Ahead of the first Longines FEI Jumping Nations Cup™ Final round, Mexican team Chef d’Equipe Mark Laskin (CAN) made a hefty promise.

“Win lose or draw, I promise that Mexico will bring positive energy and competitive spirit to the event,” he said.

Their fortitude was put to the test when Thursday’s contest went anything but to plan. The team landed in 12th place on 24 total faults, and ultimately failed to qualify for Sunday’s final. The team of Nicolas Pizarro, Andres Azcarraga, Fernando Martinez Sommer and Manuel Gonzalez Dufrane have certainly seen better days.

As fate would have it, Saturday was one of them.

While it’s no easy task to maintain morale after an early struggle, they managed it, seeing the the weekend’s Challenge Cup as the perfect opportunity at redemption. The team secured the win in the 1.60m 300,000 euro class on just a single time fault. A mythic improvement against Thursday’s 24 point score.

They rallied from the start, when pathfinder Nicolas Pizarro tested the 13-fence Santiago Varela (ESP) track with 11-year-old stallion Oak Grove’s Enkidu.

Nicolas Pizarro & Oak Grove’s Enkidu / FEI / Richard Julliart

“I think coming out number one is always tough but I made my plan. I probably was a bit slow from fence one to two and I never made up that time,” said Pizarro.

Though he had to answer to the clock, his decision to opt for a conservative ride ensured the pair were clear over the fences. The choice proved to be the right one, especially considering Sweden was so close behind. They finished second with only one rail down after the drop score was calculated.

Fernando Martinez Sommer & High Five / FEI Richard Julliart

“For sure the team was more confident today than when we spoke on Thursday and I’m really happy for them, and having an anchor rider like Manuel “Fish” today was amazing. And it’s a completely different team spirit when the alternate rider [Carlos Hank Guerreiro] supports us so much and is so close to the team,” said Pizarro.

The 44-year-old team veteran reflected on his first outings in Barcelona, and how the Mexican team is continuing to evolve.

“My first big Nations Cup was here and I can see riders who were children back then and who are now part of the team,” said Pizarro.

One of those riders is Dufrane, the 28-year-old with a unique nickname. “Fish” was the only Mexican rider to go clear on Thursday as well as Saturday. Though it’s as expected when he’s in the ring with his tried and true partner, 15-year-old mare Hortensia Van De Leeuwerk. Dufrane and Hortensia were part of the winning Nations Cup team on home turf in Coapexpan in March of this year, and Hortensia sports a 47% top ten finish rate according to JUMPR App.

Their Barcelona Nations Cup campaign ended before Sunday’s ultimate final, but Laskin is more than happy heading home with this trophy. And, that his riders stepped up and made good on his promise that their team spirit would be withstanding no matter the result.

“We hoped to jump tomorrow, but this is the heck of a consolation prize. Riding in Nations Cups it’s always important that whatever your score was in the first round that you improve in the second round and every single one of them did that and contributed, it was a real team effort,” said Laskin.  

“The only one who didn’t improve was Fish (that’s what we call Manuel) but then it’s kinda hard to improve on perfection. Double-clear, [on Thursday and then again Saturday] it doesn’t get much better than that, and we’re all thrilled for him and thrilled for our team.”

Andres Azcarraga & Contendros 2 / FEI / Richard Julliart

Dufrane earned an extra €50,000 for jumping clear both days. Not a bad day at the office for the young talent. His experience, though, contrasts his age. Which explains his ability to keep his cool when the stakes get high.

“I ride that spot [anchor] in many Nations Cups and I feel good with that kind of pressure,” explained Dufrane.

Time in the saddle is invaluable when procuring a top result, but it’s not the only element.

“Riding with friends is the most amazing thing,” said Dufrane.

Feature Image: Manuel Gonzalez Dufrane & Hortensia / FEI / Richard Julliart