Getting a brave heart: be inspired by King Duarte of Portugal and his wisdom on fear


This time I write my message in English, so as to be sure my Portugese horse trainer Fabio Nunes can read it as well.

” Now it is your turn again to mount him again, just do as I told you, you can do it” was his message yesterday after I had dismounted and given my horse to him to take over.

“You are now learning the difference of treating a horse as a pet, and a horse as a horse.” I must admit that for a long time I did try to treat him as a pet. But he does not accept this from me. It is leadership and a brave heart he wants. Exactly my soft spot.

My horse has been trained by Fabio for some time now and is skillful in all dressage ways. But me, well I still have to learn a lot.  My brain is as quick as anything, my body has more of a turtle.. And such it happend that my horse gave me some wild jumps yesterday while I “just” tried to make him canter. Fabio took over and it became quickly clear that it was just me.. not pushing the right buttons, and Jugueton trying to impress me. I must admit I was impressed, and did have to swallow before getting up again: Jugueton did try me again, but, with Fabio’s encouraging presence next to me I did it,  conquered my fear. Cantering again in harmony with my strong willed horse gave me such a royal proud victorious feeling, it suddenly made me think of the Portugese king Dom Duarte, I first read about when I was in Portugal, in a strainful period being overwhelmed by fear and uncertainty.

This king of Duarte, 1391–1438, king of Portugal (1433–38), was a “philosopher-king,” notable for his legal reforms. But, he also wrote a book on horsemanship and fear : Livro Da Ensinança De Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela (“Book of Teachings on Riding Well on Every Saddle”).

Who has ever  found another king writing on fear and how to deal with it!

On internet I found this inspiring site, capturing his wisdom and that of others, of which I will share some quotes.

“In the nature of the horse there is a duplicity that, for better or worse, has a deep impact on the relationship of this animal with man. In the second half of the sixteenth century, Claudio Corte had already described exactly this ambivalence. The horse – Corte wrote in his book Il cavallarizzo (The Horseman) – incorporates both “the nature of a domestic and gentle animal and that of a wild beast” (CORTE, 1562, p. 11v). There is indeed something primordial and savage in the powerful instincts that dominate the emotional reactions of the horse and that clash with his docile and gregarious nature. His seemingly incomprehensible fears are bewildering, in contrast to deeds of unprecedented courage…

The relationship between man and horse is modeled by this complexity. The conflict between fascination and fear lurks in the unconscious of every rider: it feeds his passion, points him toward new goals to reach, but it also multiplies his inhibitions and it is the cause of the most common technical and management mistakes. “Fear – writes Michel Henriquet, after a life dedicated to the practice and the teaching the equestrian art – is the most common problem of those who practice horse riding”

Given these considerations it is therefore not surprising that a large part of the Livro da Ensinança de Bem Cavalgar Toda Sela (The Book of Riding with Every Kind of Saddle) – one of the first equestrian treatises, written in the mid-fifteenth century by King Edward I of Portugal, known as Dom Duarte – is dedicated just to the management of the fear that the horse inspires in his rider. A special feature that makes this book – in the beautiful definition given by the Portuguese scholar Carlos Henriques Pereira – “the first page in history of psychology applied to equestrian sports and probably of sport’s pedagogy in general”

In riding, like in all the things we want to do, if fear makes us unable to do it well we should, first of all, learn how to do it better; and if we know how to do it well, we will have the aforementioned presumption which in itself normally causes most or all the fear to vanish (DOM DUARTE, 2005, p. 45)…

It is possible to show off our safety when we are doing specific things, faking it through the use of specific attitudes that normally reflect safety. That ability is not only useful to deceive others; if we do it frequently, these activities might become a habit and eventually convince our heart; we could end up really feeling safe. (DOM DUARTE, 2005, p. 59).

This is one of the most curious and interesting aspects of the inner discipline that the rider must impose to himself to overcome his fears. Dissimulation thus becomes a tool for self-persuasion. And in this regard, Duarte lists some “tricks” that the shrewd rider can use to hide his embarrassment when he is in danger. For example, when riding an unruly horse, he must show a quiet and pleasant attitude (but always, not exaggerating, in order to avoid affectation) and if the horse rears, bucks or kicks, he must tidy his dress and mantle, with a slow and calm movement, as would a horseman that is not at all worried about what is happening. Similarly, if he needs to correct the horse with the bit or with a more energetic use of his legs and spurs, he must do it by continuing to talk about this and that with other people, as if nothing disturbs the conversation.”

I feel so grateful I am following this path being coached to stretch my comfort zone by a fellow countryman of this wise king, some blood of him must run through his veins!

IMG_3641 Fabio training Jugueton

image007 Fabio and his mare Alma

Fijn als je dit deelt!
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