Pan Am Diary - by Pedro Gutierrez
When it was decided that the Pan American
Games 2003 were going to be organized by the Dominican Republic,
they immediately declined to organize an eventing competition, just
show jumping and dressage competitions, because of the expense of
building a cross country course in a poor country without any
eventing going on. Then, about two years ago the Fair Hill
International organization opened the possibility of organizing a
Pan American Eventing Championship at the three-star level, as the
North Georgia horse trials organizing committee did in 1991 when the
by then Pan American Games organizer, Cuba declined also to organize
the eventing competition, although that year the Pan American
Eventing Championship was held at two stars level.
I brought to Windchase Farm my nice New
Zealand thoroughbred mare Secret Notion in the summer of 2001. She
had been with me in Mexico since November 2000, having done a
handful of Preliminary horse trials down there and finishing 12th at
Camino Real CCI** in Buffalo, Texas. As soon as she got to Virginia
she got a fourth place at Menfelt Intermediate, and completed with a
clear cross-country the Plantation Field Advanced, heading to Radnor
CCI** where some lack of experience caught us, causing some glance
offs on narrow fences in cross-country. Then things started to work
out in a much better way in 2002; we finished 3rd at Middletown in
the Preliminary, and completed the Stuart CIC** and Millbrook
advanced. We had a second go at the Radnor CCI**, and we went round
with a very nice clear cross-country. At that point in time, Phyllis
and I started talking about the possibility of trying to get ready
for the Pan American Championship.
Secret (known as 'The Princess' down south)
headed down to Debbie Adams' place in Ocala, Florida, where with her
coaching and Stephen Bradley's and Bruce Davidson's support, we were
able to compete at Rocking Horse, Pine Top and Southern Pines in the
Advanced, completing all the FEI required qualifying competitions
for a CCI***. We started at the Foxhall CCI*** with a nice dressage
test and were going across country clear under the time until Secret
hung a front leg at the out fence of the Sunken Road fence, throwing
me out of the saddle head first; so after loosing consciousness we
had to retire!
Back at Windchase, Phyllis and I set up a
competition schedule that would prepare us for the Fair Hill CCI***.
We did the Open Intermediate horse trials at Fair Hill, MD, and the
Five Points USET Pan Am Mandatory Outing division at Southern Pines,
NC. I had planned to do the Advanced at Menfelt as well, but I was
only able to do the dressage there, as I had an accident on the
Tuesday before, where I had cut my tongue in half, so it had forty
stitches and I was under heavy antibiotics and painkillers. Your
will can't always overcome the physical problems!
I think at this point of time, you must
learn that during all the time I have just related to you, I have
been actually living in Mexico City and flown to the competitions,
sometimes with not even one extra day to ride Secret. But being a
self-employed entrepreneur and amateur rider with an incredible
young family, it is necessary to sacrifice training perfection with
a will to make things happen. Although it is sometimes frustrating
not being able to be competitive against the regular advanced
riders, it makes you feel very good just warming up with guys that
ride several horses per division and make a living out of the sport.
Anyway, we were ready to represent my country, Mexico, in the Pan
American Eventing Championship as an individual, as no other
Mexicans were able to qualify.
Trying not to over stretch my luck and will
this time, I flew into Dulles airport on Wednesday the week before
Fair Hill to train with Phyllis as much as I could. In early August
I brought from home two nice preliminary prospects, Ebro and Gracie,
to try to have as much competition experience as possible, and to
give the horses some good mileage. On Friday I went to Waredaca to
compete with Secret in the nice and relaxed advanced combined test,
that allowed us to iron out some problems under Phyllis' watchful
eye. Then on Sunday I took Gracie and Ebro to compete in the open
preliminary, where after two good performances I got fifth and sixth
places, the best being the fact that the fast cross country rounds
put me in the right frame of mind for the following week. On Monday
Secret did her last gallop, ending with two nice pulls at almost
steeplechase speed up Windchase's new up-hill galloping track. So,
ready to go!
Tuesday October 20th.
