Mexico has had a long love affair with horses, and it doesn’t seem to be slowing down with the times. This week my daughter Maya, along with her team from Ecuestre Bucerias, had the honor of representing our small town on the national level, at the Western Riding Circuit Equestrian Competition. At age seven, she began training in equitation just six months ago—primarily to improve her focus and confidence—so I am deeply impressed and a bit wide-eyed at how quickly she has “jumped” into the sport.
In the mid-sixteenth century, Spanish Conquistador Hernando Cortez brought sixteen horses across the ocean to Mexico. It is said that most of the Mexican horses alive today are descendants of this original crew, which were bred widely to establish elaborate haciendas and profitable farms. For the first hundred years of the Spanish occupation, it was punishable by death for a native Mexican to ride a horse. However, by the mid-seventeenth century, Spain was forced to grant the first “horseback riding permits” to indigenous Mexican laborers, as their expanding farms required arduous horseback work. They issued such permits on one condition, Mexicans were forbidden to dress like Conquistadors, nor ride on Spanish saddles. Thus was born a unique and purely Mexican style of attire, tackle, and horsemanship, or the Charrería, with its quintessential Charros, who would go on to become national heroes in the Mexican War Of Independence from Spain, two hundred years later.
By the turn of the twentieth century, Mexico saw the introduction of Equitation and Hunter/Jumper competitions, officially joining the International Equestrian Federation in 1938. The revolutionary spirit of the Charros infused with the refinement of European jumping made for a fierce combination, and today La Federacion Ecuestre Mexicana holds more than 120 official competitions annually throughout Mexico. One such competition took place this past weekend in La Hípica, a stunning horse club outside of Guadalajara. Arriving at their impressive grounds, my daughter’s eyes widened to the size of saucers, as she finally admitted she was nervous (while I was on pins and needles and could hardly sit down!). Our team from Ecuestre Bucerias had eleven riders compete, from age five to adult, and while we may have arrived as underdogs, we left as champions, with several top finishes on all levels of the competition.
In fact, other teams in Guadalajara were talking about the incredible riding coming out of Bucerias! That reputation is due in large part to head coach Amandine Porte, who began riding at the age of eight in her native France and founded Ecuestre Bucerias in 2012, putting our small coastal town on the national equestrian map. I asked Amandine about the benefits of horseback riding, her approach to coaching and raising the level of equestrian performance coming out of the Bay of Banderas. “It’s widely known that there are multiple therapeutic benefits from riding and caring for horses, and everything we do here is because of these magnificent animals, which deserve the utmost care and respect. As for competitions, I credit our recent national success to the sense of family and fun we instill in our training. Everyone who trains with us, and travels with us, becomes part of our family. Often parents arrive at Ecuestre Bucerias with a young child who wants to learn to ride, and within a short time, the entire family is riding too.” That sense of extended hospitality is what drew us in too. When we signed Maya up for riding lessons last fall, we had no idea we would soon be traveling the country with a team of horse lovers and a slew of new friends.
Much to our complete surprise, Maya took first place in her age and beginner class this past weekend, and the smile on her face afterward—and long into the night—was priceless; all her hard work had paid off. She also finished last place in the next level of competition, giving her a clear picture of how much further she has to go. What more could a parent want from such a rich experience? As we celebrated the wins and valuable losses with our team later that evening, the Mariachi-belting, tequila-swilling culture of the Charrería infected us all. I had the realization that it was, in part, the love of horses that made Mexico the proud country it is today…and it’s the love of horses that will keep Mexico moving towards a brilliant future.