celebrating them as our February Breed of the Month on #YourDressage!

Dressage riders who choose Lusitanos as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All-Breeds Awards program, as the US Lusitano Association Inc and the International Andalusian & Lusitano Horse Association are both participating organizations.

Here, an equestrian shares about being captivated at a young age by the magic of white horses performing amazing feats, which led her to pursue dressage and to discover the beautiful, graceful, and gentle Lusitano.

By Nathalie Ferrato

Photos courtesy of Nathalie and Ashley Ferrato

Like many, I became addicted to horses at an early age. I can remember at five years old, reading about the White Stallions and wanting to perform the airs above ground.  I had no horses in my life then, and only when my stepfather immigrated with our family to the US, onto his family farm in New York, did I meet my first real horse, at the age of nine.  My mother, fearful for my adventurous daredevil nature, had me enroll in Pony Club as there was no keeping me away from the “dangerous horses”.  I was introduced to many breeds as a child and all the pony clubs seemed to be around breeding farms.  At a winter pony club movie night, we watched the Olympic dressage riders perform. This was back in the early 70s-80s.  I was taken by the passage and piaffe, and though I did not understand much about it, dressage fascinated me.  I loved eventing and all those fun pony club challenges we rode, but the high school dressage captured my heart.


This started my quest to learn how to become a dressage rider. Although we knew that girls were not allowed in the great schools, I still dreamed of going to the Spanish Riding School (SRS).  Lucky for me, I was able to see one of their performances at Madison Square Garden before they stopped coming to the US. I was in awe of the perfect white horses and their amazing, still, quiet riders as they performed the quadrille and the airs above ground.  My appetite was never stronger to learn more.

It would be years of riding sometimes with the better instructors like Walter Zettl and other times with not-so-great teachers, but I persisted in seeking out instructors that would show me how to ride and learn.  Traveling from Canada and back to the US, living in each country at various times, I was always seeking out how to learn high school dressage and trying to find the right instructor.  My last crossing back into the US brought me to Florida where, after asking around, I was guided to Sharon Campbell’s farm Just E Nuf Acres.  This site was where Nuno Olivera came to teach, and his student Bettina Drummond also taught and occasionally brought horses down for winter training.

Here, I would meet my first Lusitanos, as well as watch them in training with Bettina and Sharon, learning immediately that they were significantly different, sensitive horses that required better horsemanship.  Now I had found the place to teach me the right way to ride, respect the horses, and move in the training direction I desired.  The first Lusitano I met was my good friend Terry Reth’s horse Gilly, who was imported from France for her along with Elan, Sharon Campbell’s new mare.  We had waited many years to be able to bring them to the US due to PIRO restrictions.  These were only two years old and very beautiful, sweet horses, with great gentle spirits, with a bright future ahead.  When Gilly was started, I was lucky enough to be allowed to ride him on the lunge. I remember, well, how lovely his gaits were and his very sensitive personality.

Brigadira Pessade

A year later, that winter, Bettina brought down 16 horses, many Lusitano stallions, a few mares as well, and the barn was bustling and busy.  Each day meant many hours cleaning stalls, tack, and horses.  I had just given birth to my daughter four weeks prior, so riding was not a possibility until the end of that season, when we started my young stallion Captain Kul and my Quarter Horse.  I remember each of the horses that year like they were ornaments on a Christmas tree, shiny coats glistening in the sunshine.  Blacks, grays, and bays, and each day their long manes and tales adorned their spirited bodies, eager to work and learn.  At play, they would be turned out and, for no reason but sheer happiness, they would spring into the air of their own free will.  I was taken by many of them such as Corteto du Top and Iliad du Plessis, Bettina’s young grey stallion who was spirited, sensitive, and very engaging.

Odin, a young black stallion from Carpe Diem, really caught my heart as he played and caprioled one leap after another, just as the Lipizzaner’s had at Madison Square Garden.  Only here he was, right before me every day. I could pet him and wait on him, and his long black mane and tail were so very lovely.  He had a quiet demeanor that drew me to him. When he danced freely, I was overjoyed to watch him express his happiness in such an athletic manner.   Bettina’s mare extraordinaire was “Mimi” (Granda du Plessis), a rather large girl. She adored the baby in the carriage and would breathe Ashley, my newborn, to sleep.  Such a sweet tender loving soul, as a mother herself she knew to be gentle despite her great size.  When Mimi was unloaded from the trailer I was taken by her majestic power and grace.  Bettina brought her in herself and walked her into the ring to settle her in a bit.  She asked Mimi to piaffe a little in her halter as a way to settle her.  I’d seen many piaffes before, but not that ever rivaled that mare’s piaffe, even after a long trailer ride she had amazing verve and her respect for Bettina was stunning.  They settled together in a quiet chat that let Mimi know all was very well.  Seeing Bettina working with the string of young horses was inspiring. At last, I was where I needed to be to learn the art of dressage.

My Lusitano colt, Qash ASM

That summer, I realized that I needed to obtain a Lusitano for myself and began my search. A few years later, I obtained two Lusitanos, Cicero from Mississippi and Brigadira from Canada.  These two were selected for riding, training, and breeding. Brigadira (Bria) was the first to arrive on our farm. That same day my husband, immediately taken by their gentle nature, came in from being in the pasture and stated, “There is no reason to breed any other breed, these are the sweetest, gentlest horses I have ever met.”.

I, unfortunately, had a severe car accident in 2005 that caused paralysis on my left arm and leg, requiring cervical fusion to rectify my situation and a promise that I would not jump or trail ride.  The doctor never said no starting horses, which was a good thing as I had these two lovely Lusitanos to start.  As I healed, they aged and the time came to start their work in hand, and then under saddle.  My daughter, a rider herself but very young, was the first to sit on Bria. I was amazed at how Bria connected with children, so her first year was spent just giving the kids lunge lessons, as she built herself up.  Once I was strong enough to ride, I was back in the saddle, knowing already that Bria was easy to ride and boy, was she smooth.  Cicero, a year younger, was started the next year and was amazing at figuring out everything I asked with lightning speed, a young stallion but gentle with everyone around.  From these two, I learned many valuable lessons and was able to regain my riding ability quickly. 

Bria would teach me to levade and feel my first air above ground. She and Cicero explained how easy it was for them to do things like Spanish walk and collected movements.  I learned a great deal from them, but their smooth gaits and gentle demeanor allowed me to regain my ability to ride.  Then, through my weakness, I discovered in greater depth that less is more, and how to ride as Boucher said, “In bedroom slippers”.  Their fine movements and gentle, trusting nature allowed me to find greater and greater delicateness in my aids.  Continually refining them and riding better and better from the seat alone, they taught me what it meant to ride to the light, the light I sought for so many years.  I am now very content with starting again with new youngsters I have acquired more recently, with greater understanding from the last horses.  Even the leading is different now, as my understanding grew, all has had to be improved from the ground as well.

I had a second cervical surgery in Germany in 2020, and Bria helped me get back in the saddle three months afterwards, with great ease.  She helped me physically rehab myself with great confidence in my skills, and we started teaching the new youngsters together, starting with their manners.  Quela and Qash (Odin’s grandson), both young Lusitanos, will be started in a few years and I feel very comfortable working with them because of their sage manners and sweet dispositions. For me, there is only this breed to ride and grow old with, growing my skills with each moment I am with them!  Savoring their delicate nature, inquisitive minds, and deep connections to humans, I will ride until I can no longer find a way to climb aboard.

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