Juan Matute, Jr. and Don Diego Ymas Photo: SusanJStickle
Juan Matute, Jr. has made the most of his 2014 debut on the small tour with Don Diego Ymas, picking up another first place prize on Friday morning in the FEI Prix St. Georges, presented by Havensafe Farm, during the AGDF 5 CDI 3*/4*. Matute topped the class with a score of 71.184% aboard his family's 11-year-old Hanoverian gelding. Second place went to American Christopher Hickey and Ronaldo, an eight-year-old Danish Warmblood gelding owned by Cecelia Stewart. Canadian Brittany Fraser rounded out the top three with a 69.296% with her own All In, a nine-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding. Matute was not expecting his first year of competing to start with such success. The 16-year-old, who rides for Spain but is based in Wellington, has collected four victories with Don Diego Ymas in three weeks of showing at the AGDF. Friday marked his second FEI Prix St. Georges win with the horse.
"I think Don Diego and I really work together great and fit together," Matute noted. "He can do the movements perfectly. I don't think the level was a problem for him, but at a CDI, [you have] big riders and great horses as well, so it was not expected to do so well."
Matute felt the best part of his test with Don Diego Ymas was their trot work and was understandably pleased with how he and the horse are progressing.
"I thought [the test] was great. I think there's always stuff to improve on. Show after show, I believe Don Diego and I are creating a strong bond with more confidence in each other. We're completely partners," he commented.
He continued, "The trot work was a bit more solid this morning. We had a little bit of mistakes in the canter with the contact. The pirouettes were maybe a little bit too small. The trot work was the highlight today."
Juan Matute, Jr. and Don Diego Ymas in their winning presentation Photo: SusanJStickle
Don Diego Ymas has been in the Matute Family's barn for years, and the two essentially grew up together. The Matutes purchased Don Diego Ymas when Matute was only nine years old. Now 16, he appreciates knowing the horse inside and out.
"When you build up a horse [from a young age], you get to know each other better. You have more knowledge about him. You know his highlights, his weaknesses, his personality. You know maybe he will spook here, and he might not spook there. It's a little bit like brothers, when you grow up together," Matute described.
The youthful Matute beat out veteran dressage competitor Christopher Hickey, but Hickey was happy to have competition from an up-and-coming rider.
"I think it's super for us to have young riders coming along and riding so exquisitely. He's a beautiful, elegant rider, and when you see riding like that in the warm up from one of the 'kids,' it makes us all proud, but it also makes a beautiful picture," Hickey detailed.
He continued, "It makes the old guys be like 'Oh my god, we have to be careful,' because here are some young people coming along. There's more than just [Juan] and his sister looking like that at horse shows. I think that's a huge piece. We all talk about our country getting stronger and getting better. We need these people to come in and come through the ranks and be in the open classes with us and kick our [butt] for us to have to rise to the occasion."
Hickey was pleased with how his young horse performed in The Stadium, noting the atmosphere was good exposure for Ronaldo. The gelding was quite impressed by the arena's setting, but Hickey simply chalked it up to a young horse learning his way.
"My horse is not spooky, but today coming around in the first turn he was startled by the surroundings. That doesn't bother me because he's young, and he's never been in this environment before," Hickey explained.
He continued, "He's such a big mover, and he has so much elasticity. I feel that those horses sometimes take a little bit longer to develop. He lost his balance and his rhythm in the extended trot which is an expensive mistake, and that will get better with strength and age."
One of Hickey's favorite moments of competition happened entirely by coincidence during the jog on Wednesday.
"He followed his mother (in the jog), who is here competing in the grand prix division. When I went into the jog and they announced her name, she jogged literally right before him, which was totally an accident. I thought that was pretty cool that at his first CDI, he jogged after his mother," Hickey smiled.
Watching Ronaldo's progress has been especially meaningful for Hickey, who brought the horse up through the ranks after owner Stewart bought him as a four-year-old. Hickey has trained several of his most successful horses from the time they were young, including Regent and Cabana Boy. It's an experience he relishes.
Historically, he's been more successful on horses he's brought up himself. Hickey believes this is a result of the irreplaceable bond created between a horse and rider over such an extended period of time.
"When you purchase horses, you can buy great horses. It's easy to pick out a lovely moving horse, but you don't know their true temperament. And when you buy a young horse, it's such a risk. You have the risk of [whether] this horse will take the work physically and mentally. When you buy a mature horse, you have proof. The horse will take the work. The horse is taking the work. But you don't have the information you have when you bring them along yourself," Hickey explained.
Hickey was especially grateful for the support of the sponsors that make the AGDF possible each year.
"The sponsorship here is great. I personally thank my owner every day and the sponsors that get together and help support this show. I hope everybody appreciates what all these people do for us," Hickey concluded.
Earlier on Friday, Tanya-Strasser-Shostak (CAN) won the FEI Young Rider Team class aboard Action Tyme. The pair earned a 65.921%.
Final Results: FEI Prix St. Georges, presented by Havensafe Farm
Rider, Country, Horse: Judge E%, Judge C%, Judge M%, Total%
1 Juan Matute, Jr., ESP, Don Diego Ymas: 73.421%, 71.579%, 68.553%, 71.184%
2 Christopher Hickey, USA, Ronaldo: 69.211%, 70.395%, 72.632%, 70.746%
3 Brittany Fraser, CAN, All In: 69.605%, 69.079%, 69.211%, 69.298%
4 Silva Martin, USA, Rosa Cha W: 68.289%, 69.342%, 69.211, 68.947%
5 Tom Dvorak, CAN, Ribot: 67.632%, 67.500%, 68.684%, 67.939%
6 Christilot Boylen, CAN, Drentano: 66.053%, 66.053%, 68.158%, 66.754%
7 Alix Szepesi, USA, Majco Thunder's Hattrick: 66.447%, 65.000%, 67.895%, 66.447%
8 Gabriela Stumpf, AUT, Finally Love: 66.579%, 67.632%, 64.342%, 66.184%