On Friday, July 7, 2017, 24-year-old Juan Jose Zendejas Salgado of Mexico captured not one, but two titles when he piloted the 10-year-old Selle Francais gelding Tino La Chapelle (Mylord Carthago x Verdi) to a 1st place finish in the McNernery Family U25 Winning Round. With a crowd of well wishers cheering him on at the Spruce Meadows show grounds in Alberta, Canada, Salgado beamed as he made his rounds during the lap of honor, minutes after being crowned as both the victor of the class and the U25 series itself. In the days following his win, we caught up with the young talent to discuss his relationship with his horses, his career defining win, and where he envisions himself in the future of the sport.
Noelle Floyd: Tell us a bit about your current string of horses:
Juan Jose Zendejas Salgado: I have four horses right now. Tino La Chapelle and Hector are 10-years-old and they’re at the grand prix level. Hector couldn’t come [to Spruce] because he got injured one day before coming here. I have Just Nice, an 8-year-old mare and she is starting to jump the 1.45. I also have [Victoria], a 7 year old mare and she’s competing in the 1.30/35. I’m trying to develop her with patience and everything so that next year she can do the 1.40/45.
NF: When you won the Under 25 Grand Prix, what was your plan going in? Were you surprised with the outcome?
JZS: Well I wasn’t having the best week with my horse because we lost a couple of shoes and different circumstances were against us. My plan was to give him a confident ride in the first round and he jumped great. My trainers told me to not lose my mind, be patient, [and that I] know what to do. I just let him go and I was very lucky.
Winning the series feels amazing — I didn’t even expect it. Before the last U25 grand prix, someone came up to me and showed me the standings and I was in sixth place. After the win they told me that I not only won the class, but won the series and I was so happy. I never imagined that I was going to win the series.
NF: What is your focus in your day to day riding and training with your horses?
JZS: It depends. A couple of days we’ll do dressage, and I train for whatever the horses need most. For example, if they need to get better in the bridle or the hind end, maybe I’ll work on a couple of gymnastics. I’m working on what we need, every time.
NF: How long have you been competing at this level?
JZS: I’ve been jumping Grand Prixs since 2012. Right now I’m being very consistent jumping 1.50 and 1.60s from 2015 to today. It’s been a tough process becoming consistent. The fences are higher and difficult to ride. You need to have mileage and need to be there for the results to come. You get more experience and become more comfortable.
NF: Do you feel a struggle in moving up to the next level, whether you’re successful or not?
JZS: It all depends. For horses, when they grow up, they have to learn and have to get used to the height and the width of the oxers and everything. Right now, I don’t think my horses have any struggles. For me, sometimes I struggle with things in my head, sometimes I get a little anxious or nervous, so that’s what I have to manage. When I’m relaxed and don’t expect anything, that’s when I ride my best.
NF: How do you approach your course walk?
JZS: I try to be focused. Sometimes I walk by myself, sometimes I walk with my trainer, and then at the end, we’ll discuss my plan and what I walked and what he walks, and then we make the plan together. I go through the course a couple of times if I have any doubt in a line or something, then I’ll go walk it again. Then I try to get it clear and leave the course. Then I try to focus on my warmup, that’s my main concern. When we’re done and going into the ring, I go through my course and that’s it.
NF: Do you have any specific plans for the future?
JZS: Like everyone else, maybe the World Equestrian Games next year, Pan American Games, Olympic Games—that’s my main goal, I’m focusing on Tokyo 2020.
From now until that time, I’m going to keep doing what I’m doing. To be honest, sometimes I get a little too much horses in my life. I need to have my breaks and everything. I would love to ride four to six horses and that would be my perfect string. I’m also working with my father in Mexico with the family business. We have a newspaper, we have a couple of gyms, and I’m taking care of the gyms. It’s a nice escape. Sometimes, for example, my life is horses, friends, and work. I’m always going to do this as a hobby but I don’t think I’m going to be a professional.