San Miguel equestrians excel in dressage competition

By Mary Murrell

The tradition of dressage in San Miguel de Allende continued on May 11 and 12 during a show sponsored by FEM (Federación Ecuestre Mexicana). Hosted by Eugenio Canales at Centro Ecuestre Canales in El Mirador, the show took place just minutes outside of town and was open to the public. It was a great opportunity to see outstanding riders and their horses compete from training level (beginner) through some of the most sophisticated and difficult dressage tests.

Dressage refers to the training of horses through a series of standardized methods to develop their natural athletic abilities and willingness to perform. Dressage is the French term for “training” and the sport includes the execution of very specific movements by horse and rider, working together as a team. Although it may look easy, it requires long hours of work and great skill. Often the communication between rider and horse is extremely subtle and difficult to see.

Basic dressage is helpful for any horse because the goal is to develop their physical and mental ability. Ultimately a dressage horse should remain calm, consistent and supple while paying attention to the signals of the rider. Dressage offers training discipline helpful for beginners, trail riders and serious competitors.

Dressage came to San Miguel in the 1960s when Captain Santiago Canales started the first local riding school in Atascadero. He had been involved in both dressage and cross-country riding in the Mexican army and began giving riding lessons. His son, Eugenio, grew up with horses and became a rider, trainer and equine veterinarian. Eugenio also learned dressage, and lived in Texas where he worked as a trainer. Today Eugenio rides competitively in dressage and jumping, continues to train horses and teaches students at his equestrian facility.

A number of riders from San Miguel participated in the recent show sponsored by Mexico’s national equestrian organization. Each rider and horse completed tests comprised of a sequence of moves specified for the particular test. There are graduated levels of competition with walk/trot being the basic or entry level with increasing difficulty all the way through the highest level of Grand Prix. The highest levels are used in the most prestigious international competitions, including the Olympic games. Both horse and rider are evaluated during each test by an officially qualified judge.

At the recent show there were 23 tests each day performed by riders ranging from 11 years old through those with many years of experience in national and international competitions. Ni Ni Hind, Naomi and Yuriko Nakakawa exhibited their skills in training level tests for riders under 15 years old.

The show also included tests at the most advanced levels of dressage. A special treat for spectators was the opportunity to see Antonio Rivera, who has competed for Mexico internationally, win nine first places during the two days of the show.

With their eyes on international competitions, Rafael Lavista and Eugenio Canales rode their horses in a special FEM Challenge test. The test is in preparation to compete at the end of the year for Mexico against other countries in Central and South America. Rafael recently imported his horse, Varonette, from Holland and won first place in both the FEM Challenge and the Second level test on Sunday.

Eugenio’s horse, Delincuente Azul, also performed well in the FEM Challenge. Delincuente is a Portuguese horse purchased from Pablo Hermoso de Mendoza who is the best bullfighter on horseback in the world. Eugenio has competed in shows across Mexico with Delincuente, in Guadalajara, Mexico City and Aguascalientes.

Lisa Rochford competed on Alta Gracia, a 6-year-old mare who Lisa has owned since the age of two. Lisa describes Gracia as her “most difficult challenge in horse training, as she is very strong willed…but is now understanding what the competition ring means and has been rising to the occasion.”  Lisa is very happy with the scores of 70 and above that Gracia is getting in competitions. A score of 60 is very good and a score of 70 is considered exceptional in dressage.

Amy Spencer was pleased to win second place both Saturday and Sunday in the Third level test with her horse named Elliot. Her accumulated score for the two days placed her as Reserve Champion for the weekend. She was also happy to have scored over 60 with Cusco, a young stallion she has been training. Cusco competed in the training level class, and it was only his second time at a show.

Nicole Zijlstra made her debut at the show with Astro Boy, a six-year-old that has been challenging to train. “On Sunday he was calmer than on Saturday. He has been difficult for me and after this show; I know he can compete and so does he.” With a young horse, a show can provide the rider an opportunity to test whether the horse is ready for the stress of showing more frequently in competitions.

If you are interested in beautiful and well-trained horses, expert riding and the sport of dressage, make plans to attend San Miguel shows. Admission is free and so is the opportunity to learn about an amazing sport. There will be another FEM dressage competition in the fall in San Miguel. If you would like to be notified of the date, place and time for the show, please send an email to


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