Paula & Juan, Jr., the Matute Teenagers Beginning Grand Prix

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Paula Matute on Tarpan Ymas in their first Grand Prix, the under-25 division at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Paula Matute on Tarpan Ymas in their first Grand Prix, the under-25 division at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

By KENNETH J. BRADDICK

WELLINGTON, Florida, Mar. 13, 2014–The teenagers Paula and Juan Matute, Jr. look at the sibling rivalry of brother and sister as just normal but both dream of riding in the Olympic Games and maybe on the same team.

The prospect of the children of the three-time Spanish Olympian, Juan Matute achieving their goals does not appear far-fetched after making their debuts in the Grand Prix for the Under-25 division–Paula at 18 years of age and Juan, Jr. at 16 at a Global Dressage Festival national competition. Their ages peg them at junior rider level, but their abilities beyond their years.

Although both performed on the same day, Paula on Tarpan Ymas can claim she did it first–as they rode in the same class,with Paula 10 minutes ahead of Juan, Jr. on Don Diego Ymas.

Whether the team they hope to ride on is for Spain–as it was in the 2013 family affair Nations Cup and then in the CDIO3* team event this year to win bronze–or the United States is not yet decided. What started as a year in Florida to chill out after Juan’s decades of intensive competition in Europe, six years later has led to Wellington becoming home and a lifestyle that allows the family to indulge their passion for horses. There are no plans to move back to Europe any time soon.

“We’re not closing any doors,” was the way Paula, a high schoool senior, put it to dressage-news.com. “It’s a double opportunity. It just gives us an option whether to wear the American flag or the Spanish flag–what country is proud to have you represent them.”

Yeguada de Ymas, the Spanish dressage horse breeding operation that has built a spectacular farm in Wellington and is also a sponsor of the Global series of 12 weeks of competitions over winter, provides horses and support to Paula and Juan, Jr.

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

Paula, Juan, Jr., Juan and Maria, whose grandfather was chef d’equipe for Spain at the Munich Olympics in 1972, have brought a style of celebration of life to the dressage venue, family and friends waving flags and banners in team competitions, high fives and other gestures of youthful enthusiasm in a sport that often is marked by stoicism as if riding is to be endured rather than enjoyed.

But riding and competing with dedication and professionalism.

Both teenagers ride several horses in the morning before attending online school by Skype late in the day. And when summer vacation arrives, the family will make the annual pilgrimage to Europe to train and compete, possibly at the mecca of horse sports, the World Equestrian Festival in Aachen, Germany.

Despite success, Paula and Juan are disarmingly candid and humble.

Riding horses is not only about the sport for Paula, but training for the rider.

“It ts a way for me to learn and improve as a human being every day,” she said, “and not let my ego get too big… or try not to.”

She had been riding Tarpan for a couple of months before competing the 14-year-old KWPN stallion at small tour in the Nations Cup in February.

Paula Matute on Tarpan leaving the competition arena with fans waving Spanish flags after their Wellington Nations Cup ride. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Paula Matute on Tarpan leaving the competition arena with fans waving Spanish flags after their Wellington Nations Cup ride. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com

This is her first year with a trained horse–he had been competed at Grand Prix in Spain in 2012.

“I have to be very pateient,” she said, “I have to be very strong in the head. I cannot think about giving up because things are not coming. That’s where you show who is an athlete, healthy in the head.

“It’s good when things are perfect. But you have to keep humble, maybe admitting some people are better. You put a smile on your face, go in the ring and do your best.”

Although she admits to having “almost a sickness” of not being able to live without horses she also describes herself as ” very dreamy, very artistic. I love painting, writing, designing, away from the numbers. It gets my mind off the routine. I’m the dreamer of the house.”

Eventually she plans to pursue an interest other than horses, but for now her sights are on Europe after the Wellington season ends.

She expects to have to ride in open Grand Prix at shows where Under-25 classes are not offered and jokes that if she does so hopes she never has to follow Valegro into the ring.

Riding in the senior Grand Prix “will be a big experience, but I’m not afraid of it. Hopefully we can qualify for some big shows. For sure when we come back to Florida we will be doing open Grand Prix.”

She shares the dream of most riders to be in the Olympic Games, if not with Tarpan then with one of the other young horses she rides.

“We know there may be better horses and riders,” she said. “It’s not just talent. It’s the work… and to be lucky.”

And that sibling rivalry?

Paula: “It’s not easy to be siblings and compete with each other. He’s my brother snd I love him. In the ring there is no friendhship, no brother.”

Juan Matute, Jr. in Don Diego Ymas competing in their firs Under-25 Grand Prix. © 2014 Ken Braddck/dressage-news.com
Juan Matute, Jr. in Don Diego Ymas competing in their firs Under-25 Grand Prix. © 2014 Ken Braddck/dressage-news.com

Juan: “There’s always sibling rivalry. We really care for each other and put that rivalry aside when we can. It’s not only with horses, it’s who gets to sit in the front of the car, everything, every brother sister relationship.

“Everyone is a competitor in the ring. Outside of the ring we all just love each other. We’re friends, super friends, but in the ring it’s an individual sport.

“My biggest dream is not only to make it to the Olympics but on a team with my sister. That would be beyond belief, especially at our age.”

Juan’s first Grand Prix ride was “awesome” and memorable, one of the most fun rides so far.

Much has been mentioned of Juan’s success at the age of 16, but he has a different view.

“It’s not me at 16, it’s the 50 years added from my dad, his knowledge and experiences.”

He expects to compete at Grand Prix in a CDI on Don Diego Ymas, an 11-year-old black gelding, before leaving for Europe.

“I’m young but I’ve got a lot of support behind me,” he said. “So far it’s all going perfectly. But riding Grand Prix is a completely different mind set. I have a lot to learn.

“I have a passion for dressage. It’s a lot of education and a lot of sweating. If I don’t set my goals high I’ll never reach them.”

Yeah! Juan Matute, Jr. on Don Diego Ymas at the end of their first U-25 Grand Prix competition ride. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com
Yeah! Juan Matute, Jr. on Don Diego Ymas at the end of their first U-25 Grand Prix competition ride. © 2014 Ken Braddick/dressage-news.com