Yvonne Muniz

The Dominican Republic will be the host country for the Pan-American Games in 2003, and Yvonne and Eduardo Muniz have come to Wellington for the winter to get a feel for the US competition scene.

"As the host country, we automatically qualify," says Yvonne. "I've been competing anyway but not at Grand Prix. At the moment we're working more with the Warmbloods. We came up here to see what we'll be up against. I've noticed there are a lot of South Americans up here, like Cesar Parra and Marco Bernal"

Yvonne was born in Kenya of Polish and German descent. Her family bought her a pony at age six and she says she has been on a horse's back ever since. She speaks Spanish, English, German, and used to speak a little Swahili. Now she and her husband Eduardo own and breed Dutch Warmbloods and Andalusians in both Canada and the Dominican Republic, where they are citizens.

"There is a lot of riding in the Dominican Republic but the levels are very low. Attitudes about animals are different and the conditions are nothing like what we have here. Our Federation is trying very hard right now and it's making a big effort to improve conditions for everything. Also with our riding center there are major improvements going on, so we can bring down animals of quality."

Every year they have a competition at their equestrian center, the Centro Ecuestre Las Marismas. "We bring down top judges like Marianne Ludwig and Lorraine Stubbs - we try to keep things as top class as possible. We want our riders to be prepared for what they will find outside of the Dominican Republic. We don't want any surprises."

At Wellington she said she was a little nervous at first with everything going on but soon felt it was just another horse show. "We're really happy that this is here and it give us the opportunity to participate. It's a long haul for us and for the horses, and it's a sacrifice for us because we have nine-year-old boy and a new baby girl we had to leave behind. We tried to bring her but it didn't work." To add to this, Yvonne broke her hand while schooling one of her jumpers at a recent show at Wellington, and will need several weeks to heal, though she did keep riding with it. Impressively, she is competing in both show jumping and dressage.

They do not plan to host the Games at their facility or to get into the organizational aspect of it. "That's a whole different game," she said. "Our stables are open to anyone who wants to come down and get used to the conditions. It's very hot there; as hot as Florida is, my horses think this is great," she says. In shipping the horses back and forth between the DR and Canada they try to do it in the fall. Young horses are sent to Canada to mature and then brought back down for training. "They love it in Canada - they love the cold, not the heat and humidity."

They hope that coming to Florida will motivate other people from their country to get out and get more experience. "It's definitely making people open their eyes. People don't like it when they're outdone, so our being in Florida is getting other people going. Next year we're planning to go to Europe. I already train in jumping with Emile Hendrix in Holland. I commuted back and forth all last year. Jeff Ashton Moore in California is also her dressage trainer, but with his very busy schedule he can only visit the Dominican Republic three or four times a year.

Yvonne has a couple of horses in training but says it's too soon to tell which ones will be ready for the Pan-Ams. The Muniz's sponsor Young rider Georgie Fernandez, who has been with them for four years. "He's definitely going to make it to the Pan-Am team," says Yvonne. She also says Diana Ramos is also a strong candidate: "She has everything it takes."

Text by Amber Heintzberger for Dressagedaily.com