Santa Claus gets a lot of odd requests each Christmas, from front teeth to partridges in pear trees. So perhaps it wasn’t too unusual when the jolly lad received a letter from Julio Mendoza, a Columbus-based dressage rider, asking for $300,000.
According to Mendoza, the cash will fund a trip to Paris, where he will represent his home country of Ecuador in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Freestyle dressage competitions at the 2024 Summer Olympics.
“Traveling and competing in Europe will be a very new experience,” Mendoza tells Bold Life. “We’re really looking forward to it.”
By “we,” Mendoza means he and his horse, a chestnut gelding named Jewel’s Goldstrike (aka “Goldie”). Earlier this fall, the duo made history when they received a record score for both the Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Freestyle competitions at the Pan American Games in Chile.
“It was unbelievable,” Mendoza says of the moment when he and Goldie received the Individual Gold Medal. “I wanted to cry. Everyone came over to hug and congratulate me. It was a really sincere and beautiful moment.”
For those unfamiliar, dressage is an equestrian sport that showcases the harmony between horse and rider through a choreographed sequence of precise movements. These movements are often set to classical music, though Mendoza prefers melodies by contemporary musicians such as Madonna, Bruno Mars, and Sia.
“Dancing” to these toe-tapping tunes requires constant, albeit subtle, communication. The rider may slightly shift his weight to the left or right. Or, he may sit deeper or lighter in the saddle. The key is to give the horse instruction as seamlessly as possible.
“Basically, the judges score the technical side of your test — how correctly you execute the movements,” Mendoza explains. “They also score your artistic side — how much they like the music, choreography, rhythm and energy, and the degree of difficulty and harmony in the test.”
Luckily, Mendoza and Goldie have forged an enduring connection that gives them an edge in the arena.
“We have a bond that’s very deep, almost like we can read one another’s minds when we ride,” says Mendoza. “I always know how he’s feeling and his energy level. He allows me to guide him in ways that are soft, elegant, and beautiful and not forced or difficult.”
Be that as it may, practice still makes perfect, which is why Mendoza and Goldie will be flying to Europe three months in advance of the Olympics. This will give the duo an opportunity to assess their competition.
“It’s a new journey for us,” says Mendoza, “so we will have a lot to learn.”
To raise funds for Mendoza’s trip to Paris, a black tie gala is slated for Saturday, Dec. 2, 6pm at the Tryon International Equestrian Center (25 International Blvd., Mill Spring). The event will include dinner, beer and wine, a silent auction, and entertainment. Tickets are $250. See resort.tryon.com for more information.