Written By: Lorenza Gil-Kabande
As a young girl, I adored riding horses and going to see the Del Mar races. In fact, when my dad bought me my first horse, it was the happiest day of my life. I remember going to our farm to visit him every once in a while but as the years passed, we would go less and less. Although I always rode for pleasure, I had always dreamt of being an equestrian. Luckily, I was able to interview two women who have taken up equestrianism- Vanessa Hernandez and Arantxa Otañez- and were more than happy to share some insight on how their lives revolve around horse riding.
At what age did you start riding and how long did it take you to master riding?
Hernandez: “Ever since I was a little girl, I loved horses and was always interested. It wasn’t until I was 17 years old that I jumped straight into competing. I would always get so nervous! ...It took me around 6 months to a year [to master riding] because I started from scratch”
Otañez: “I’ve been riding since I was 5 years old and it took me about 2 years [to feel comfortable enough] to ride by myself”
What motivated you to take up horseback riding?
Hernandez: “I’ve always wanted to be an Escaramuza because I’ve always been interested in horses but I became an equestrian instead.”
Otañez: “I was 2 years old when my dad first put me on a horse and I remember that when it was time to go, I cried because I never wanted to get off the horse. That hasn’t changed in me… I found my place in this world.”
Do you think it’s important to have a connection with your horse? If yes, what steps do you take to strengthen that bond?
Hernandez: “It’s very important because you need to be connected. They feel everything you’re feeling; if you’re nervous or scared they’ll feel it. They’re very intelligent so you need to be confident that you will have a good class or contest.” In relation to what steps she takes to strengthen the bond with her horse, she replied, “It’s not just about being with your horse… you need to be there daily and give him love and affection. I wash, feed, brush, and walk my own horse. And everytime he did something right, I would let him know right away by talking to him and petting him.”
Otañez: “Definitely! Physical contact such as petting, hugging, walking, saddling and unsaddling and verbal communication with your horse strengthens [your bond with them]. I would talk to my horse a lot in a relaxing tone, look him in the eyes… I swear our souls connected! With body, energy, and vision you see your trajectory and communicate them step by step until we see it and do it together.
How does competing make you feel?
Hernandez: “Being in class is the absolute best but when I was competing I would get super nervous. You need to learn the obstacle course and remember it… one time I forgot!” She laughed.
Otañez: “I would always place in first in San Diego and I would feel a lot more satisfied. But when I moved to Tijuana, it was more challenging- the horses were younger, the jumps were higher, and I would fall a lot more- but I started to get better. Then I got a six year old racing horse straight from the tracks and trained him from scratch until I mastered him. That’s when I felt like I could do anything… it's a spectacular animal and a sport that causes me ecstasy.”
What words of advice would you give someone who wants to start riding horses or competing?
Hernandez: “Horses are the best. It’s a sport that requires dedication, concentration, and exercise. Horses are actually used for equine therapy!”
Otañez: “...If you want to compete to deliver passion, I would say that [you need] patience, perseverance, humility, and respect towards yourself, towards the animal, coach, and sport. That’s what will make you get the most out of it… enjoy every second of it because you never know how long it will last and know that you will fall! You have to get back up right away and overcome the challenge. Beginners are afraid to fall but the pros have fallen a thousand times; it’s part of the sport.”
I completely agree, horses are magnificent animals and I believe that having a horse is just as beautiful as owning a pet; you just get to ride them! There are a number of places around San Diego, such as the Dove Hollow Dressage Center, the Belvedere Stables, and the Suncoast Farms, where you can keep your horse in a comfortable environment if you do not have a field or equestrian facility in mind! If you aren’t too interested in riding competitively, I highly recommend riding for pleasure as it has many health benefits!