If you’ve visited Andalusia, festivals and ferías are the norm during the summer months. The sonrisa weeks are many. Generally, the ferías are connected to celebrating patron saints while the festivals are more connected to celebrating the regional culture like dance and music. On most evenings, it is not uncommon to find a sevillanas parade. In Seville, the annual exhibition featuring the Andalusian PRE draws many horse aficionados. The stallions and mares, very striking. The foals, off-the-scale cuteness.
A few of the traditions carried over to the New World. The festivals and ferías were fewer but incorporating traditions from the native cultures – Native American Indian, Aztec, Mayan and Incan. Horses made an impression in the American Southwest, particularly in the northward migration of Spanish missions into California, New Mexico and Texas. Equine bloodlines, from PRE thoroughbreds to quarterhorse to pack, were highly valued.
The revival of equestrian sports in New Mexico has included adding some of the festive sonrisa traditions. It may not be Seville, but the influence and atmosphere is undeniable.
equestrian review: Simeon Krestrel, Sonrisa de Santa Fe (Jul 2018)
When EquiCenter de Santa Fe closed their doors in 2009, it seemed equine sports in Santa Fe, and New Mexico, was finished forever. The fallout from the 2007-08 economic downturn was devastating. Riders were leaving the sport in droves, often selling their horses at “best offer” rates. So few competed in 2008, many sponsors left for other venues. Those riders who chose to compete opted to ride in Colorado where the equestrian scene had more stability.
Guy McElvain and his business partner, Brian Gonzales, entered a bid to buy the bankrupt equestrian center. Brian’s wife, Phyllis, had the more difficult task of rebuilding the thin equestrian ranks in New Mexico, and attracting riders from elsewhere to give the Grand Prix de Santa Fe another chance. Sponsors were initially, and rightfully, reticent. To change minds, they had to bring perspective, knowledge and expertise to the table. Guy, a respected adult-amateur rider, businessman and horse rancher. Phyllis, an experienced horse show planner and organizer. Brian, respected businessman and avid horseman. Also, their deep community and familial ties in Santa Fe aided in attracting investors and sponsorships.
After six years of planning and work, August 2015 signaled their new beginning with two shows, Sonrisa Week and the Grand Prix de Santa Fe, at the renamed equicenter, HIPICO Santa Fe. The two, smaller A-rated shows did well enough to expand the two shows into a four-show summer series in July and August 2016. Though overlapping with the Summer In The Rockies series in the Denver area, there are differences. The Summer In The Rockies series feature the large AA-rated shows, with the ability to attract riders, including top amateurs and professionals, from across the nation. The Santa Fe series with smaller A-rated shows, similarly aims to attract top amateurs, and possibly a few professionals. The difference maker, the uniquely Santa Fe atmosphere against a majestic southwest backdrop.
Invited since 2015, my daughters have struggled fitting the Santa Fe shows into their show schedule. A choice had to be made: compete with some of the best talent on the AA-circuit in Iowa or compete in a series in the process of regaining their footing in the equestrian world. The choice was easy, Iowa. Phyllis understood emerging talent riders need to compete with increasingly better talent to move to the next level.
With an already tight calendar, my girls committed to riding a private charity invitational over the Labor Day Weekend. In making the commitment, they also added Sonrisa Week to their show schedule, and tightening their calendar further.
USHJA Hunter Derby: Marianne, fellow RRC member, on the course (Sonrisa Week, Jul 2018)
warm-up session: Tara and Candace before the USHJA hunter derby (Sonrisa Week, Jul 2018)
During the mixer on opening night, Phyllis acknowledged several top amateurs riding Sonrisa Week – including a few she had been wooing for 2-3 years. After introducing the new faces that arrived during the day, Phyllis invited them to say a few words, if they had any. Elizabeth raised her hand. “We had wanted to come here for awhile, and we finally made it,” she began. “Someone said this could be the beginning of a tremendous legacy.” Pausing for the brief applause, Elizabeth finished, “I think that’s what you said, Brian.” He nodded yes to much laughter in the tent. “May everyone ride their best and ride well.”
The girls rode extremely well, continuing their incredible run this season.
NOTE: If you haven’t experienced an A-rated hunter/jumper show, please watch the video found here.