Manuel Fernández Saro, or Fanfa as he is known by his friends, is one of the most renowned riders in Spain. He helped the Spanish Team earn its qualification for the European Championships at Aachen 2015, which turned out to be a crucial factor for Spain’s qualifying a team for the 2016 Rio Olympics. Last year, the 41-year-old rider took part in those Games, marking his first—but likely not his last—Olympic appearance.
Fernández Saro began his riding career at the Club Pineda in Sevilla, Spain, taking after his father, who shares his lifelong love for owning and riding horses. Although he began his professional career in his home country, Fernández Saro soon relocated to Germany, before settling in Arnhem, The Netherlands, where he trains and lives today.
The Spaniard believes that there are good riders in Spain but they are missing access to good depth in horses. In his country, most of the people see show jumping as an elitist sport, and horse enthusiasts tend to be more involved in horse fairs than in competition. After a lifetime of working his way up to the top level of the sport, he advocates against the elitist image, and speaks instead of the hard work in building a relationship with each horse, in taking care of them day and night.
After a year of strong results, Fernández Saro ended 2016 on a high note. Most recently, he escalated 56 positions in the Longines FEI World Rankings, from No. 238 to 182, thanks to results such as a 4th place in the CSI5* Grand Prix of A Coruña with Cannavaro 9, and being placed in two classes at London Olympia CSI5* with his Rio Olympics mount, U Watch.
Horses tend to come and go in Fanfa’s stables. He most often receives horses with problems that need fixing, or sale horses; but currently, he has two great horses on his team.
“I saved U Watch for Rio, I took him to some shows but I never tried to win, after the Olympics he jumped in the Nations Cup in Barcelona and I gave him a good break,” explained the Spanish rider about the horse he thinks it will be a great partner for the future.
Watchi, as they call him in the stable, came from Fermin López Carrera, with whom he collected some good results up to the three star level. From this year on the horse is owned by Nafedann Explotaciones and has developed in excellent progression since he paired with Fanfa.
“He jumped very well in Madrid but he had a couple of poles in the World Cup, and in A Coruña he jumped so good again and then great in Olympia,” Fernández Saro adds. “What he has done in this year is amazing, and now I think it’s when he is going to start to get results because he’s a great horse.”
Cannavaro 9, is a 13-year-old Westfalian gelding (Cornet Obolensky X Florestan I) that Fernández Saro recently got from Jose Maria Larocca of Argentina. Fernández Saro’s first competition and first grand prix with Cannavaro 9 was the Grand Prix of A Coruña in which they placed 4th.
This is a more experienced horse; since with Larocca, he took part in the 2015 Pan-Am Games, and the 2016 Olympic Games with Argentina’s Matias Albarracín.
Fernández Saro doesn’t like to set too many long goals because he doesn’t have a dedicated sponsor who buys horses for him to compete. For that reason, he doesn’t spend time thinking about his world ranking, and holds the mindset of a consummate professional who knows that all the horses in his barn are available for the next buyer.
That said, the short term goals have had a way of working themselves out into fulfilling lifelong dreams, and Fernández Saro is ready for what’s to come in the new year.
“Because I don’t have a sponsor who buys horses for me to compete, I’m handling myself with what I’ve got,” he says. “This month, I’ll compete at Drachten and Amsterdam and then the Sunshine Tour. In spring, my main focus will be the Nation Cups as long as I have my horses and they count on me for the team.”