First thing in the morning we trotted out
Secret on the driveway, she being completely sound, as she has
always been after racing as a three and four year old in New Zealand
and competing in five three-day events. With that peace of mind, I
took her out for a very nice hack around the Windchase lanes, that
was a pleasure enjoying riding my mare and watching the fabulous
Northern Virginia Fall views. We then finished packing all the stuff
necessary for a three-day event. I was very lucky that my good
friend Melissa Hunsberger asked to go with Secret as her groom;
having a professional top eventing stable assistant trainer that
just completed with two horses in the Morven Park CCI* is an
invaluable help that takes off a lot of pressure!
We had said that we were going to leave at
11:00 a.m. to avoid Baltimore's beltway traffic, but as always with
me, we ended up leaving Windchase at 1:30 p.m.! It took us just two
hours to arrive to Fair Hill, and the sensation of just seeing the
steeplechase track on the left side of the road started to pump up
my adrenaline. After getting to the temporary stable area on
Gallagher Road, we unloaded Secret and handed her FEI passport to
the vets. They did the compulsory examination very quickly without
any major fuss that you do not need at that point of time. They gave
us a very nice stable in the lower corner of the smaller tent, with
a large area under roof in front of it. As it was beside the
security fence, I was able to pull the trailer just beside it and
unload very quickly in to the tack stable. Immediately I looked for
my Mexican flags and hung them so everybody could see that the
Mexican Team had arrived!
When Secret was settled down and the
trailer parked away in a nearby field, I started looking for
friends, that was not very difficult, as soon I started hearing the
familiar loud Argentinean accented Spanish from my very good friends
the Ortellis, in one of their typical family discussions! As their
horses were stabled just behind ours, we had a lot of fun during the
whole competition. On our side were stabled the kiwi Donna Smith,
and Cathy Wieschhoff, then the Ortelli's behind us, in front of them
were my good friend Carl Bouckaert's horses, and the Brazilian Team
were in the third an last alley of our tent. A truly International
Then as I was still the only Mexican
representative around, I went to the Chef's de Equip daily meeting
to do the countries 'order of go' draw for the First Horse
Inspection, getting the second spot after the two Argentinean
On the early evening I was invited to
attend the Americas Eventing Community open forum to discuss our
points of view about the last changes the FEI Eventing Committee has
proposed for the future of the sport. I had to give the Mexican
Equestrian Federation point of view as well as mine, the MEF being
in favor of the proposed changes, although with a need to have more
flexibility about the format that the FEI championships must use,
and the fact that a four-star level CIC or CCI 'short format' has
not been used yet in the real world and they are already planning to
hold the next Olympic Games and World Equestrian Games under it. In
my personal case, I said that we need to be open for change, because
if it is well handled it will not hurt the sport, as triathlon
evolved from the Ironman competition to a shorter format that is
used in the Olympic Games and some championships having helped to
increase the sport popularity. I feel that three-day events (CCIs)
are the ultimate eventing goal for me and my horses, so at least the
World Equestrian Games must remain under this format. The discussion
was quite heated up, with almost everybody saying that the riders
point of view has not been taken very much in account, as almost all
of them are for the CCI long format; although we must recognize that
sometimes the most important point of view must not necessarily be
that of the players, but the one from the general public who are the
reason for sponsors and media to get into any sport.
After a nice dinner at Wesley's, the
typical Fair Hill horse trials stop, Melissa and I headed to our
hotel in Elkton, to find that the manager on duty had messed up our
reservations, taking us more than half an hour to sort out
everything and get both our room keys. The start of a
travel-agency-like saga that I was going to live during the
following days, because we had reserved seven rooms for the whole
bunch of friends that were going to arrive in the following days.
Wednesday October 21st.
Next morning, we headed for the competition
around seven to feed Secret, who was relaxed and in a very good
mood. At eight we went to the Security trailer to get our security
badges with photograph, taking a little bit of time to get them, as
we were almost the first to get there the system was still having
kind of a cold start up. When we were done I went around scouting
for the best ways for going to the dressage area where the First
Horse Inspection was going to be held in the afternoon. Then I kept
fooling around and talking with lots of the good friends I have made
after more than ten years of eventing at the International level
both at home and in the USA.
