At this weekend's Dressage at Lamplight CDI/CPEDI 3*, a long journey from Mexico City paid off for a group of Mexican riders who came for the Para Equestrian competition and a chance for a first-ever CDI. Reni Castro-Baitenmann, of Mexico City, is getting her first taste of CDI competition, while her mother gets a shot to represent Mexico at the next World Equestrian Games to be held at the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington, Kentucky. Next year's 2010 Alltech/FEI World Equestrian Games will include Para Equestrian competition. Getting to Lamplight has been one heck of a trip for Castro-Baitenmann, her mother Erika Baitenmann and fellow rider Enrique Palacios, traveled all the way from Mexico City to compete in the Lamplight CDI.
With six horses in tow, the three riders traveled 16 hours to reach the U.S.-Mexican border, had to spend four days at the border with the horses and then travel two more days to reach Lamplight. Joining them on their long journey were grooms, a veterinarian, a physical therapist and their trainer, Antonio Rivera. "We brought a really big team," Castro-Baitenmann joked.
The initial reason for the trip was so that her mother could compete in the Para Equestrian portion of the CDI. Erika Baitenmann has multiple sclerosis. "We saw that Lamplight was a CDI for Para Equestrian and as my mom is one, we came here because she wants to qualify for the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky," Castro-Baitenmann said. "And we decided that if two horses are coming for my mom, let's make it worthwhile so we decided to fill up the truck with more horses." In addition to her mother's two competition horses – Rodena and Rappel, the Mexican group brought along Gecko, Castro-Baitenmann's FEI mount, and Sandor. Palacios brought along his competitive partners Ramiro and Waldemar.
The decision to make the long trip to Lamplight seems to be paying off. Baitenmann took a first place in the Para Equestrian Grade II Team Test with Rodena on the opening day of this year's Dressage at Lamplight. "My mom said this is like the Olympics for her. She said she'd be grateful just to get in the ring and didn't expect to win," Castro-Baitenmann said.
Back home, the three riders compete in many regional and national shows, but Castro-Baitenmann said the competition in Mexico doesn't match up to what the group has found at Lamplight. "We don't really have CDIs in Mexico so this is the first CDI for us," she said. "This is really my first CDI in my whole life and I'm not sure why I did this except to have the experience. Coming here to win wasn't my goal because I knew that would be too much." Both she and Palacios competed in Friday's Prix St. Georges competition, but their real success was in the USEF levels.
"Today, my nerves collapsed in the Prix St. Georges, but I did better later," Castro-Baitenmann said. She and Sandor earned a second place in First Level competition and Palacios took first in Fourth Level competition. Castro-Baitenmann will also compete in her first FEI freestyle this weekend at Lamplight. As important as her own riding is to her, it's rather clear that Castro-Baitenmann puts her mother first. Erika Baitenmann is a long-time rider and her 21-year-old daughter has been riding for 10 years.
Castro-Baitenmann was attending college in London when her mother's illness appeared. Because the family has its own small stable, Castro-Baitenmann left school and returned home. "We live with our horses and it became hard for my mom to care for the barn with me in London," Castro-Baitenmann said. Since returning home two years ago, Castro-Baitenmann has taken the lead in developing Para Equestrian athletes in Mexico. She pushed for the creation of a committee in Mexico that works to promote Para Equestrians and has even organized clinics to train doctors and other medical personnel who work with Para Equestrians. "My mom was the first Para Equestrian in Mexico," Castro-Baitenmann said. "So this is all very new in Mexico. We are just getting things off the ground." When not busy working on equestrian issues or working with horses, Castro-Baitenmann is busy with a foundation she created with a friend that helps indigenous people in southern Mexico.
The Mexican group will be heading for home right after the show, but Lamplight has clearly given them a good impression of American dressage shows. "Lamplight is absolutely beautiful and the people are extremely nice and kind," Castro-Baitenmann said. "I think in Mexico, people are too involved in personal issues against one another. Here the whole atmosphere has more sportsmanship. It's much nicer to go into the barns here. In the morning when you walk in, people say 'hello' to you and they are nice to you and they don't look at you like you are the enemy."