Should they book an extra seat in coach premium to give the horse extra legroom? Just imagine having a horse as your seatmate. Or do they squeeze him into a carrier and put him into the hold with the luggage?

Paula and Michael Jones, ages 61 and 72 visited Portugal just one time before they decided to take the plunge into expat life. It was during that scouting trip that Paula, a lifelong horse lover, stumbled upon a riding center in Tavira and knew they had landed in the perfect spot.

Michael, originally from Texas recalls a childhood photo with him sitting on a cow, and perhaps his dad, a rodeo rider was hoping that his son would follow in his hoof-steps. Animals were a big part of Texas life so later when he fell in love with a horse enthusiast, he knew he had found a stable match.

Paula, originally from England, immigrated to the US as a young adult and turned her passion for horses into a career, training people how to ride.

“I started riding when I was just eight years old and wanted to take lessons but it was a big expense that my parents could not afford. I worked odd jobs doing whatever I could to save enough money for my next lesson,” Paula said. “I just love everything about horses!”

Michael’s first love was music but instead opted for a career in information technology to stay closer to home and start a family. Later in life when he met Paula the two created Grace Riding Stables in Georgetown, Texas. “We did more than just teaching people how to ride, we taught them how to act around horses to be safe, to tack and groom,” explained Paula. “We also offered boarding for other people’s horses,” Michael added.

Retiring to Portugal

When the Jones’ were ready to retire to Portugal, they closed Grace Stables and sold all except for one of the horses, their favorite, a 15-year-old Lipperzan gelding named Topaz. Next, the search was on to find the ideal horse transport company that could safely move their precious cargo across the ocean.

“The plane had the capacity to hold six horses, each in its own stall, with in-flight meals of hay and water provided. The horses were continually monitored to determine if they were experiencing stress, and if necessary were sedated to lessen their fears,” Paula said.

Onboard cameras provided videos, an assurance to Michael and Paula that Topaz was safe and doing well throughout the journey. Prior to departure, Topaz had to be microchipped and even had to obtain a passport.

“He saw more of Europe than we have,” Michael admitted. Topaz and his cabin mates stopped at various locations around Europe over the seven-day trek before landing him safely in Portugal.

“I was so happy to be reunited with him,” Paula said with a smile. “And I could tell that he was excited to see me again too.”

So, how much does it cost to ship one's beloved horse from Texas to Portugal? “Some companies wanted as much as $25,000,” Paula said. “The company we chose charged us $17,000 which was a lot of money but he was well cared for the entire time.”

Paula and Michael found an apartment to rent in Pegada, an area on the outskirts of Tavira in Portugal’s Algarve region. “We were driving down the N125 highway one day when I spotted the ocean on one side and the mountains on the other. It was so beautiful and I knew this is where I wanted to live,” Paula said with a smile.

While Tavira is a walkable city the couple did purchase a car so that Paula could get to the riding center to spend time with Topaz. This adds about €750 to their monthly budget, a small price to pay to board, feed, train and care for their adored companion.

Ship anything!

“Besides our horse, we did ship some of our belongings like my guitars,” said Michael. “You can really ship anything to Portugal that you can’t live without.”

Both former personal trainers and competitive bodybuilders, the duo is committed to regular workouts with a personal trainer at a nearby gym. When they are not working out or riding Topaz, Paula loves to play netball, a woman’s sport similar to basketball that originated in the UK. Michael still enjoys picking up one of his guitars to play some tunes to while away the hours.

The phrase A Vida Plena in Portuguese translates to, a full life and that’s exactly what the Jones’ have found in their new lives in Portugal. A Christian reading room by the same name is where they go to fellowship with special friends centered around prayer, bible study and positive vibes.

What do they love about living in Portugal? “We love the quality of life, the slower pace and the amazing friends we’ve made,” Paula explained.


Terry Coles has been writing about living and travelling abroad since she left the US in 2011. She and her husband have lived in Panama and now reside in Portugal. 

Terry Coles