At ten o'clock I went to the big Members'
tent for the riders briefing and official competition start up, it
was a quick thing and as soon as it ended I headed out to walk the
cross country course. When I got to the third fence my eyes started
to open really wide, as difficulties started to appear in sight, not
being able to even blink from that point on, as the course was the
toughest three-star I have seen in my life, beside the fact that the
first time you walk your course it always looks way bigger. My
personal nightmare was fence 12, a wide left-handed corner sitting
alone under a tree after a right handed U turn from the previous big
table obstacle, and without options. Not being Secret's and my own
greatest strength, Phyllis has kept us during the last two months
practicing the right way of jumping them with straightness and out
of good canter in front of the leg. But when you see that your main
challenge lies down there in front of the Ten Minute Box, and you
will have to jump it, like it or not, to be able to make your dream
happen, it makes your stomach start feeling like a Christmas jingle
When I got back to the stables Melissa had
already finished braiding Secret and she looked really good, a
perfect picture of a nice thoroughbred ready to tackle a three-star
Three-day Event, and well taken care of. I rode her for a quick hack
heading to the big arena and trade fair areas on the other side of
the road, but when she got out of the tunnel and saw where she was,
she went absolutely nuts as she always does when she finds out that
she is in another Three-day Event. We went back to the stable and as
Melissa cleaned off the saddle marks and put Secret in her nice
green dress sheet with a big embroidered Mexican flag, I dressed up,
and at half past one we headed to the big arena on the other side of
the road. Again, as we got there Secret started prancing around like
crazy, so Melissa had to keep her well away from the other horses,
but like a well seasoned competitor when our turn came to go in
front of the Ground Jury and Veterinary Delegate she started
behaving like a Princess, trotting nicely and jumping the first
competition hurdle with a: "Secret Notion has been
accepted", that always sounds very nice.
Pedro and Secret at the Jog-up.
I changed again into riding clothes as
Melissa tacked her up again, and in a more relaxed mood we headed
towards phases A and C to memorize them. I went along with Gustavo,
one of the Brazilian riders. Trying to understand each other
speaking in Spanish and Portuguese, that although are more or less
similar, it makes it very interesting to try and be understood, and
to understand what the other guy is trying to say. It was again one
of those moments when you give God thanks for being so lucky to be
riding a nice horse in a nice place with good company, because love
for horses, horse people and riding across country is the main
reason I am into eventing, regardless the pace of it.
I came back just in time to go to anther
Chef's de Equip meeting, this time in the nice National Steeplechase
Association meeting room. This time we had to draw the starting
order according to FEI rules, so first the teams members and their
starting orders were declared, then another draw for choosing the
individuals order of go was done, and luckily I got the second
choosing spot, so I was able to get the second to last place before
the fourth team riders group, 21st out of 25. Beside that, it was
defined that for the dressage and show jumping tests the Pan Am
division would go at the end and for the cross country test it would
go before the CCI division. These meetings were a good experience by
themselves as being able to be part of the discussions with all
countries chef's de equip and coaches, as well as the Event
director, technical delegate and ground jury at a championship level
competition is a great learning experience.
That night Trish Gilbert, the event
President invited for dinner to her house all of the above mentioned
people, as well as some of the top volunteers. Being still the only
Mexican that had arrived, she graciously invited me too, although I
was the only rider invited. As always Trish was a wonderful host,
offering an excellent dinner, and I was able to talk with some of
the world eventing key political players, exchanging points of view
in this highly polemical times for our sport.
Thursday October 22nd
A cold front arrived overnight and the
temperature dropped a lot, so we had a big frost and when we arrived
to the stables at seven o'clock in the morning it was very cold. At
eight thirty the test ride rider entered the dressage ring and at
nine the first CCI division was called to the ring.
As Secret had been so nervous in the big
arena and trade fair area whenever she had been in there, I decided
that she should her dressage lesson in the dressage last warming up
zone whenever it would be free to do so. Lunch break was going to be
from noon to one thirty, that looked as a perfect time. I called
Phyllis to let her know my plan and asking her to be at Fair Hill by
then. I went to walk and wheel the steeplechase course, it was a
real joy to walk the best steeplechase footing I have ever seen,
after riding in more than 15 three-day events.
Well before noon we had Phyllis bossing
around with a great driving-groom badge hanging from her neck. A
soon as the last rider before the lunch break finished his test, I
was ready to go into the warm up area, we had an excellent lesson
that lasted for about an hour, doing all the FEI test exercises
individually and in partial sequences.
