The Mexican flag unfurled from Nicolas Pizarro’s upraised hand and with perfect timing, photographer Anwar Esquival captured the moment, making a striking illustration of Team Mexico’s 2016 success. You can see that photo here. It is that photo that comes to mind when I think of Pizarro’s most recent accomplishments, and it is part of why I am excited to catch up with him in early 2017, to find out what is on the horizon this year.
For Pizarro, one of Mexico’s most well-known, and internationally successful riders, having a hand in the first Furusiyya FEI Nations Cup victory for Mexico was a milestone, and one that he hopes to replicate this season.
The 38-year-old London Olympics veteran is not wanting for passion when he stands at the ingate studying his students’ rounds, or when he vaults onto his own horse and prepares to enter the arena himself. Equal parts coach and rider, Pizarro is based in Mexico City, Mexico, and competes throughout North America every year. As Mexican show jumping grows, both in depth of riders and in availability of competition, he finds himself, busier, and more passionate, than ever.
Q: How do you describe yourself and your career?
A: I’m from Mexico City. I’m 38 and I’ve been riding probably all my life. I became a professional when I was 18, so I have been riding professionally for 20 years. I also train, and have a very nice group of students, and a very nice group of sponsors. Normally I buy my horses when they’re young, and I develop them until the grand prix level. My first grand prix and my first Nations Cup horse was the only horse in my career that was already developed when I bought him. But all of the other ones I’ve been developing since they were young.
Q: Why do you prefer to start all of your own horses?
A: I think this was the way it was meant to be. I never had the sponsors that really wanted to buy the horse that is already ready and already jumping big, but I have always had the sponsors that believe in young horses. And, I really like to make young horses.
I had a very special horse in my career, Crossing Jordan. He was a horse I jumped in the Nations Cup in Wellington to top two, the Nations Cup in Spruce Meadows to top three, and then I jumped the WEG 2010, where I was the best Mexican rider. And we also jumped the Olympic Games in London.
He was an amazing horse for me, and now one of the best things, is that this year he will be ridden by my son. Crossing Jordan is 17 now and my son is 11 and they’ll be doing their first season together. He’s starting in the low children’s at 1.0m. I think he can do the 1.10 by the end of the year, and with this special horse I think he’ll be fantastic.
Q: Crossing Jordan sounds like a horse that will stay in your family forever.
A: I think yes. I’ll ty to take him everywhere and I’ll try to keep him really sound and it’s nice for the kids now. He still has a lot of character and energy.
Q: You are busy yourself as a coach to many students. Are you as passionate about coaching as you are about riding?
A: Yes, my students, alongside my riding, are my life. It’s amazing for me and I travel almost all year. Right now my students are in a super moment. I started with most of them when they were very young. With the Azcarraga family and Garreja family, we’ve been together since the children’s and juniors and young riders. Sofia Larrea B was my first student who jumped a clean Nations Cup.
Yes. I try to do it. I try to buy experienced horses for them to learn, and I always try to have the students jump up to 1.30m on a young horse. So that they have a young horse that they’re doing, and a young horse that they’re starting to teach.
Q: How do you keep yourself focused in the ring and then also keep your students at the same time?
A: I have to say it’s not easy and I have to say the better you want to get in each, the more you have to focus. I’ve been doing that all my life, and I developed the skill to get and try maintain my focus, and try to, at the same time, be there for the riders and the students.
Behind myself there is a very big team. Our stable in Mexico City includes six trainers, 10 riders, and 145 horses that we manage. It’s one of the biggest stables in Mexico and we have little school ponies for children, to the Nations Cup riders, and I have to say the team is fantastic. The trainers, the riders, they all really get into the dream and they support me. I have to say it’s teamwork that helps me stay focused.
Q: And what is the feeling like for Team Mexico this season? Is the Nations Cup series a big focus again this year?
A: Yes I think [Nations Cup] has to be a big focus. The Federation’s trying to work out a program to try to support the team, but I think it has to be. I hope that we have a great leader again this year in Normal Dello Joio. If we have a leader, I think we can make the nations cup circuit work again. And I have to say if we don’t have a leader like Norman [Dello Joio], it’s not going to be easy. It’s not an easy job to go against USA or Canada, but Mexico has very big supporters and good riders. We have a mix between the amateurs and the professionals, and I think it’s an amazing mixture because the amateurs get a lot more out of the sport. Sometimes people say that only professionals can ride at this level, but not in Mexico, not in Mexico at this moment. They buy horses for us, they do these types of shows. And here in Mexico the companies of the shows are all run by amateur riders, so at the end, it has to be a mixture of both.
“I have to say it’s teamwork that helps me stay focused.”
Q: Will Norman Dello Joio reprise his role as chef d’equipe this year?
A: I have to say I don’t know. He did completely make an impact. He was tough, and he really pushed you to win in a nice way. But this is what we need. We need order, we need to follow a leader, we need to follow somebody that knows, we have to make a plan.
I’ve known Norman for a long time; I went to the 2010 WEG with him, and I have put his training into practice with myself, with my clients, and with my company. He’s a fantastic leader. I hope it’s him again this year, and if our chef d’equipe is someone else, I only wish that he will have the commitment that Norman gave into Mexico.
Q: Mexico is developing more depth in top riders, perhaps in part because so many more competitions are offered in Mexico. What do you make of this growth?
A: I have to say that while level is getting much better and much better in Mexico, we are still not like a place like Wellington. But, this year we have 20 international shows, whereas four years ago we had two. So I think that’s amazing. There are four star shows, several weeks of two star and three stars—we are we are developing into the top level.