Last month, during the annual horse fair and spectacle, SICAB, in Sevilla, Spain, one of the Spanish Dressage Team’s great competitors slipped away from us. Guizo, a small 18 year old bay Lusitano, bred in Spain, and ridden by the quiet and somewhat elusive Juan Antonio Jimenez, finally succumbed to colic, an affliction the horse had battled much of his life. Guizo was not a Pure Spanish Horse, was bred by a Spaniard who specialized in the official breed of Portugal. But Guizo was as much a part of equine history in Spain as the other ground-breaking Pure Spanish Horses like Evento and Invasor. He was part of a team of horses that broke through the glass ceiling of warmblood domination of our sport and won the hearts of those who saw him go. The horse was tiny, but with the gaits of a Hanoverian. His walk was lanky and expansive, his trot had a natural, unforced passage rhythm, and his canter was fluid and rolling. His piaffe and passage were factors in raising the standard for what could be expected in the Grand Prix ring from any horse of any breed.
When I heard about the death of Guizo, I went back and watched an old video in my collection, footage of a cold, rainy day in July 2000 at the CHIO in Aachen. It was my first time to Aachen and I had gone with some friends who videotaped several of the rides for me. One was unforgettable. Isabel Werth and Gigolo had just scored a 76% to much amazement and acclaim. Guizo was the next to go. To a world unaccustomed to the movement and athleticism of an Iberian horse, the little bay horse with a big neck and high knees appeared almost alien. As people wondered how to evaluate what they were watching, the horse and rider effortlessly and delicately floated through the first part of the test. Suddenly, the silence of the arena was shattered by a large crash from somewhere behind the stands and the braying of a dog—either seriously injured or in serious hunting frame of mind. The latter turned out to be the case, and as Guizo relaxed and lengthened for the extended walk, a rabbit ran through the end of the arena, braying dog in mad pursuit following close behind. The audience shuddered in horror (this is Aachen, after all, not some sand arena in Estepona!) but the horse never looked up, never twitched a muscle, never lost the rhythm of his walk on the loose rein. As the rider picked up the reins and the piaffe, the rabbit and dog ran back through the arena again. This time Guizo hesitated, but only for a second, without looking up or reacting in any other way, and you had to look quickly to catch it before he resumed his normal elevated piaffe. If that weren’t enough, unbelievably a second dog somehow broke loose toward the end of the test, and scurried back and forth along the short side of the arena, close to where horse and rider were completing their final canter pirouette. The horse casually glanced at the dog, but the commotion had no effect on the harmony of the two or the movement.
With the exception of the occasional loss of rhythm, Guizo and Jimenez rode a clean and expressive test. The crowd applauded heartily in appreciation for what they had just seen. The judges awarded a 67.9%, a score which, I guess, the pair were supposed to feel good about, but which kept them well away from the contenders for the class.
In time, Guizo and Jimenez went on to defeat many of the top Grand Prix riders in Europe and the United States. They were members of Spain’s WEG Bronze Medal Team in 2002, the European Championships Silver Medal Team in 2003, Spain’s Olympic Silver Medal Team in 2004, the European Championships Bronze Medal Team in 2005, were individually ranked 5 th in the European Championships the same year, and were Champions of Spain also in 2005. This past summer, the pair represented Spain at the WEG in Aachen, and outscored a number of international riders who were expected to finish much higher than the little Lusitano.
Jimenez issued the following statement upon Guizo’s death last month: “The horse did not give us the opportunity to honor him properly during his lifetime. This is a great loss. I never thought this would come so soon.”
Guizo’s passing, along with the retirement of Invasor, marks the end of an early chapter in Spanish competitive dressage. But as a forerunner for the Iberian horse in international competition, Guizo will remain historically among the first and perpetually among the best.
by Kimberly Van Kampen Boyer