As soon as Secret cooled down and was
settled in her stall, Phyllis, Melissa and I headed to the
cross-country start zone. We walked the course, looking for and
walking every possible option in all obstacles, being a great asset
Phyllis' previous experience riding the Fair Hill CCI course lots of
times, although the obstacles were quite changed from some past
years. It took us almost two and a half hours walking the course
The Police Color Guard at the Opening
A dinner was held for Fair Hill patrons
and riders, so we were able to eat excellent food, as in every time
I went to any organized event during the weekend. There was an art
exhibition in the tent, exposing some works that were going to be
auctioned on Sunday, among them Melissa and I found very nice oil
painting of a bay horse with a light and dark blue dressed rider
landing in a cross country drop, it was Phyllis riding Enniskerry
Imp! We showed that night the painting to Phyllis and she fell in
love with it.
That night when I called my wife Angelita
as every day I am in the road do, she told me that my excellent
thoroughbred broodmare Cantabria had finally foundered after two
months with laminitis due to retaining the placenta after giving
birth to her seventh foal, an awesome High Scope gray colt. I told
her to put her to sleep if she got worse, an awful decision for any
horseman, but one we have to accept and be ready to cope with.
Friday October 23rd.
With two cars available, Melissa took
Phyllis' car early to go to feed Secret. Around eight o'clock
Phyllis, my good friend and kiwi horses supplier Joanne Bridgeman
and I went to have breakfast in the fancy Elkton McDonald's drive
in. The morning was very cold after a big frost, luckily as the day
passed it warmed up little by little.
After checking Secret, I went to fool
around the huge trade fair with Phyllis, finding lots of goodies to
purchase, that I wanted to get before crowds came by specially on
Saturday. I found the artist who painted the nice oil of Phyllis and
Imp, and as I had already decided to buy it as a present for Phyllis
for all her incredible support and help to get here, I cut a good
price reduction and cut a deal for purchasing it.
Suddenly I heard some Mexican-accent Spanish being spoken around,
when I turned around my nephew Agustin and my very good friend
Agustin Escalante with his American brother-in-law George had
already arrived. My nephew had traveled from Mexico City to
Baltimore, arriving after midnight, so he stayed in an airport hotel
and was picked up by my friend Agustin, who was in his
brother-in-law's home in southern Maryland. Although I have a lot of
very close friends in the USA, I was truly missing having around
some family and Mexican friends. It is a shame that my wife Angelita
could not come, but she stayed taking care of our six-month-old baby
Santiago and our three-year-old boy little Pedro, who wanted to come
with me visit "Secretz his horsey", but it is really
difficult to cope with two youngsters in a horse trails competition,
specially with the tension and nerves of a championship
International Three-day event.
An hour before my ride time, we were
already going to the warm-up area, trying to replicate Thursday's
very successful lesson. The whole warm-up went very well, when we
were called to the ring we both felt confident and going well,
although when I saw the Mexican flag when I entered the ring my
heart jumped. Riding with your home country on the saddle pad adds
another dimension to competing in International Events!
The Dressage Test.
The whole trot work part of the test
went very well, but suddenly when we were almost finishing the first
counter canter 20 meters circle, Secret switched leads, I was not
able to correct her on time for the following flying lead change and
we made a big mess. She got really nervous, as well as me, and we
just tried to go through the exercises and get out from the ring.
The result was obvious, my worst dressage mark in my past 15 CCIs, a
-78! I was disappointed, but it was good hearing my friend Bruce
Davidson by the ring exit sidelines cheering me up.
I was still truly mad, and decided on going
to walk the cross country course alone, with the awful dressage
marks, my mentality changed a little bit and I opted for taking some
long options. I had been considering taking the fastest routes, but
now my objective was completing the event at any cost with Secret in
I did not attend the rider's compulsory
meeting, as it was scheduled at five o'clock, exactly when all
riders like to do their last cross country walk. That is normally
when you decide the final routes at the fences, and have to be
really concentrated; besides that, the sunset was around six
We packed a trunk with all the ten-minute box equipment and spare
gear, so we did not have to worry about it in the morning.
I got together with my nephew and friends,
so we went to have a nice dinner at Buck's, another classic dinner
place at every Fair Hill horse trials. We had to wait a little bit
for getting table, but it was good fun although George kept crossing
his eyes hearing the conversation among a bunch of crazy horse
people, being himself a normal non-horsey person, although he kept
asking questions and learning about our world.
