My grandpa made a living as an ophthalmologist, but he learned to ride with the cavalry in Mexico. He wasn’t military, himself, but back then, all the military guys had nice horses, and that’s how he learned to jump.

My dad [Jorge Berganza], his son, started riding when he was three or four. He played around with racehorses for a little bit when he was young, taking them off the racetrack and turning them into jumpers and then selling them. He started going to Europe in the 1980s to find horses, sort of as a hobby, since he also worked as an ophthalmologist with my grandfather full-time. But for a while, he became the largest horse dealer in Mexico. At one point, it was not uncommon at prize giving ceremonies at any level of competition in the country to find that half or more of the horses had been sold at one time or another by my dad.

Both my parents are doctors and they met in med school. My mom [Lily Anderhub] was not into horses, but my dad taught her how to ride, and she developed the same passion for them. She competed up to the 1.20m jumpers and was a pretty good dressage rider, but then her shows started conflicting with our show jumping shows, so she quit competing, but still rode at home.

When my older brother Jorge [Jr.] and I started riding, there was nothing at our farm but a few stalls and an empty grass field, and we would just throw some jumps up on the grass and jump around. When we were young, my dad did a lot of the riding and training himself. As we got older, though, we started taking over the rides. The business peaked when we were old enough to do that, and at our largest point, we had about 25 horses, six or seven grooms, and three riders, including myself.

“We didn’t really know how to ride, we would just get in there and run around and try to jump the jumps. I remember actually winning a couple classes falling off, as long as I fell off after the timers.” 

Riding was something I did growing up, but I was not really interested in it at the time, believe it or not. I liked showing and I started getting really competitive when I was a kid because my grandpa promised me $100 for every class I won. My younger twin brothers, Adrian and Andres (who are eight years my junior), were the same way when they were kids. I don’t think that they really knew how they felt about it, it was just what we all did.

Then we went as a family to watch the World Equestrian Games in Spain in 2002, and the first time I watched that, I was like, I want to do that. From there on, it became my goal to ride for a living.

Growing up, we never had our own horses, which I think has helped me in this career. We would show or ride hand-me-downs or green or problematic horses that somebody else didn’t want to deal with. My family didn’t have the money to buy us nice horses; the nice horses that we had were difficult, which is why we had them. I think growing up riding all different kinds of horses helped us to be very adaptable, which is a huge advantage. If you grow up riding just nice, easy horses, you never really learn how to ride.

We would show almost every weekend, usually when we were young on the Mexico City circuit, which has about four to five different show venues that would alternate during the season. We started out taking a couple of horses each, but at some point, we would just take as many as we could fit in the trailer—sometimes 10 horses at a time. In the early years when we started showing, it was a disaster. We didn’t really know how to ride, we would just get in there and run around and try to jump the jumps. We would fall off. I remember actually winning a couple classes falling off, as long as I fell off after the timers.

 I think patience, by far, is the single most difficult thing to have when you work with horses.

On weekends in the summer, we would ride all morning and then have lunch and just hang out at the barn all day. Every Saturday in Tulancingo, they’d have different street vendors make barbacoa, which is sheep slow-cooked for hours in a hole covered in maguey, or cactus leaves. It’s traditional and we all loved it, so on Saturday after we rode, someone would go get barbacoa and my parents and brothers and friends and all the grooms would sit down together and eat by the ring.

My dad gave us our basics in riding. He always had a very natural instinct for what a horse needed, and for figuring out a horse’s head. He was fantastic at bringing them along, and us as well. He was demanding but he knew when to push and when not to. He didn’t want us to get sick of it, so he would do a little bit at a time—especially with me, because I was all over the place. I think he knew what limitations he would have as a trainer once we reached a certain point, so at age 13 or 14, he started sending us to train in Europe during the summer months.

I rode with dealers in Germany that my dad knew at first, and when I graduated high school, I went to Belgium to work at a sales barn for Christophe Ameeuw. Later, I spent some time riding with Luciana Diniz in Germany, and from all of those experiences, I took so much. Every person I worked with then and since has given me the chance to learn something new.

There came a point when, after riding in Europe and learning different ways of doing things, I came back home and my father and I bumped heads a little bit. By then, I was more involved in the training of the horses and managing the program, and we had different ideas about how to do things. At that time, I realized it was a good point for me to leave home and try to do things my own way. I rode for VDL Stud in Wellington for a winter, and then took a job riding for the La Silla breeding farm back in Mexico for two years before ultimately starting up my own business, Keystone LLC, in the States.

“Every horse has a different way, and you just have to spend some time trying to find it and figuring out what works best for each one.”

My older brother Jorge became an ophthalmologist, but I think Adrian and Andres will go into the horse business when they finish college. Eventually, they may want to come here to work with me in the U.S., or one of them might want to go spend more time in Europe and keep learning and scouting for horses. I don’t know which way it’s going to go yet, but I think at some point, all three of us will end up doing something together.

Now that I have my own business, I’m reminded all the time of the lessons my parents passed on to us growing up. From my mom, the most important thing I learned is to be optimistic, no matter what. That’s gotten harder as I’ve gotten older, because when you have your own business, sometimes things work out and sometimes they don’t. It’s hard to see through all of it and to stay thinking positive.

From my dad, it’s patience. I can count on one hand the number of times that I’ve seen my dad mad at a horse. He’s tried to instill that in all of us since we were really young, and I think, by far, it’s the single most difficult thing to have when you work with horses.

Every horse has a different way, and you just have to spend some time trying to find it and figuring out what works best for each one.

-As told to Nina Fedrizzi. Photos courtesy of Javier Berganza; credits from left: Anwar Esquivel; Third Shutter From the Sun PhotographyAnwar Esquivel; family photo; SportfotAnwar Esquivel.