Over the past 15 years, top hunter groom Israel Gomez has learned the importance of knowing his horses inside and out.
“All horses are different. Some horses are sensitive; some are aggressive, and some are calm,” Gomez said. “I try to know my horses as best I can. If they tell me they don’t like something, I don’t do it. If they tell me something is wrong, I listen to them.”
His ability to tune into a horse’s needs earned him the job of caring for top amateur-owner hunter—and limited-edition Breyer model inspiration—Chablis in his current role with Lutz-Manfredi in North Salem, New York. Gomez, 29, has worked for Peter Lutz and Mary Manfredi since 2014 and now cares for 20 to 25 show and client horses daily, traveling to and from horse shows as needed.
Gomez starting caring for amateur rider Kelly Tropin Whitridge’s horses, including Chablis, during his second year working for Lutz. Lutz put him in charge of Chablis at the 2015 Hampton Classic, when the gelding’s regular groom stayed home for the week.
“This was my first time caring for Chablis,” Gomez recalled. “I was a bit nervous about making a mistake.”
Lutz rode Chablis right before the hunter derby, and when the pair returned to the barn he asked Gomez to longe Chablis and meet him at the ring in an hour.
“I remember Chablis was a bit excited that day,” Gomez said with a laugh. “I went as fast as I could, and after I bathed Chablis, the other guys helped me get him ready and off I went to the ring.” Gomez’s hard work paid off—Chablis and Whitridge placed second in the $50,000 iHeartMedia Hunter Derby.
From that day forward, Gomez has cared for the 14-year old Württemberger gelding (Camparino—Zuchtbuch), who can behave like a stallion and needs a confident handler. Gomez fills this role perfectly.
“Chablis is a very moody horse, and you can tell when he’s in a bad mood,” Tropin Whitridge said. “Israel is very calm with difficult horses, and that’s why he and Chablis work so well together. Peter and I really rely on Israel and trust him to tell us how Chablis is on any given day.”
Gomez’s patience with Chablis has paid off. Over the years, Tropin Whitridge and Chablis have won countless ribbons, most notably claiming seven champion tricolors and four reserve champion ribbons at the fall indoor shows in the amateur-owner hunter, 18-35, division and reserve at the Devon Horse Show (Pennsylvania) in 2019.
“If I give Chablis space at the horse show, he’s happy, and he wins,” Gomez said. “Some horses just prefer to be alone—if you do too many extra things, like magnetic blankets, extra flatting, longeing, etc, sometimes you stress them too much. Some days, Chablis just gets a handwalk and hand-graze and goes to the show ring. If he’s quiet, he’s perfect in the ring. If I do too much, he gets grumpy. I let him tell me what he wants every day.”
Gomez has spent his entire life around horses, starting on his parents’ farm in Guanajuato, Mexico. They raised cows and lambs, and grew corn, beans, and oats to sell to the local community.
“I helped my parents raise the animals, including the horses,” he said. “Down there, we do western riding, so that’s what I’m familiar with. It’s not the same riding as we do here in America!”
When Gomez moved to the United States, he first found a job with trainer Carol Maloney of Stony Creek Farm in North Salem, New York, caring for client horses at home. From there, he made his way to Andre Dignelli’s Heritage Farm in Katonah, New York, where his nephew was one of the managers.
“Carol’s place was a great place to start, but I wanted to learn about horse shows,” Gomez said. “I heard about them all the time from my friends. Everybody went to the same places: the Hampton Classic Horse Show in Bridgehampton, New York; the Kentucky Horse Shows in Lexington, Kentucky; and the Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida. I wanted to go see all of these places for myself.”
Gomez started working for Heritage in May 2012 and stayed with them for a year.
One of his charges was equitation superstar Uno, who won the 2012 ASPCA Maclay Finals (Kentucky) with Jacob Pope.
“Uno won a lot,” Gomez said. “I guess I’m lucky; I always take care of the best horses.”
Gomez takes pride in his work, and takes time with each of his charges.
“Some grooms only do this job for money, and they don’t really like the horses,” he said. “But I always try to do the best for the horse. I like to groom my horses a lot because they get a nice coat with dapples. I always check the legs and the whole horse for soreness in both the morning and the afternoon. If I feel something isn’t right, like there’s heat in their legs when I groom them, I will tell Peter or Mary immediately.”
Even outside of the barn, Gomez plays an important part in Tropin Whitridge’s life. When she got married in October 2020, Gomez was included in her wedding, and he brought over one of her horses, Enzo, for photos. “Israel got all dressed up; it was so awesome,” she said.
In January 2022, Breyer announced Chablis as its newest model. Whitridge and Chablis were invited to attend Breyerfest at the Kentucky Horse Park in July 2022, and Gomez joined them for the event.
“I loved sharing that with Israel,” she said. “It was such a joyous thing to share my horse with the kids and the people. Israel got Chablis to pose with the kids for photos. To watch him do that and work the crowds was so special.”
In addition to caring for Chablis, Gomez also cares for Tropin Whitridge’s young hunter, Kilian, who recently started competing in the 3’3″ amateur-owner hunter division.
“Everything always looks perfect on the horses Israel takes care of,” said Tropin Whitridge, who lives in New Canaan, Connecticut, and works full-time at a hedge fund. She said she never she never worries about any of her horses.
“It’s such a privilege to keep my horses with our team; I know they are getting the best possible care daily,” she said. “It’s so reassuring. I never worry about any of them. I really appreciate what Israel, the grooms, and Mary and Peter do every day.”
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