One would think that Guadalajara, Mexico would be an unlikely part of the world to host an international show jumping event. But if that is what comes to mind when you see the words “Mexico” and “show jumping” paired together, then clearly, you haven’t been paying attention.
I was guilty of a raised eyebrow when I looked down the schedule of the Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League earlier this year. Among the New York, Del Mar, Washington DC, Calgary legs and so on, Guadalajara stood out.
But now, as I watch mountains roll by from the window of a plane that just departed from Guadalajara after a weekend of CSI4* competition on Mexican soil, I can definitively say that Guadalajara did indeed stand out, for all the right reasons.
2016 was the first year that the revamped Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping North American League expanded to Mexico, with its first event held in Valle De Bravo, outside of Mexico City. This year the event moved 500 kilometers to the northwest and found a fitting home at the Guadalajara Country Club, near the center of the city. The 2011 Pan American Games were held here with great success, and the facility operates year round as a riding center, with tennis courts and a golf course encircling the property. Mexico’s biggest international riders mostly reside near Mexico City, but a growing group call Guadalajara home, as well.
Up and down this year’s CSI4* entry list were Mexican flags, with exactly three exceptions: Uruguay, Brazil and Argentina. It was a disappointment to see that no Canadian or American riders chose to compete at Guadalajara this year.
The simultaneous winter circuits happening in California and Florida certainly make traveling to Mexico for a single weekend less appealing, but all the same, those who didn’t come truly missed out. Not that we missed them all that much! The level of competition was impressive, with quality horses and riders that were all up to the challenge of CSI4*-W tracks, designed by Germany’s Olaf Petersen. Any rider who might have thought of coming to Mexico for an easy points grab would have had another thought coming after the weekend was done.
Title sponsors Audi and Scappino were the biggest names displayed around the arena, among many others. A row of vendors stayed busy all week, and with the FEI Children’s International Classics taking place alongside the CSI4* schedule, there was no shortage of visitors.
The man who won the big class, the $100,000 Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping Guadalajara CSI4*-W, is also part of the story of the event’s success. Francisco Pasquel and his family are deeply involved in the sport (fun fact: Francisco, his brother Patricio and his brother Gerardo all competed in the grand prix) on many levels. As riders, they compete internationally throughout North America, and Gerardo owns the gelding Big Red, currently ridden by Switzerland’s Steve Guerdat.
With a dual role as show organizer, seeing things from a rider’s perspective is of high value for Francisco. He was also responsible for last year’s event in Valle De Bravo and organized the 2011 Pan Ams. International events are nothing new for him and he’s well on the path of adding more.
“The good thing about my shows, I’m on both sides, as a rider and as a planner. I’m always thinking on both sides,” Pasquel said. “I’m always, always thinking; thinking about the elements of the course, the footing, the jumps, the signs.
And Pasquel is looking toward the future in a big way. Currently under construction at Valle De Bravo is a stadium and venue that he hopes will host a multi-week show circuit as soon as 2018. He’s applying to host two Longines FEI World Cup™ Jumping qualifiers in Mexico in the future, and hopes to schedule them together to create stronger appeal for international participants.
“This is my ‘for fun’ job. I don’t do it for the pay,” Pasquel adds. Making money is not my main goal. If I have to put more money into it to improve the quality, I spend it. I prefer to have a better show, than make profit.”
Mexico as a show jumping destination? It’s well on its way to becoming reality. More often than not over the weekend, when I asked riders what their annual competition plans were, the answer was “I think about going to the USA and Canada, but then again, there are so many CSI shows here in Mexico now. It is getting easier to stay home and compete!” Where four years ago there were two CSIs in Mexico, this year, there are over 20, including the CSI5* LGCT Mexico City, and CSIO4* Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup at Xalapa. Last year those events received rave reviews, and Team Mexico’s historic win at Xalapa cannot go unmentioned as yet another show of strength from this rising nation.
Guadalajara’s entire event was on par with a CSI4* anywhere in the world. Better, even, if you count the margarita on the rocks that was delivered by a waiter on a tray to this photographer’s shooting spot out beyond the VIP tents. In all seriousness, the future of show jumping in Mexico is bright. Are you paying attention now?
See more photos from the beautiful Guadalajara, Mexico CSI4*-W at this link.