May 2009

No Microwave Horses
Roberto Leon professional rider and trainer
No Microwave Horses
by Ingrid Edisen


"There are a lot of horses, a liking for them and a lot of land in Texas," said professional rider and trainer Roberto Leon. Roberto, who hails from Ecuador, notes that Texas alone is three-and-a-half times larger than his country of origin. Nowadays he is settled with his wife, Rhonda, and two young children in the Bastrop area. Rhonda, a native Texan, teaches school while Roberto teaches horses and riders.

I had a chance to sit down with him at the Alamo Dressage Association's Spring Dressage Show in San Antonio. He had just finished two performances on Remington, owned by Bobbie and Clyde Paulk. Remington is an almost 17-hand strongly opinionated warmblood cross, sired by the famous Swedish dressage stallion Gauguin de Lully. Roberto makes it look easy--his wiry body maintains a strong core. The horse has been known to bounce around a lot yet Roberto keeps his composure throughout. Roberto also trains show jumpers--so to him a few "airs about the ground" on Remington are a breeze. This show was Remington's debut and the animal handled it with diplomacy under Roberto's guidance.

Roberto's horse-related resume is long on both experience and formal education. He speaks three languages fluently (Spanish, English and Italian). He earned a diploma with honors from the Morven Park Equestrian Institute in 1989, where he absorbed everything he could from Tad Coffin and Raul de Leon and had the opportunity to ride in clinics with Berthalan de Nemethy. His family has been into horses for three generations. Roberto spent a year riding in Italy in the '90's, some time riding under Olympian Peter Leone in the East coast in '02 and a year in the Dallas area under Olympian Mike Huber preparing young Irish Sport horses for sale and shows. His philosophy of riding education has largely come from the Germans as he has sought out classical knowledge and methods.

Now 43, and having gained the perspective and wisdom of someone who has ridden on three continents, Roberto focuses on doing the right thing by the horse. "I want to teach people how to ride a horse without a hurry. My focus is teaching riding as an art and not just a way to make money. Basic dressage is most important for the future career of the horse. With jumpers, I emphasize the flat work."

He reflected on what he observes in the U.S. and noted that even comparing lifestyles shows a marked difference in approaches to riding. "Everything here seems to be in such a rush. There can be no 'microwave horses,'” he said. "You cannot skip parts of the process. Berthelan de Nemethy said Americans learn to compete first; then they want to learn how to sit on a horse."

Roberto Leon during lesson
Roberto’s advice is: "Stick to a method. If you want to do classical dressage riding, then go learn from the best how to do that. Of course you can learn horsemanship from other disciplines but you need to stick with one method." Roberto was not in favor of introducing different methods to a horse as it can confuse the animal.

"I work on rhythm, relaxation, connection, impulsion, straightness and self carriage. If I am given a horse that won't go forward, I gallop him in the woods to open his mind. Often bad habits in a horse come from the lack of experience on the rider's part," he said.
Currently Roberto is based at USEF Dressage "R" judge Bobbie Paulk's barn in the Bastrop area. "Working with Bobbie is helping me become detailed. I am learning a lot from her. She has been doing classical dressage for decades. That type of dressage is very important and must not be forgotten."

"I want to share my knowledge and experience with riders who are interested in the art. I am not in a hurry."

Roberto is available for lessons, re-schooling, training, and clinics. He can be reached at (512) 706-5040 or r2lm@hotmail.com.

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