Saturday October 25th.
The night was the typical pre cross-country
night, waking up a thousand times thinking about how to ride
obstacle number 12 the left-handed corner. When I was starting to
shave at six o'clock, somebody knocked my door, I opened and found
my best friend Alfonso freezing. He arrived to the hotel at two
o'clock in the morning flying from Mexico City and started pumping
me up, something I have done for him before some of his cross
country rounds. It really feels awesome to have some of the people
you most like supporting you, especially Alfonso who was the only
Mexican rider who completed the Winnipeg Pan American Games 1999
three day event.
Leaving the hotel, I saw my USA vet Dr.
Sean Bowman's and my USA farrier Steve Mayer's trucks, giving me a
great confidence feeling of being with a very able and experienced
I arrived to the stables and Melissa had
Secret starting to be ready to go. I put her leather brushing-boots
on myself, something I always do at every horse trial with all my
horses. I changed into the Mexican Eventing Team colors: white with
green, white and red Mexican flag colored stripes on the helmet
cover, hunter green polo shirt and sweatshirt and dark blue
breeches. Both Secret and I were finally ready at the same time.
We arrived to the Phase A start area with
two horses to go before us, so we walked around trying to keep
Secret as quiet as possible as she knew very well that the big fun
was about to start. The first part of Phase A went around Fair Hill
horse trials cross country area, so it is easy to imagine her mind
frame, having competed there just two months before in the Open
Intermediate division as her first fall season competition. We
cantered the last kilometer of the phase to get ready for the
steeplechase, pumping up her and getting another extra minute before
the start of phase B, other than the compulsory minute. Steve and
Melissa checked her shoes and we headed for the starting box. She
went off at a very good pace and took a "flyer" in the
first hedge, giving me a little bit of a Grand National feeling. She
felt a little bit the upward slope in the first turn, but we were
truly enjoying flying over extremely good footing and taking in
stride every fence. Her stride is not huge, so you can not take any
hold in the reins at all in order to able to complete within the
time at 690 meters per minute. My watch marked exactly the 4:30
optimum time when we crossed the finish line, but later I learned
that I push my start button a bit later than the starter and
collected -1.6 time faults.
I kept cantering until I found my crew,
they checked the shoes again and as they were all right and the
weather was on the cold side, I walked the first kilometer, trotted
the second and so on, arriving to the ten minutes box with four
minutes in hand. I am not very much for the new slow speed in phase
C, I think horses lose a little bit the edge for cross country, and
the rider has to be working out more mathematics instead of
concentrating on how he will ride the cross-country course, but we
have to adapt and learn to cope with the changes.
After going into the "before
cross-country holding box", I finally saw my group waving to
me, I dismounted and handed the mare to them and went to our camp
that had a Mexican flag hanging behind the two folding chairs and
Pedro's 'Vet Box Camp', conveniently near the
Phyllis gave me a briefing about how
some fences were riding that she had collected from other riders and
from Alfonso who was in the middle of the course and sent my nephew
Agustin as a runner with the info. Suddenly, Karen O'Connor came to
us and asked Phyllis if I needed any input as she had finished her
round. She very nicely gave in a minute a review about how she had
ridden each fence. That is one of the great things about eventing,
although I was competing against her, she was willing to help. In
principle, I think we ride cross-country mainly against the course
design not against fellow competitors. Finally, Phyllis repeated to
me the way I should ride the turn and approach to my nemesis the
left-handed corner; "jumping the table straight, not cutting
the turn to the right, keeping my horse in front of the leg, gallop
through the turn, looking for my reference point behind the fence
keeping Secret truly straight in front of the leg." I saw
Secret trotting perfectly all right in front of the panel, so I got
on her with three minutes to go. I went beside the starting box and
cantered her a circle on each lead getting ready to go. I was not
very nervous, and my adrenaline was at 90%.
At the Start Box!
