San Miguel equestrians win national dressage competition
By Mary Murrell
San Miguel’s standing in the equestrian sports moved even higher during the National Dressage Championship held in early December 2013. The show, sponsored by FEM (Federacion Ecuestre Mexicana), included riders from across Mexico performing in a three-day event with the most sophisticated and difficult dressage tests.
Rafa Lavista became Mexico’s National Champion after riding third level dressage tests in two days and then completing a Musical Kur or freestyle with his horse Varonette. The Kur performance required him to use movements and patterns for third-level dressage competition performed to music in a fluid dance. Rafa developed the overall sequence of steps in this “dance” and made sure each one was coordinated with the music he had chosen.
Lisa Rochford became National Reserve Champion after riding two separate first level tests on her horse Alta Gracia. She was unsure if she would be able to attend the show due to the expense, but her good friend and supporter Benigno Sierra suggested she look for a sponsor. Lisa noted, “Without Benigno’s help and the generosity of Sunne Justice who is the President and Co-founder of iSpaces, the company which sponsored me, I would not be the Reserve Champion.”
Dressage refers to the training of horses through a series of standardized methods to develop their natural athletic abilities and willingness to perform. The name comes from the French term for “training” and the sport includes the execution of very specific movements by horse and a rider. Although it may look easy, it requires many long hours of practice and great skill. Often the communication between rider and horse is extremely subtle and difficult to see.
As Rafa described it, “Dressage is similar to performances by great ballet dancers. It requires hours and hours of work and training to make it look effortless. The rider must focus completely on what is happening at every moment, finish the movement and also be prepared for the next one. Much of the riding is actually in your brain.”
Both riders had selected their horses with the idea of competing in major national and international competitions. Although dressage training is beneficial for any horse, there are specific types of horses with the physical conformation, which do best in competition.
Rafa traveled to Europe to find a talented horse to compete with and after trying 27 horses in two weeks, he knew Varonette was the one he wanted. The beautiful dark mare was extremely supple and they had good chemistry as a team. Once she had passed rigorous medical tests in Europe, she was brought to Mexico. In the 18 shows he has ridden Varonette in Mexico, they have had 16 first place wins.
Lisa Rochford picked Alta Gracia out of a group of young horses because it was already easy to see she had incredible movement and suspension (the phase of the trot and canter when all legs are off the ground). Lisa raised Gracia and trained her from the very beginning, so her Reserve Championship win was especially exciting. As Lisa explained, “There are good riders and there are good trainers but it is harder to do both of these things well. I was extremely pleased with Gracia’s performance. She has a big temperament and runs hot and cold so I have had to be very patient with her.”
Both Rafa and Lisa started riding at very young ages and competed in jumping as well as dressage. Rafa began to ride when he was nine years old and got interested because his brother had already been involved with horses. He went to Europe and competed in carriage driving then returned to Mexico and continued to build carriages and train the horses to pull them. He also had a breeding farm of Andalusian horses and won the 1995 Doma Clasica Espagnol competition Mexico, an event much like dressage.
For Lisa, horses were a fascination from the time she could walk. She was born in Canada and started riding when she was 10. She remembers falling in love with a horse and begging her parents to buy him. At her next birthday party, she was thrilled to see the horse walk into the backyard with a big bow around his neck.
While she was still very young, Captain de Demeter, who was a classical European dressage rider, saw her riding in a clinic. He told her parents he wanted to teach her because of her natural abilities and she began to spend summers and long vacations in Toronto taking lessons and developing her skills. She has continued to ride and train horses ever since.
When asked about their personal goals, both riders spoke about more competitions and moving up the levels of dressage with their horses. They were also quick to point out the importance of getting more young riders involved in the sport.
“Learning to ride and to take care of a horse is a very healthy, positive focus for a child,” Rafa noted. “At first the children are fearful but once they have an opportunity to be with the horse, with a good teacher, you can see a lot of self-confidence.” Lisa also sees this sport as a great one for lessons about responsibility. “When I was a teenager there was a tornado warning where I lived in Canada and my Dad would not allow me to go out with the car. I got on my bike and rode about an hour to make sure my horse was not out in the pasture under the trees. He was my horse and I had to take care of him.”