Sundance Ranch is located in an unspoiled and scenic area, around 5 km from the town of Odemira in the Alentejo region in the Southwest of Portugal. The place is run by Sandra Dias da Cunha, originally from Germany, who has lived in Portugal for more than 25 years. She has over 40 years of diverse experience with horses, from traditional dressage to Natural Horsemanship, and has owned and managed a riding school in Lisbon for 15 years.
I visited Sundance Ranch in May 2018, and you can read about my experiences here.
Sandra’s passion for western riding and Natural Horsemanship/Freedom Based Training, led her to sell her traditional riding school, and open Sundance Ranch where she could keep and train horses in line with her values. Her philosophy is based on the 3 F’s; Freedom, Forage and Friends, which means that the horses should live as natural as possible outside on the pasture in a herd with other horses all the time. When it comes to the riding and training of the horses, she uses principles from Natural Horsemanship with a special emphasis on Freedom Based Training, inspired by Elsa Sinclair. When the horse is free to decide whether it wants to be with us or not – that’s when you really have to work on the communication skills on the horses’ terms.
The course structure is usually one week, with arrival/departure on Sundays, but she can tailor-make other arrangements on request if you want a shorter or longer stay. Sometimes there are also clinics with external trainers, such as Elsa Sinclair and Alfonso Aguilar. During the week-long stay, you will experience a varied program with theory, Freedom Based Training, ground work, riding lessons (western) and trail rides. There are two training sessions per day, each of them lasting 3-4hours, during the weekdays, while Saturday and Sunday is off.
Guests live in the Ranch House along with Sandra during the course. The house has 3 bedrooms, 2 bathrooms, kitchen and living/dining room. Breakfast, lunch, dinner and beverages are included, and everyone participates in the preparation of the meals, except for lunch which is prepared by the staff. This is an arrangement that gives the place a homely and relaxed atmosphere, and due to the limited number of rooms, there will never be more than 5-6 guests at a time.
The horses live outside all year and have access to large areas where they live in line with Sandra’s principles. The river that runs through the pasture give access to water, and the trees give shade and shelter. All horses are barefoot, and they use boots during trail rides to protect the hoofs against the rough terrain. Sidepulls and western saddles are used for all the horses, meaning that they are all ridden bitless. Most of the horses are mixed breeds, and several of them are so-called “problem horses” that have been re-trained and given a new chance. There are also several youngsters and some horses on livery. The training facilities consist of a riding arena, a round pen and beautiful scenery for trail rides.
Sundance Ranch is suitable for everyone with an interest in horses, in all experience levels. There is a special emphasis on the basic communication with the horses, both outside with the herd and in the arena. You will work a lot with your own body language together with the horse, and also with the interpretation of the horses’ small signals. Sensitivity, trust, harmony and partnership are keywords.