We took off in an attacking mood and
jumped nicely the first fence; a beautiful open horseshoe shaped
sloping flowers bed with a log on it. We galloped the left-handed
turn going quickly close to the ropes, the second fence was a big
galloping table that she jumped a little far away, so she had to
stretch over it hitting it with both her front and hind legs, giving
us a reminder that we were not jumping small schooling fences. The
track kept being to the left and the third fence was the first small
real question, being a big log pile in the tree line with a
substantial drop behind and immediate left turn, so I gave her a
good half halt about ten strides before and jumped it
Fence number 4 came after the sharp left
turn and another 90° turn to a pond with two huge wood ducks with
white and black painted feathers and red eyes sitting in the water
tail to tail, there were about 20 feet of water before and after the
jump. Secret entered the water very boldly after a wide turn, but as
soon as her front feet hit the water she kind of asked me: "do
we have to jump that thing?" but she jumped it very well.
Turning left we had to cross again the pond, but jumping a tall log
with a big drop behind it, landing in dry footing but having to go
immediately in the water for about three or four strides and jump a
bank out as fence 6, then in a 45 degrees angle in three or four
strides there were two offset little houses in a bounce distance as
7 and 8. Secret jumped well again and I decided to circle around
after the bank to approach the bounce with a little more power,
something that worked out very well, as the bounce had caused the
rider from Bermuda Tim Collins a nasty fall.
Pedro and Secret at the first Water Jump.
Then we had another right-handed turn
and a very long gallop to fence 5a-b, two curved related distance
oxers with narrow fronts around a maze of a driving marathon
obstacle posts below a veranda. The fast option was jumping to the
right a maximum dimensions oxer, turning left 5 or 6 strides to
another smaller oxer; the slower option was jumping straight over a
smaller oxer, then doing a left-right "S" turn through the
posts without crossing your track, as it was an a-b combination
fence, and jumping the second oxer of the faster option. I jumped
quite efficiently the slower option.
In another galloping stretch parallel to
the one we just had done lay a "smallish" ditch and brush
as fence 10, that has been in place for some years and everybody
commented that every year it caught some horses, so I did not ride
wildly to it but with the confidence that Secret is very good
jumping ditches and we have jumped together some very big ditch and
brush fences in the past.
Then we had to jump another big table and
turn to my favorite fence, the left handed corner, fences 11 and 12.
I concentrated on doing everything as discussed with Phyllis, and we
were able to do it just foot perfect, hearing a huge cheer from my
team at the 10 minutes box that was sitting just in front of those
Secret and Pedro clear the oxer and corner
combination in fine style.
We had the big open gallop to the middle
section of the course, where the biggest fences were sitting; a huge
oxer with the new frangible safety pins, and a double brush with
maximum dimensions and a ditch in front of it, that I was told
helped as a take off line, but in reality horrified me. We galloped
very fast the whole stretch; Secret did a good job jumping and gave
me a lot of confidence that she was tackling big fences with room to
Then we had to slow down to jump the
smallish log number 15 in the road crossing in front of the trade
fair zone. As you had to land in the very steep slope and then go up
again, it rode like a coffin, giving the feeling of a fun roller
coaster. After a right handed turn came fences number 16a-b, a huge
drop bank and at 90° a house with a tree sitting just in the middle
of both jumps. You could jump down the bank at an angle and do three
strides inside the tree and jump the house in angle too, or jumping
the bank straight down and doing a wider turn around the tree to
jump the house straight also. I opted for this last option, as the
drop is the biggest I have ever jumped down.
Then came what Phyllis considered the
toughest question in the whole course, a brushes bounce on a slope
into water followed by a corner coming out of the water. The
"scenic route" was jumping a brush to the left, turning
among lots of trees to another hedge into the water with a very
slippery approach, to a skinny roll-top on a turn after the water.
In this case I took this last complete option, although the straight
one jumped quite well during the day.
A long uphill gallop took you to a very
upright gate fence with number 19, where I slowed down a little bit
more than what I had for any other fence on the course. Fences
number 20a-b were two identical crescent-moon shaped ditch and walls
with arches than made the ditches looked bigger, where you could
take both in an angle three strides apart or jump the first then
roll back and jump the second. These fences were ones I was very
tempted to jump straight, but my depressing dressage result made me
less willing to take risks, so Secret jumped very well the turning
question with her usual maneuverability.
The Ditch and Wall.
We had another long uphill gallop with
some changing footing all the way to the farthest away part of the
course where a big Trakehner in a tree line was fence number 21.
