Common sense says it takes “a village” to raise a child. Less common is the belief that equestrian show jumping, requires something very similar: it definitely takes “a team” . Unlike ball sports, horseback riding may appear to onlookers as a “solo-sport” but nothing could be father from the truth. Yes, those spectators see only a single rider enter a nearly silent ring on horseback, but no rider gets “there” on his own. More often than not, those five minutes of performance require at least as many people behind the scenes.
I certainly do.
I have many to thank, including those unsung family, friends and professional colleagues who help and encourage in ways untold. My hands-on inner circle is a small one. These individuals have taught me the notion of TEAM, leading by example. Specifically, my dad, Fernando Cardenas, sr., is the accomplished equestrian, who has bred most of the horses I ride. He continuously shares an ever-impressive body of horse knowledge, garnered from a lifetime of dedication to the sport. Similarly, Manuel Torres, has elevated his passion for horses to the level of 5 time Olympian. He travels from his home in Virginia, to train us in NC. Marina Lemay works tirelessly six days a week to condition and rehab all Horses in the 3H Facility on water and dry treadmills, hot-walker, vibration plate and solarium therapies. I rely equally heavily on two awesome individuals who volunteer over and over and over again. Far more than horse-handler, groom, rig-driver, personal assistant or a reliable jump crew, Jody Shover and Santiago Arenas are my friends. I have no words to contain my gratitude.
Like anyone else, these individuals, like to be in the winning circle, but no one wins all the time. Twice in one night last week was a first time for me, and I owe it all to my Team. Some people never get “the chance” because chance, itself, is a funny thing. Is it a lucky break or a series of fortunate events? Is it the predictable result of hard work or of a particular God-given talent? No one knows for sure, but securing both a first and a second place win at the Duke Jump for the Children Benefit sure felt good to us all. I know keeping my Team in the winner’s circle is one way of giving back to them because winning puts broad smiles on their faces. I know, too, I can never compensate them for all they deserve. They are involved every step of the way, often on the grounds before daylight, and returning home after midnight, only to get up and do it all over again. It’s not just the winning that gets them out of bed in the morning. This team is comprised of those precious few individuals who love the horses so much that their joy, like mine, is in seeing the horses excel. The horses have something in common with the Team: They do an awful lot of hard work (approximately 40 jumps in every grand prix class), meet every challenge (they rarely train at home over 1.50 fences) and they take “a lickin” (bruises and muscle strain on occasion) just for a few carrots and apples !
But make no mistake: I believe the horses love their job. I know I love mine, and I must believe my Team does, too.