Top international dressage rider Juan Matute Guimón broke the 80% barrier in an emotional return to US competition for the first time since he suffered a life-threatening bleed on the brain.
Juan, who rides for Spain and also holds US citizenship, has been competing successfully on the European circuit since his return to competition after his illness last year. But his CDI4* grand prix freestyle win at the 2022 Adequan Global Dressage Festival in Wellington on Friday (4 March) aboard Quantico marked an “emotional” new milestone in his comeback to top-level sport.
“It’s been quite an emotional comeback, because the last time I was here was in 2020 with Don Diego trying to qualify for the Las Vegas World Cup final. And then we all know what happened after that,” he said.
On 5 May 2020, Juan collapsed while riding at home. He was airlifted to hospital in Madrid, with a bleed on the brain, and underwent two operations as doctors battled to save his life.
He also contracted pneumonia and spent 25 days in a coma, with medics and family unsure what the long-lasting effects may be. That summer, Juan was back riding and returned to international competition in April 2021.
“Now I’m back, and I’m going all out. I want to do it all. I want to go to all of the shows, the European Championships, dressage World Championships, World Cup final, everything. I want to be in the top sport, and I must take every opportunity I can,” he said.
His winning 80.19% performance is his second-highest ever score in the grand prix freestyle and only the second time he has broken the 80% barrier at this level.
The 24-year-old could hear the crowd clapping along at the end of his highly technical freestyle test, which he rode to music by Juanes and Bruno Mars.
“With horses as sensitive as Quantico they get really electric,” said Juan, of the 16-year-old gelding by Fighting Fit.
“And for the passage and piaffe, this is what we want to see, lots of activity. I had so much fun already, and to earn an 80% on top of that is mind-blowing. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep increasing the scores. That is always the goal. 81 or 82 or 83, who knows? But clean tests with more power, more cadence.”
The US combination of Jan Ebeling and Bellena, winners of the grand prix, took the runner-up spot on 75.52%. Third went to Germany’s Christoph Koschel and Dünensee on 75.36%.
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