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There is a landmark in my life: before and after my daughter was born. A huge inspiration in my life is my work, to see different people every second week from all around the world. Different personalities, different jobs but we have one thing in common: we love horses. I can show these people my country, my horses, our food. Since my daughter was born, I would like her to feel the ground that textures the sun, the beach, the horses, the stones, that she would be connected to the Earth and not to iPad. I try to teach her about the nice things we have here, I hope she will also want to stay around here, but that is going to be only up to her. But I’m very happy, because she already has a favourite horse, so it is a good sign.

I was born and raised in the Alentejo, I attended the high school in Vila Nova de Milfontes, to which  we travelled every day by bus for 30 minutes. Whenever the bus broke down we were so happy, because we could pick and eat medronho berries on the roadside. My parents have had a restaurant on the Beach of Pessegueiro Island for 45 years, so I spent all my holidays here. When I was 8 years old my father started to work on a farm, and that was the point when agriculture appeared in my life: sheep, cows and horses. I wanted to study Physics, but my parents didn’t let me, so I looked for a place where I could find a very good horse riding teacher, and then I checked what I could study there and the available option turned out to be Maths in Lisbon. After my studies my father asked me to help him on the farm, so I moved back here and since then I haven’t left this place.

We have been doing horseback riding trips since 1999, and we used to do 6 day rides, when we didn’t see anyone, and now with the Historical and Fishermen’s Trail, we see more and more people. Going on a riding trip with a horse offers a different view from what you see on foot; we are higher up so we have a wider perspective and we can also speed up compared to walking, when we can see better the small details, so it is good to try both, to see and to feel the difference. We can’t be selfish, and keep all this only for ourselves: through tourism I want to share with my guests why we like it so much here. I was born with these things in nature around me, like orange and cork trees, lavender, rosemary, all these things which are so normal for me, amaze and fascinate my guests.

I always liked horses, since I was a child. But when you are a child, you believe everything is perfect. They are my passion, my tools of work, I depend on them because I work with them, and they are also the beings that give me a type of special happiness. There is a famous saying: to have horses is a happy way to get poor. If you have a business with horses, you know you will never get rich. But as you work with them, you have to be prepared: they have to be well taken care, in good shape, they have to be perfect, because the guests are very demanding. And in this case you always worry, sometimes I say to my friends that I don’t have one child, I have 31, because I have 30 horses. They all have a different personality, horses are a little bit like people: some of them are very distracted, others are very lazy, or very afraid or brave. If a horse is balanced and sensible, and he feels there is something wrong with you, he will not try to get in contact with you, but if you have a weakness or you are handicapped, these sensible horses will approach you. It depends on the way you move and it is your energy inside that they can feel. But these are only some horses, not all, some just don’t care, and think only about eating. Here we train the horses to be well behaved and kind to everybody, we don’t eliminate their emotions, but we train them not to react on that type of thing, because we have very different guests. But everybody should respect them.

When I don’t ride I do the horse riding holidays. I enjoy travelling to other countries to do what I do here, to see how they do it. I am very curious about different types of horses, which exist only in a specific place or a country. India is a very special place, it is like another planet, it is so extreme that you either hate it or love it, there is no in between.  

I worked with Casas Brancas since the beginning, when the idea of creating Rota Vicentina came up: a dream, which became first a project and then real. Rota is us. When I was a kid, my grandparents had a windmill in Cabeça da cabra, which is on the Historical Way, and as children we went walking to the beach to catch shrimps, so we were using a part of Rota. And this is the magic, that we can invite people to walk here. It is a dream, a challenge, I feel very proud to be part of Rota Vicentina.

There is a powerful force in nature, that some people call God, others Buddha, but I believe there is something very strong behind us and we are just a little piece in an enormous game. What I would like, since we are so small in such a big universe, is that we would take care more of each other and nature. I want people not to drill in Aljezur, I want people not to throw garbage everywhere in nature, why don’t we care more?

Cláudia Castanheira

The photos were taken in Herdade do Pessegueiro.

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