'Feels Like An Apocalyptic Movie': Matute Guimón’s Reflections On COVID-19 And Its Impact On World Dressage Sport

Mar 13, 2020 - 8:42 AM

As COVID-19 continues to add more casualties worldwide,  organizers of equestrian competitions have modified their schedules in hopes of limiting risks while still trying to conduct business as usual. With President Donald Trump’s travel suspension in place for the next 30 days, the FEI World Cup Final, set to be held in Las Vegas on April 15-19, is looking unlikely to happen. For Spanish dressage rider Juan Matute Guimón, 22, it would have been his first World Cup Final with his horse Don Diego.

“Everything is a bit scary looking at the moment all over the world. To be honest, I doubt that it will happen—at least on the dates that are officially meant to be hosting the Final,” said Matute. “Perhaps they [will] decide to postpone it; that would be an ideal scenario. But what is also true is that if they need to postpone it too long then it might interfere with the Olympics. Let’s see, who knows what happens.

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Juan Matute Guimón was hoping to compete Don Diego at the FEI World Cup Final in Las Vegas. Lindsay Berreth Photo.

“To me it would be such a big disappointment,” he continued. “If they cancel it, I would understand—[I’d] absolutely understand if they need to postpone it because it is a matter of health, worldwide health.

“But if they cancel it, it would be a big pity because it was the first time that I officially qualified for the Final. The effort that we put in—not only me but all the riders that qualified—the effort that everyone put in throughout the season, if it were to just finish with no final, it would be a big pity.”

We caught up with Matute to learn how the coronavirus has impacted Spain, his daily life and his competition schedule.

How is Spain handling COVID-19?

They have decided to really take it seriously now. They’ve canceled schools from all grades for the next two weeks at least. They’re canceling major sports events. The first phase was that they would put a limit of 1,000 spectators to these events. Then the next step was it was going to be closed to the public—just the event and the athletes and the people involved. And even though the authorities have suggested that the sport events can still be held but with closed doors, now most organizing committees have decided to just cancel. Because many of these shows had people coming from different parts of the country or even outside the country—you know international shows. Not many people want to come and compete, so all these shows were postponed. They’ve decided to just wait it out and see how it evolves and try to find other dates for these shows.

I think it has honestly affected the whole world at this point to the same extent. We’re all trying to be as careful as we can. It’s a request of responsibility that the government has asked of us as citizens.

But at the moment in Spain, the message is to remain calm, to make slight variations to our daily routines to avoid too much contact with people, to be very hygienic, avoid large groups and meetings of large groups of people, avoid going out, try to stay home as much as you can. We’re basically in quarantine more or less. We’re keeping ourselves in quarantine, which sounds kind of scary, but at the same time it is our responsibility to avoid it from spreading much more and becoming worse than it already is.

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“If it were to just finish with no final, it would be a big pity,” said Juan Matute Guimón. Tori Repole Photo

How has it changed your daily life?

We’re just trying to follow the guidelines that have been given by the authorities. In our job, we can’t do as other businesses [can] where they’re requesting their employees to work from home. In our daily work we still go to the barn, and we’re training, and there’s not much that can vary. We’re not amateur, hobby riders. We’re a professional team, and the horses need to keep their fitness, and they need to stay in good shape. So, our daily life has not really changed other than some of the shows that we were going to compete in, they’ve been canceled or postponed from the federation.

Has it impacted your schedule and shows?

It’s looking like we’re headed towards difficult times because this has impacted the entire world, and just as these shows have been canceled in my country, they have also been canceled in many other countries. Actually, this weekend it was the last World Cup qualifier in the Western European League in ‘s-Hertogenbosch [the Netherlands], and it was canceled mid-show, which was quite surprising to me, to be honest. I thought that since they were already there and actually today was the Grand Prix, and apparently, they canceled it right before the class started. So I think that speaks of itself. That says enough about what’s going on.

My plan was to compete at the four-star that we were going to have [CDI4* Madrid]. I was going to take some of my upcoming 7-year-olds and make their first start at this new level. And shows were canceled or at least postponed. So at the moment competition in Spain is frozen, I think mostly worldwide too. We’ll see where this takes us because we’re a few months still ahead of the Games. From the International Olympic Committee, they say that everything is still following according to plan, and everything is going to be as scheduled. But we will see if it doesn’t get worse.

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Juan Matute Guimón, 22, has risen through the dressage rankings, earning his first 80 percent aboard Quantico in December. Lindsay Berreth Photo

Travel is risky at the moment. It’s not like this has just happened this past week. Those flights that I have been taking to the States when I was competing there in Wellington [Florida] or when I flew to Doha [for the CDI in Qatar], there were still risks there. We were wearing our masks and [using the] tools to try and stay away from the danger of being contagious. We were trying to be as risk-free by taking all of those measures, but still we were being exposed to it. It was quite scary actually when I was at the airports to see so many people also wearing their masks. It really looks and feels like an apocalyptic movie. Really something from Hollywood.

What is your plan currently with everything in flux?

My plan is still to train as if nothing was going wrong. I need to still be ready to perform at my highest level at this event. Of course I’m being very cautious and being very aware of the risks. I’m just being very on top of the news and being updated and staying in touch with the federation and just checking online if there have been any reports or new findings or new whatever. To stay informed and know more or less where we’re headed. But my training keeps the same. I’m not on holiday. I’m not deciding, ‘OK we’re not going to show, so I can just take a break.’ No—not at all. We’re going to keep our training or intensity and aiming for the shows as if nothing was going on.

What do you think will happen with the World Cup Finals or should happen?

I need to have my competitors there. The people that qualified better be there. If not, it’s not really a Final. If the riders that have qualified for the Final don’t go because they aren’t allowed or welcome in because of the quarantine and the restriction in the border, then there’s no Final. Then I, of course, wouldn’t go. But in that sense, in a few weeks or by next month, I’m sure that there will be an official announcement of whether the Finals are going to be held or not. We’ll adjust.

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“Everything is connected. That is the scary thing,” said Juan Matute Guimón. Tori Repole Photo

To be honest, what I have hopes for: They find a solution immediately, and everything is again going back to normal as soon as possible. Or, Option B, they decide in order to be safe and stay away from the risks of getting contagious from this virus, that they decide to postpone it a bit—but not too much that it interferes with the cycle for the Olympics. And then, worst case scenario, I guess Option C, that they postpone it until the beginning of next year or later this year after the Olympics—maybe sometime in autumn or winter. But all of these things I’m sure have been and are being contemplated and considered by all of the people in charge, the FEI and the federations.

What are your final thoughts concerning this pandemic?

Everything is connected. That’s the scary thing. It started in China! China is so far away from Spain. Everything is interconnected now with the transportation, with planes and with cars. It can be all over the place in no time, and everything spreads like wildfire. Drastic measures have to be taken to really keep everything under control or as much as we can.

I think the problem is that we all kind of were conscious about it, but, ‘Eh it’s far away. It’s not really going to be here. It’s not that big of a deal. It’s just one more flu. It’s not going to be that bad.’ When you take away the importance that it has, that’s when it becomes even more dangerous.

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