On Thursday, May 31, the equestrian community awoke to the news that two-time Olympian Jaime Guerra of Mexico passed away in his sleep at just 54 years of age.
That same day, Canada’s Gareth Graves won the CSI2* Welcome at Thunderbird Show Park in Langley, BC, a class dedicated to the Mexican rider. It was an emotional victory for the Edmonton-based Graves.
“I woke up to the news totally shocked. I was only there not even a month ago,” said the 33-year old rider.
For the past five years, Graves has been working with fellow Canadian, Desiree Johnson, to find horses in Europe. Johnson is based in Belgium. Guerra was her head rider.
“Jaime Guerra is a guy I idolized forever,” said Graves.
“I can even begin to tell you how amazing a person he was. A horseman through and through. He really rode in a way that horses just loved and they loved doing their job for him.
“In my own riding that’s what I try to get done also. Make the horse want to do something out of enjoyment, not out of pressure.”
Graves currently has two horses in his barn that were developed by Guerra. A horse named Casper that’s competing with a young rider and a promising mount named Van De Sar.
“[Jaime] rode with telepathy,” continued Graves.
“I mean, you watch him go and those horses, first of all, they absolutely loved him and second of all, the results were just incredible. When you watch him it seems so unassuming. There’s no big trick, uncomplicated, it’s just horses loving what they’re doing.
“One of my favorite things [about going to Europe] was to get to spend time with a legend and he was the most humble, incredible human being. [He] would take all the time, had no ego at all—on or off the horse. You almost had to remind him, ‘Hey, you know what you’ve done in your life?'”
Those accomplishments include a decades long career at championship level sport.
Guerra rode for Mexico in the Olympic games in Barcelona (1992) and Atlanta (1996) and contested three World Equestrian Games (The Hague 1994, Rome 1998 and Lexington 2010) and three Pan American Games (Indianapolis 1987, La habana 1991 Buenos Aires 1995).
With Guerra at the forefront of his mind, Graves rode to his best international finish yet with 11-year-old bay mare Billy Pukka at Thunderbird last Thursday, a feat he attributed to his dearly departed friend.
“It felt like he was here on some level,” said Graves.