Spain’s Juan Matute, Aged 16, Top Small Tour Rider in USA

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Juan Matute, Jr. riding Don Diego Ymas in a victory celebration at the Global Dressage Festival World Cup even. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Juan Matute, Jr. riding Don Diego Ymas in a victory celebration at the Global Dressage Festival World Cup even. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Feb. 14, 2014–At 16 years old, Juan Matute, Jr. has vaulted to the top of American small tour results in just three international competitions in 2014. The problem is he’s Spanish so he isn’t ranked on the official standings to determine the best combinations to go to the United States championships in June.

Juan’s success on Don Diego Ymas, an 11-year-old geldng by Don Frederico, has been remarkable–six first place finishes in eight starts at Prix St. Georges and Intermediate in 2014. At the same time, he has logged five victories in five starts on Dhannie Ymas in the Junior Rider division.

The small tour record was achieved against stiff competition–among them Chris Hickey of the United States who won both team and individual gold at the 2007 Pan American Games that was at small tour and Christilot Boylen, the German-based Canadian.

The goal for 2014 of the son of the four-time Spanish Olympian is the European Junior Championships this summer, a return to the continental championships in which he competed in 2012 and 2013.

But a big decision will come in a couple of years when the Matute family that has lived in the United States for five years and has no plans to leave can apply for American citizenship.

The Matute family of Juan, Jr., Maria, Paola and Juan. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
The Matute family of Juan, Jr., Maria, Paola and Juan. © Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

“I am a U.S. resident,” he said. “I’m getting my citizenship in two years. A lot of things can happen in two years. I’m a Spanish rider at the moment, but who knows, maybe in the future a door opens to the American team.”

Whatever nation Juan, Jr. ends up riding for no one doubts his future is bright.

The top two scores–if he were American that’s what would count to qualfy for the national championships–average 71.302 for the Prix St. Georges and 72.566 for Intermediate I for an average of 71.934.

The top ranked U.S. combination is 71.689 for St. Georges and 70.614 for Intermediate for an average of 71.151.

“We decided to take on the small tour because it’s a bigger challenge,” he said. “In Europe, there’s a lot more young riders and juniors, and here there’s not so many, so we thought it would be a bigger challenge to go out in the open small tour. That was a hard decision, but I think the choice was right.”

Chris Hickey, the Pan Am Games double gold medalist, agreed.

“One of the reasons I think that is so special for Juan is that the Matutes have been in this area for years now and they’ve grown up here. 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 also it makes a beautiful picture.

“The judges want to see beautiful riding and he looks great on a horse. He rides quietly and he gets the job done. He’s quiet and it’s elegant. It’s super for someone so young to come into the big sport and big shows and make that overall impression.

“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 ass for us to have to rise to the occasion.”

Chris’s remarks may have made Juan blush but he works hard in an unusual arrangement to make school and riding work. He rides everal horses begining early in the morning and then goes to school late afternoon. If he falls behind during a heavy competition schedule, he can catch up by Internet studies that he can take even when in Europe during summer vacation.

That is vital for his competition career, including riding on the Spanish team at the Nations Cup at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington next week and most likely the Under-25 division over the next several months.

Although he was active and successful in eventing and jumping, Juan admits “I love dressage. I’m marred to dressage. I love working hard at it, it is becoming more addictive and I want to keep improving, to get better and better.”

Or as Juan, Sr., his father, puts it: “He began dressage in America. This may be where his dressage life is.”

Juan Matute, Jr. riding Dhannie Ymas in the CDI Junior Rider division. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Juan Matute, Jr. riding Dhannie Ymas in the CDI Junior Rider division. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

Juan, Jr. did not get Don Diego as a “made” horse.

The horse was bought by the family as four-year-old at the Hanoverian auction and he has been riding Don Diego for three years, the first two in juniors and this year in the small tour with the seniors.

“When you build up a horse,” he said, “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.”

Don Diego already showed that.

“He’s a big horse who used to be very spooky,”He’s goofy in the barn, the clumsiest horse you have ever seen. In the walker once he tried to jump over the fence but he got stuck on the top. He stayed there until we came to his rescue so nothing happened to him. That showed he’s very smart.”

Now, Don Diego is performing piaffe and passage in small doses, Juan said, and can do the complete Grand Prix in pieces.

“Show after show, I believe Don Diego and I are creating a stronger bond with more confidence with each other. We’re completely partners.”