Maybe because of the shadows or the fact that it suddenly appeared
in front of you, Secret did not attack it in her usual style, but we
were able to get to the other side. I started to worry about her
As we had to do a U turn into the woods and
after going round some trees in a downward slope, jumping a big
ditch and rails followed after three strides to a bank up and one
stride to a right handed corner with a round face, I started kicking
her a bit more aggressively. She jumped the whole thing very well,
although I skipped jumping the corner and instead jumped an optional
skinny roll top fence beside it in an angle.
Once we came out of the woods, in a good
galloping zone I was able to make sure that Secret was still
"full of running" as the British say, I just stopped
squeezing with my legs and letting go the contact, she kept
galloping like if nothing had happened. She jumped nicely the big
barn fence 23, that later caused David O'Connor to fall down with
his second horse and ending up in the hospital losing the chance to
keep his gold medal standing after the Pan Am cross country, hard
luck that shows that eventing is the greatest leveler in the world.
Then came a roll top with a drop landing
that did not jump very nicely and after a very confusing tracks
crossing we reached the infamous Sunken Road. After being in the
right "coffin canter" we attacked it, instead of tackling
the bounce to skinny out fence number 25d I had decided for an
option skinny fence that was at a right angle on the left side of
the straight route fence. Secret thought that after jumping up the
bank and going through a gap between some upright tree trunks
sitting there, she was ready to go to the next fence. So I had to
pull her, stop, turn around to the left and then to right, when we
got to the optional skinny she was without any further impulsion and
just ran out to the right, something she had never done before in
her life. We retook the fence successfully and headed toward a big
brush filler fence number 26.
We then were galloping down to the last
water jump, a big hanging log into the water to another hanging log
coming out of the water at an angle, and two strides to a skinny
triple brush in a slight angle to the previous fence. A tough
question that Secret jumped like a gymnastic exercise. The
accomplishment feeling was great.
But I did not want to think everything was
done, as two quite big fences were still in front of us to be
jumped. A big ascending jump over a ditch in a tree line with
shadows was the second to last jump and she did it right. A wide
wall in the woods was the last fence in the course.
After crossing the finish flags I slow her
down to a slow canter big circle and then to a nice trot. She was
feeling good and I was extremely happy. I dismounted and handed her
to Melissa who cooled her down quickly, being allowed by the vets to
go back to the stabling area very soon because of her good
recuperation. Dr. Bowman reported me that she seemed to be without a
scratch. Everybody was very happy and I hugged some people,
receiving nice congratulations words from people like Mark Phillips,
Jimmy Wofford, Peter Green and my good friend Carol Davidson. I
called home to let Angelita know that everything had gone well and I
was safe and sound, I do not know how the hell we coped with life
without cell phones!
Suddenly my great "southern"
coach Debbie Adams and her incredibly nice husband Toni Rosetti
appeared, they had just arrived to the competition, so they missed
watching "The Princess" going around the tough cross
country in great style, but I was extremely happy to see them again
after some months.
I stayed around the area watching some
riders go, then we packed all my stuff and took it to the stables,
where I changed clothes and headed over to the third and fourth
water jumps area to watch the CCI division riders, having great fun
in an absolute happiness and relief state. We saw some interesting
pieces of riding, both good and bad, but watching cross country at
this level you understand why some riders and horses are in the top
ribbons more often than others.
Once it finished we headed for the stabling
area to check Secret. After warming her up a little bit to get rid
of any stiffness caused by exertion, we trotted her on the paved
strip available close by. She was in Dr. Bowman words "As good
as she has trotted at Windchase after going out from her stable on
any given day before". So we allowed her to keep resting again
and Dr. Bowman and Steve Mayer headed back home in Virginia after
they made sure that she was perfect and nothing else could be done.
They suddenly announced that I should
attend to the riders press conference, very surprised because I was
not in one of the top positions I headed to the Press tent, they
wanted some foreign rider to give some international flavor, as
Americans had literally smashed the rest of the competitors from
other countries and I have been quite vocal in every opportunity to
speak up. The experience was another good one, added to having been
interviewed by the Practical Horseman magazine editor. Event riders
need to be prepared to face media and the world to explain why we do
this wonderful sport and why we want to keep its current integrity
as much as possible.
