This week I’m chatting with Portuguese dressage rider, trainer and coach, Inês Valença Câncio. Based at her family owned Valenca Equestrian Academy just outside Lisbon, where horses are trained using the systematic Valenca family method approach to training gymnastic exercises from the absolute beginning of a horse´s education right the way through to reaching highest polished movements. Inês has represented Portugal at Young Riders and Under 25’s and was national champion in 2020. Read on to learn more about Inês, her ambitions, and top tips for success
Tell us a little about you and your horses
Well, I am a 25-year-old Portuguese Dressage Rider living in Portugal that has a huge passion about horses, I don´t like to say I have a favourite breed but Lusitanos have a special place in my heart. Currently I have 6 horses co-owned between me, my mom, and my partner. I have 4 Lusitanos (3 horses and 1 mare) and 2 Luso-Warmbloods (1 horse and 1 mare), working on different levels and with different purposes.
How did horses come into your life?
I am very lucky to be born in a family where I am the 3rd generation of horse riders. It all started with my grandfather, Master Luís Valença, who shared with the world his vision of the Lusitano Horse and was able to share what this amazing breed can do with his life partner Sultão. He then shared that passion with my mom and my aunts, who inevitably shared with me. I can almost say I was raised on the back of a horse.
When and where do you ride?
I’m working in the family business in our stables in Vila Franca de Xira, right outside Lisbon, in our project Valença Equestrian Academy (www.valencaequestrianacademy.com) where we, teach and share our passion and method of working our horses from when they are babies until they became school masters, with whom wants to get to know a bit more about the Lusitano and our method.
Last year I’ve also challenged myself and started to work in a school with a vocational course specially designed to instruct students to become horse riders and teachers, in Alter do Chão. So right know I’m working between these two facilities.
How did you start riding?
As my family is so embedded in the horse world, expectedly from a very young age I was on the back of a horse. I did my first performance in the Golegã National Horse Fair just three years old along side my mom and my grandfather and from there I did a couple of performances in my family show and when I was eight or nine years old I started to do Dressage competition and decided to have the best of both worlds and work in these two fields of horse riding, classical and sportive dressage.
What you and your horses currently working on?
I have 2 Lusitanos horses (Miestral and Madragoa, gelded and mare) who are 7 years old now. Both are performing in the Prix St. George level, where Miestral already did a couple of competitions with really nice outcomes in terms of marks and judge’s opinions, my goal with him is to reach the highest level in dressage and compete among the best (dream big or go home) I think he is a horse with a great potential to accomplish this.
Madragoa hasn´t been in a competition but our main goal is to have her premiere very soon. She is a great mare with great balance in all 3 gaits and I’m super excited to see her progress from here, since last year she was in the fields with a filly, so we made a very smooth and thoughtful recovery of her body to make sure she was in great shape physically and mentally to re-start her work routine.
Then I have 5 years old Luso-Warmblood mare Ótica, daughter of Totilas, she is trained to our national Elementary Level, she is a very sensitive but sweet mare, she always has the right energy to work. She was the first Luso-Warmblood cross I worked with and was the one who made me become a fan of this cross, the mind, flexibility and kindness of a Lusitano with the power, energy and strength of a warmblood, perfect mix.
I also have another Luso-warmblood, Pajão, but this amazing 4 years old boy is ¾ Lusitano ¼ Warmblood, also from Totilas, and let me tell you he is the kindest soul I’ve met in a while. He is the sweetest horse in the stables. From the moment he arrived until now he has never stopped amazing us with his work ethic, such a smart, kind, and balanced boy. Hopefully next year as he is already showing his qualities in an arena, I’m sure he will be as amazing as he has been so far.
Picador is my other 4 years old Lusitano, he is what I like to call “The Cup of Tea”, he is the type of horse where you can just enjoy the ride and have fun with him. He is very typical for the Lusitano breed standards, and he really shows what the Lusitanos are so known for. He is balanced, flexible, a fast learner maybe he will be my partner to enter in the Working Equitation field. I can already imagine hims having fun in those courses and challenges.
Last but definitely not least I have my once in a lifetime horse Xeque-Mate, also a Lusitano now 20 years old, he is my retired dressage partner. With him I was able to achieve so many important marks in my career like National Champion titles in Juniors, Young Riders and U-25 levels. I was able to represent my country in 3 European Championships (2 in Young Riders,2014, 2015, and 1 in U-25, 2016) and did my first ever Grand Prix Test and owned together the title of vice champions of our very first National Cup in 2019 an in 2020 we became champions of the National Cup. He was that one horse who showed me the importance of a what a great connection, respect and communication with your horse can do. He is enjoying his well-deserved retirement in the fields.
What do you love about riding?
I love the fact the each ride is never the same as the previous one and we need to be very aware of the horse’s need every time we ride because they can changed from day to day, for example sometimes a horse needs more help in the right canter, the next day he maybe need a bit more for the left, because he understood better the right side on the day, or a horse has more struggles to understand the half pass left but over the time the half pass becomes easier than the half pass right. I see it as a way to improve our knowledge about different approaches to train our horses, what suits one horse may not suit another one, promotes paths and open doors to enjoy any ride with any horse because we are the ones who adapt, who tries to communicate, who tries to understand what they need and not the other way around.
What you would you like to be doing in the future and do you have any goals?
I wish to continue to pursue my passion about horses and keep/achieve my goals about my competitions. Also, I would like to keep training more horses and spread my thoughts and opinions about them.
Have you ever had to deal with nerves in riding?
YES! Specially in important competitions, or when I’m showing a horse the first time in a dressage arena. Whoever does dressage competitions wants to have nice results, show nice trained horses, so it is super normal that the nerves show a bit, and I think it’s quite “healthy”, it’s a sign that we want to show how much dedication, time and effort we put in our work as riders.
How do you deal with them?
I try to trust my “homework” as much as I can and to choose the best timing especially when its the horse’s first time showing, so I don’t rush the process and create more nerves about what can/will happen. The more I train my horses in different facilities the better because the big factor of not being at home in their normal “safe zone” gets faded away since they get more exposed to different environments and get different experiences, boosting their confidence.
Do you have any rituals before competing?
YES! I only let one/3 or more people touch my horse beside me, 3 people only is bad luck! I always put the right boot first then the left one, and same thing when tacking the horse, first the right both then the left! I admit I´m quite superstitious.
What is the best piece of advice that you have ever been given?
Always try to learn, listen, see, and understand different ways of training, absorb every detail you may find interesting about a tip, a demo, a test, you name it. As long as you use it as tool, later, to improve your knowledge and technique.
Your Top Tip
Be patient! It may be a learning process for you, but it will for sure be a learning process for your horse, and he needs time to process and understand whatever exercise you are asking and each horse requires different learning time (the same as us), consistency allied with patience is the key.
Down the Centre Line
Who would be your dream horse to ride?
I already have one! Miestral is my dream horse but don’t tell the others.
Who is your equestrian hero?
Cathrine Dufour, for sure.
If you could have 5 people to dinner, who would they be?
Cathrine Dufour, Carl Hendi, Carl Hester and the other two I would let you choose ahah
Favourite colour horse?
Favourite horse event?
Sushi or lasagne.
Favourite way to relax?
A nice day at the beach.
I don´t have one.
If you enjoyed meeting Inês you might like to view more dressage rider “chatting with” interviews here You can keep up with Inês’ progress and check out her instagram page here