Atala and Espinosa Make The Pan American Games A Family Affair

Aug 2, 2019 - 10:31 PM

Lima, Peru—Aug. 2

Plenty of riders who head to major championships travel with family in tow, but it’s not very often that family is also competing.

But Karen Atala and her son Pedro José Espinosa came to the Pan American Games in Lima, Peru, to represent Honduras together. Atala rode D Esprit Joli in the dressage competition and Espinosa is riding Hipolita in the eventing competition. They are the only equestrians representing Honduras at the Games.

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Pedro José Espinosa and his mother Karen Atala are the only equestrians representing Honduras at the Pan American Games. Photo Courtesy Of Karen Atala

“It’s incredible,” said Atala. “When I went to the Pan Ams in Toronto and was asked in an interview, ‘What are you hoping for?’ I said, ‘Well, I’m hoping for more riders from Honduras to come to a Pan Am Games.’ I’m trying to open the path for more riders to come and compete, and I feel very proud that one of those riders is my son.”

There’s not a strong equestrian tradition in Honduras; there are no cavalry schools, unlike some other Latin American countries, and there aren’t even racetracks. Atala said that a Honduran-American woman started the first riding school in Honduras around 1980. Now Atala has a private club in the capital, Tegucigalpa, one of three major clubs in Honduras, and she also serves as president of the country’s equestrian federation.

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Karen Atala runs an equestrian club in Honduras and serves as the president of the country’s equestrian federation. Mollie Bailey Photo

Atala started out show jumping and eventing, eventually swapping to dressage after she had her four children. Two of those children followed in her footsteps, including Espinosa.

“She’s always put that love into horses in me since I was little,” said Espinosa. “When I was born she always rode with me. This being in my first Pan American Games, and her being in her third, is a great honor for the country, for myself and for our family.”

Espinosa paired up with his Pan Am mount, Hipolita, a Dutch Warmblood mare (Floyd—Estrella) when he was just 12, and the mare was just 6. The two came up the ranks together, competing at two FEI Central American And Caribbean Games before making their Pan American debut in Lima.

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Pedro José Espinosa and Hipolita have been together for six years. Mollie Bailey Photo

Espinosa, 18, finished high school and plans to attend college in Boston, but took a year off in order to focus on the Pan American Games. To do that, he left Honduras last year and headed to Pueblo, Mexico, where the competition is stronger.

“We had to get out of Central America to prepare,” he said. “The people in Mexico are really supportive. The places we were went amazing, with nice venues and good training.”

Espinosa won a CCI3*-L at Perote (Mexico) in March, and a CCI3*-S at the same venue in April.

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Pedro José Espinosa and Hipolita sit 14th after dressage day. Mollie Bailey Photo

“Even my coach Gonzalo [Gamboa] says ‘Look how far you’ve gone with this mare,’ ” Espinosa said. “Everyone’s always telling me in eventing the relationship between a rider and his partner is so important. Everybody is always telling me that the fact that I trust her so much and she trusts me back is such an important factor, so we’re a good team.”

And Espinosa is off to a strong start in Lima. He heads into cross-country on 33.0 penalty points, sitting 14th.

Unlike her son, Atala’s tenure with her mount has been short.  She’s only had the Hanoverian mare (Dacaprio—Donna Schufro, Don Schufro) for a year, partnering with her shortly before the last Central American And Caribbean Games (Colombia). She gets help from Gamboa and also from Jayne Ayers.

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Karen Atala and D Esprit Joli represented Honduras during the dressage competition. Mollie Bailey Photo

She didn’t score as high as she hoped during her trip to Lima, but that didn’t bother her.

“I know the scores aren’t what I expected, but competing in this field of great riders I’m just happy to be here and not get disqualified,” she said with a laugh. “It’s been a tough panel of judges so I’m happy to be here and especially happy to be enjoying it with my son.”

Atala had quite the adventure getting to the Games. Her trailer was assaulted in Guatemala while en route to fly to Lima.

“They robbed my car, put handguns on my groom and my [driver],” she said. “They took my car, left my mare and my trailer in a pasture. They almost killed my people. The mare was running around in the pasture. They stole my boots, my saddles, my bridles—everything. I had new boots done in a week in Colombia. I have blisters! It was really, really hectic coming here but we made it, and my mare got safely to Guatemala, so then we could fly her here. It’s been an ordeal but I’m really happy that it’s over.

“It’s been a big adventure,” she continued. “We got the car back because it had GPS. Luckily no one was killed or injured, so we just lost material things. And in the end I could come to Lima and be here with my son.”

Have questions about the Pan Am Games? We’ve got answers. Follow along with the Chronicle as we bring you stories, news and photos from the Pan American Games. Check in at coth.com and make sure you’re following us on Instagram and Facebook

You can find full results by clicking on equestrian on the official Pan Am website.

Check out our July 22 issue of The Chronicle of the Horse magazine, our Pan Am preview issue, for more information about the competitors, and be sure to read the September 2 issue to get full analysis from the Games. What are you missing if you don’t subscribe?

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