We opened a pair of nice Ribera del Duero
Spanish red wine that Alfonso had brought from his excellent Tierra
de Vinos restaurant in Mexico City and toasted, sitting on buckets
in front of Secret's stable. Then the Mexican team support group
headed to the Competitors Party in the big tent, where we had
another nice dinner with excellent food.
Alfonso very early went back to the hotel
to catch up with his sleep and little bit afterward, Phyllis,
Melissa, Agustin my nephew and I went to the stables to check Secret
once more. We trotted her again on the paved strip, this time with
light from Mark Phillip's car, as it was already dark and he was
checking the USET horses too. She trotted perfectly all right, so we
went to the hotel to sleep.
I stopped by the hotel front desk to ask
them to do the invoices for me, they told me "don't worry sir,
it will take just five minutes in the morning to print them".
Sunday October 26th
Melissa went to the competition at five
o'clock to feed Secret and get her ready for the Third Horse
Inspection, luckily the Pan Am Championship division horses went at
the end, although Secret was the second to go in this group. Of
course, it took more than half and hour for the hotel clerk to the
invoices correctly, but I already knew this was going to happen as
it did during the whole week with those people.
Secret Notion and Pedro.
Around 9:30 we went to the main arena
where it was being held again, this time "The Princess"
was more quiet and she looked beautiful with perfect braids and her
Mexican Equestrian Team green cooler, trotting again perfectly all
right in front of the Panel, hearing once again the nice
"Secret Notion has been accepted", that meant that we had
jumped the second to last hurdle.
As I did not want to get messed up with the
CCI division show jumping course that was different from ours, I did
not even dare to watch a horse jumping it, occupying my time in
packing my stuff so we could load it as soon as we were finished.
At noon I dressed up in white with my
Mexican Equestrian Team red coat to walk the course as soon as it
was opened. I did so once with Phyllis and another time alone, it
was a big course with some interesting regular show jumping style
turns and a very tough bending line. Afterward we had to go in a
parade riding in teams groups leaded by ponies, of course we went
alone and Secret got really nervous not being able to walk or stand
still for a single second.
Melissa and Secret, waiting for Show Jumping.
As soon as it ended I had to start
warming up because I was the third in the starting order. The
warming up area was a who's who in the equestrian world, with even
George Morris being around. There were four fences for riders from
five different countries and all coaches moving up and down the
poles, a truly nerve wrecking experience.
Secret was well in front of my leg and
jumped very well a few fences, once we went in the competition arena
she was still going forward, something that gave a lot of confidence
as she had been dying off once in the ring in previous horse trials
show jumping phase. This time she was so forward that it became our
undoing, being a bit too aggressive costing us two down because of
it. Besides that, we did not ride well the roll back from fence 3 to
fence 4 a triple bar, having to jump it left to right instead of the
better right to left approach. It was followed by six strides in a
left curved line to a square big oxers in-and-out, where I did five
strides, getting too close to the first oxer, which caused us to
drop poles in that one and the following two fences. At least we
were one of the few to finish inside the time, being a bit of a
consolation to know that just two horses were clear, and of those,
just Darren Chiacchia was inside the time. But Secret jumped
confidently and we completed the course, and our first CCI***!
Secret and Pedro in the Show Jumping.
Any way receiving my completion ribbon
felt like an accomplishment, especially with a 100% sound horse!
Immediately I went to pay and pick up
Phyllis's painting to give it to her. When I gave it to her she
became as emotional as I had ever seen her, it is a real achievement
to train a foreign guy who just comes up for competitions with a
preliminary horse and making them complete in good style a
three-stars Championship three-day event in just two years. I cannot
imagine what she could do with a willing rider with a decent horse
who can train in a regular basis.
Melissa and I loaded the trailer in an
organized way, because I had to unload Secret's gear at Windchase
and leave it ready to be sent to Florida early next year, as well as
leaving all my other two horses stuff ready to go to compete at the
Virginia Horse Trials the following weekend. All this because my
plane from Dulles to Mexico City was leaving at seven o'clock the
We arrived tired to Windchase, unloading
and reloading everything as quickly and efficiently as we could,
heading then to Phyllis' and her mother Grace's house to have a
great dinner and opening a pair of champagne bottles.
Thanks to all Windchase Team! Another dream
they helped me get accomplished.