All
the way
to Rio

27 July 2016

Riding in Rio with Luiza Almeida

For those of you who may think that equestrianism is for middle-aged men in tweeds, let us introduce you to Luiza.  A 24 year old Brazillian woman with looks and talent in spades.  

Part of a frankly obscenely good-looking family from Brazil, Luiza along with her sister and 2 brothers are taking the Dressage world by storm and have their eyes set on Rio.

 

Hi Luiza, How did it feel riding into the arena in 2008 as the youngest competitor?

It was very special for me, but both intimidating and exciting! We were very proud of Brazil managing to qualify an entire team for the first time ever, so just being part of that was a huge victory in itself.

Of course, when I arrived there it got intimidating. There were so many of my idols and so many amazing horses. I felt so young, but I remember feeling lucky to be able to gain that experience. I tried to watch every rider there.

That first Olympic games is very close to my heart. It was very special for me, my family, and for dressage in Brazil.

Who has had the biggest influence on your riding?

Definitely my parents. My mum was a jumper but now does dressage, and my dad breeds Lusitanos which is the breed I always ride. My whole family really. As you know, my younger brothers are trying to go to the Olympics too, so the whole family influences me. Mostly my parents though.

How did your older sister Thaisa take it when you managed to qualify for the Olympics and she didn’t in 2008?

It was a sad time for her, and for everyone in the family really. It can be hard to be happy for everyone, and she tried her best. But we know that that is how it goes. In this sport, sometimes you win and sometimes you lose. We always support each other, and she was cheering for me when I rode at the Olympics. We always share our victories, even though it’s not always inside the arena. 

     
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Your family breeds Lusitanos...

...and you always ride them in competition – what is it about them that you think makes them good dressage horses? What advantages do you think they have over the typical Warmbloods normally seen at that level?

They have great minds and huge hearts. They’re humble workers, and that’s so important in a sport like dressage. Lusitanos really want to please, and they give their best, and you can feel that when you ride. I always had “less talented” horses in the past, but their hearts made them overcome any shortcomings. It doesn’t even matter about the breed, but a good horse has those three characteristics. Great minds, big hearts, and a humble way of working. 

What would it mean to you if you managed to field a Brazilian dressage team, in Rio, made up purely of you, your younger brothers and your older sister?

It would mean the world to me, of course. We’re always together. Horses and dressage are what unites my family, and this is what we’ve been working on since forever. It would be the dream of all dreams. We stick together to the end, and nothing would make me happier. I have to say though that it has to be the best team, so if it was the four of us and we were the best team to field, that would be incredible. Brazil needs to have the best riders there though, our country deserves that. In one month, we will know!

Has there been any sibling rivalry/competitiveness/jealousy over the years between you and your siblings? If so, how do you deal with it to remain supportive of each other?

Everyone asks this, but no, actually. We are always supporting each other. If we can and we can all achieve our best, there is a place for all of us in the team, so there’s no need for rivalry. Really, I don’t remember any life with horses without them and we grew up with this, so dealing with it is just natural. We really support each other, and any arguments are not negative, it’s normally us just brainstorming about how to improve little things. Just normal riding stuff! But no, there’s just support, and I’m very lucky to say that. 

Riding in Rio will be something I will remember for the rest of my life

What will be the best thing about competing for your country on home soil?

I believe that the Olympics in Brazil will be an unforgettable games. The Brazilian people really love to host. They really want something to cheer for, considering the crisis we have now, and the whole country is really looking forward to this. The Brazilian crowd is hard to explain, they really cheer and they’re really emotional, but it is something indescribable to experience. Going into the Pan American games opening ceremony was similar, the Brazilian crowd really get to you. It was impossible not to cry. If you have the chance, go to the opening ceremony. You will never forget it. Riding in Rio will be something I will remember for the rest of my life. 

In your opinion, what’s the biggest sacrifice that riders make to pursue their dreams?

I think that it isn’t only riders who sacrifice, but all athletes or anyone who has a goal. If you really want something you have to work hard, miss holidays, give up weekends, work 24/7. You really need to want it, and you really need to love it. If you love it, every sacrifice makes sense and is worth it, even if you don’t achieve your goal. 

In the end, it’s time. Time is what you sacrifice. All your sweat, blood, tears and all your time go into your goal. It doesn’t matter if that goal is an Olympic games or a local show. 

Most riders have their one true love, “special” horse. Who is yours, and why?

Definitely Samba. He was my first dressage horse when I was 13, and went with him from Junior all the way to the Grand Prix, at the Olympic games in Hong Kong and the WEG at Kentucky in 2010.  He had the biggest heart ever, and was not bred at all for dressage. He sacrificed himself and everything for me. I was the youngest rider in 2008 and he was the youngest horse. He was only 8. He was my partner for life. Unfortunately last year he passed away, but he is forever my star in my heart. He did everything for me. Nobody will ever fill his shoes. 

Tell us something that we don’t know about you?

Oooh. I don’t know. My favourite TV show is game of thrones, and my favourite movie….Pride and Prejudice!

Text by Sophie Baker

Photography by Liz Gregg

I believe that the Olympics in Brazil will be an unforgettable games!