Mexican Eventing Has to Modernize in a Big Way. What's Holding Them Back?

Mexican Eventing Has to Modernize in a Big Way. What's Holding Them Back?

According to Mexican eventer Pedro Gutiérrez, eventing is not the most accessible sport in his home country. For decades, the only individuals competing internationally were members of the military. Of course, the sport hails from cavalry training, and although in some countries there is still a strong military presence in the sport, most nations have opened wide the doors to participation by civilians.

In Mexico, however, the military's continued heavy involvement makes it harder for civilians like Pedro to progress in the sport and bring growth to the grassroots. But he is determined to spearhead a change.

As a testament to growth, however, Mexican equestrian sports have produced frequent headlines recently. In 2016, Daniela Moguel became the first CCI4* (now classified as CCI5*-L) rider representing Mexico. She then went on to compete at the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games in Tryon, North Carolina, with her mare, Cecelia. Additionally, the Mexican show jumpers have picked up historic Nations Cup wins in recent months and are continually gaining momentum. But still, it’s a growing process that takes time to evolve.

‘Winning a medal ... is similar to winning a war’

One of the biggest barriers to growing the sport, Pedro observes, is the heavy involvement of the military. One of the fastest tracks to riding professionally in Mexico is through the Colégio Militar. In this way, riders are able to ride as a career during their education and time serving their country. But, Pedro points out, this has led to some resentment among civilians who do not have the support or backing needed to ride and compete.

Photo by Shannon Brinkman.

“For [the military], it’s a matter of honor,” Pedro says. “Winning a medal at the Pan American or Central American Games is similar to winning a war. And the military is a tough career. There is a lot of danger and violence — not everyone wants to do this as a career.”

The serious nature with which the military approaches its eventing team means the pressure on performance is rampant. Yet, Pedro acknowledges, the team is lacking some organization and logistical management that would help them achieve a greater degree of success.

“We have a gap in producing civilian riders,” Pedro says. Additionally, those riding for the military are not riding their own horses nor are they able to dictate their competition schedule. This presents challenges when it comes time to prepare for an important team competition such as the upcoming Pan American Games in Lima, Peru.

"We can really make a difference for our country and for this sport.”

But, the picture Pedro paints isn’t all negative. In fact, it’s the opposite. Despite the challenge of having few events to select from and no outside funding to be found, Mexican equestrian sports are slowly growing and gaining traction. It looks quite different today than it did when Pedro was younger. “Before, it was almost impossible for a civilian to ride,” he says. “There were only two or three events each year. There was no way to develop a horse or a rider.”

But the group that stuck around was determined and their efforts have paid off. Last year, Mexico was host to six FEI-recognized events, and 38 horses were registered with the FEI for eventing — a small number, but over twice the 2016 registration numbers. Pedro isn’t discouraged by the still low participation. He is, instead, hopeful.

Photo by Anthony Trollope/Red Bay Group.

As a civilian, Pedro has more flexibility in his program. Throughout his career as an eventer, he’s spent time in France and the U.S., and most recently, he competed at the seven-year-old championships at Le Lion d’Angers in 2018 with his own Selle Français mare, California Mail. The French young horse system, Pedro asserts, is second to none. For that reason, he’s invested in having his young horses brought up in their system with the help of French-based Nicolas Pertusa and Samantha Pertusa Leper to work with his young horses.

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At the end of the day, Pedro has a lot in common with most of us: a love for the horse, and a willingness to make his dream come to fruition. He works as a dairy farmer and also runs several other businesses, including a cattle operation and a horseshoe factory. If necessary, he’ll even sell a promising youngster as a way to support his own riding endeavors.

His current goals include a spot on the Mexican team for the Pan American Games this summer. It’s an opportunity Pedro would love to have, as he hopes to help inspire other civilians to get involved and grow eventing in his home country.

'The system is not ready for modern sport'

Mexico will receive a team berth at this year's Pan American Games thanks to a top finish in the 2018 Central American and Caribbean Games, and several riders are qualified or on their way to gaining qualification. This includes a mixture of military and civilian riders.

In addition to slow but measurable growth in Mexican rider representation, the eventing experience in the country has also improved. Renowned course designer John Williams has been involved with the betterment of cross-country courses across the country, and riders from Central and South America are traveling to Mexico to compete and qualify. But, Pedro says, there is still a long way to go.

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“The way it is now, the [Mexican eventing] system is not ready for modern sport,” Pedro explains. “Eventing is such an individual sport that requires a lot of customization. It’s hard to have those high standards set by the team when often it requires more of an individualized program. ... It’s just that many see [the military] as having an unfair advantage because this is their career, so it discourages the civilians from trying.”

Photo by Anthony Trollope/Red Bay Group.

If the military were to soften their requirements for the team or scale back their involvement, Pedro believes eventing would flourish. But, he acknowledges the benefits of having them around, providing security at events and sending diplomats to events to spectate. Compromise.

And so, Pedro’s made it his mission to find other ways to grow the sport he loves so much. In his effort to bring opportunity to more of his compatriots, Pedro has a vision. He wants to build a working young rider program in Mexico. He sees the opportunity he was able to have by experiencing top quality training from eventing greats such as Karen O’Connor, Debbie Adams, and Phyllis Dawson. He sees the value in competing in the U.S. and overseas. And he wants others to see this, too.

"The way it is now, the [Mexican eventing] system is not ready for modern sport."

Working with Daniela Moguel, who is based in the U.S., Pedro is determined to turn this vision into a reality. “We do have a group [of younger riders] coming up,” he says. “There is a real possibility of doing something meaningful.”

Pedro envisions a program that helps young riders come to the U.S. to train and compete, but also one that offers them training opportunities at home. As someone who began eventing later in life, Pedro appreciates how much of a struggle it can be to gain traction.

“All my training and learning starting off, I had to do myself,” he says. “I read books, I watched other riders. I didn’t have anyone to help me until I met Bruce. My dream is to take a junior or young rider team to NAYC. I think together with Daniela and anyone else willing to help, we can really make a difference for our country and for this sport.”

Read this next: This Is No One-Hit Wonder: Team Mexico Secures Stunning Victory At Nations Cup In Wellington

Feature photo by Shannon Brinkman.

Written by Sally Spickard

Sally Spickard caught the horse bug at a young age and can still remember her first trip to the Kentucky Three-Day Event, which subsequently afflicted her with the eventing bug. Sally spends her days in San Diego, California and thoroughly enjoys her career telling the stories of our sport and assisting clients with their digital marketing needs.