Many of the best athletes have a spicy side. Some execute gravity-defying bucks after the fences, while others require a ground person to even make it into the ring. An aggressive style can cause as many disappointing performances as clear rounds, but that eccentricity often lends itself to star performances.
Managing those big personalities requires a creative mind and a patient nature, and few have mastered it quite like Beto Gutierrez, who took care of Nicole Shahinian-Simpson’s mare Akuna Mattata for six years.
As “Nahla’s” full-time groom and rider at home, Gutierrez learned to love the opinionated American Holsteiner mare (Quinar—M-Dragonfly, Landwind II), standing by her through some notorious antics, like the time she refused to let Shahinian-Simpson mount up at the CHIO Aachen Nations Cup (Germany) in 2019.
“The most important thing I learned from her was that less is more, and that it’s her way or the highway—you just don’t fight her,” Gutierrez said with a laugh. “That really got us places. She’ll let you know if she’s going to have a good or bad day, and the trick is to ride her exactly the same—don’t change a thing. Keep everything simple and just know that the less you do, the more she’ll settle into the work.”
Gutierrez, who was born in Mexico and raised in Wellington, Florida, started riding through a preschool friendship with Spencer Smith. Smith’s parents, Ken and Emily Smith, own Ashland Farms, where Gutierrez’s mom, Enriqueta Gutierrez, works in a non-equestrian role.
Growing up, Beto and Spencer shared a pony named Penguin for the short stirrup division. As preteens, they traveled the circuit: from Saratoga, New York, to Chagrin Falls, Ohio. They spent most of their summers at Beto’s favorite showgrounds, the Kentucky Horse Park in Lexington.
“Penguin’s party trick was what he would do after the under-saddle class,” Beto said. “We would line up and wait for results, and while we were waiting, he would roll over with one of us still on him while the judges made up their mind.”
By high school, Beto had started riding horses in training at Ashland Farms in Lexington and Wellington a few days a week. When he graduated, he tried a desk job. He quit on the second day.
“I knew I had a passion for horses, and I decided to chase that passion and see where it would take me,” Beto said. “I left Ken and Emily Smith to work for Nicki Simpson, who really took me under her wing for six years. She gave me an abundance of opportunities to learn from her, both on the ground and on the horse. She is a hell of a rider, and she is right there on the ground, very hands-on with all her horse care.”
After six years, Beto received an offer last year from Vasco Flores to manage the native Puerto Rican’s newly opened sales barn, Highport Stables in Wellington.
“When I started my own business, I was looking for somebody to fulfill a managerial position who would be extremely independent and up to the task,” said Flores, who worked for Georgina Bloomberg until early 2019. “I had known Beto for a long time, and I think the opportunity to be a part of a growing business really excited him. He stands out in the best way. His work ethic, his attention to detail, and his charisma are some of his characteristics that set him apart in the industry.
“He’s that type of person that, the bigger the moment, the more he will rise to the occasion,” Flores added.
Beto, 28, jumped at the opportunity and hasn’t regretted it.
“Vasco has really trusted me with his business, telling me to treat it like it’s my own, run it, and make it as successful as I can,” Beto said. “I love that. I love the business side of the industry, thinking about growth and strategies for development. I’m really proud that in the past three months, we’ve added more clients and horses as well as continuing to have success in the ring.
“My job as I see it is to keep everyone happy and everything running,” he continued. “Then Vasco can just worry about getting results in the ring.”
As Beto’s business acumen grows, Flores continues to invest in his riding education, too.
“Right now, he’s helping me a lot with a string of young horses, and I’m super excited about the job he’s doing,” Flores said. “He’s got an incredible amount of patience with them. Horses feel comfortable around him; you can see it from how he works with them on the ground and when he’s riding. He’s very soft and patient, and he really pays attention to what the horse wants and needs.”
Quick Questions With Beto
Who’s your favorite horse to take care of?
Akuna Mattata. We had such a strong relationship. I was her groom for six years, but Day 1 I knew she and I had a connection. I knew I was her person, and she was my four-legged person.
What’s the most embarrassing mistake you’ve made grooming?
The first time I ever clipped a horse, I clipped her with the surgical clippers.
Do you have any hobbies outside of horses?
I’m obsessed with interior designing. I have a good eye for it and love to play around with it. I’ve always told myself if for some spontaneous reason I leave the show world, it [would be] to do interior design.
What advice would you give someone starting out?
Always try to learn from everyone around you. No matter how old you are, you will always learn. Be open to learning new things from everyone you work with.
What’s the toughest part of your job?
The long hours, especially during season.
What keeps you motivated?
Results. I am eager to always get good results. It’s a team effort, and it takes a village. I need to do my job so the rider can do his job.