When lifelong high-performance groom Mario Martinez Granados traveled to the 2010 Aachen CHIO (Germany) with Candice King, he sent his son, Mario Martinez, behind-the-scenes videos and pictures. It was thrilling for the young boy in Mexico who aspired to follow in his father’s footsteps.
Ten years later, at the age of 25, Martinez has built up a résumé that includes caring for horses in some of the elite barns in show jumping. For the past three years, he’s worked alongside Andrew Welles, whose Team Welles is basing out of Corporate Way Farms in Libertyville, Illinois, for the summer.
“It’s hard work, and you have to be physically and mentally prepared because it’s hard, but the rewards are just huge at the end,” said Martinez. “I’m very lucky to get to meet good people along the way. When I started, I never thought I would be here.”
A Dream Come True
Baseball is the sport of choice in Jerécuaro, the Mexican city where Martinez grew up and learned to play the game. He was aiming for the professional level when his family moved to Wellington, Florida, in 2011.
“When we moved to Wellington, just being there got me into the horses,” said Martinez. “I just wanted to do the horses. I was lucky that my dad and mom supported me all the way because even though they wanted me to continue school and the baseball, the horses were something I always wanted to do, and the love for them was always something very big for me.”
Granados was working as a full-time groom for Paul O’Shea, so Martinez would pop in to help with small chores around the barn. He would frequent the Winter Equestrian Festival, and he’ll always remember the first time he saw his dad prepare a horse for the grand prix ring.
“I remember I spent the day with him [and] waited until he took the horse up to the ring,” said Martinez. “Just seeing him getting the horse ready and making sure the horse was feeling its best and keeping him happy—that was really something for me.”
A year after moving to Wellington, Martinez’s cousin Frank Martinez helped him land a job with the Schaefer family, which gave Mario his start in the industry.
“I started with [Frank] from the bottom,” Mario said. “My cousin taught me a lot, so did [Samantha Schaefer and Stacey Weiss]. It was good training for me before I started doing it more professionally. It was a good start for my career. I’m glad I got to do that; I learned a lot from it. That was my first time actually working with horses.
“When I started with them, I didn’t know much apart from the very basics, getting the horses ready for the show,” Mario added. “I got the concept of it pretty quick. When I started working with them, I saw all the inside [details] —farriers, vets, the pre-show prep, the routines, the importance of everything. It was something I didn’t know [why it was] so important, but at the end of the day, those little things matter.”
Towards the end of 2012, Granados told Mario about a job opening with Nick Dello Joio, who frequented the bigger shows and spent the summers at Spruce Meadows in Calgary (Alberta). Mario saw it as the logical next phase of his career.
Getting to work under Nick and his father, Olympic medalist Norman Dello Joio, was a highlight for Mario. He also appreciated exposure to superstar horses like HH Carlos Z, whom Nick rode before Double H Farm purchased him for McLain Ward in 2014.
Through Nick, Mario also met the Oldenburg mare Corlida. Nick bought Corlida in 2014. That October, they won a $50,000 grand prix during the Tryon Fall III series in Mill Spring, North Carolina. It was their first grand prix win together and a favorite memory of Mario’s.
“She’s special; she was my first grand prix, [Fédération Equestre Internationale] horse,” Mario said. “She was the one that taught me everything. I won my first grand prix with her and Nick. She was one of a kind, the sweetest thing to work with, but she was fire in the show ring. Seeing her working her way up to the five-star level, it was something else for me. She made me very proud—a very special mare for me.
“She and I made a connection, that bond right away,” Mario added of Corlida, who retired in 2018. “She was a talker; she would let me know when she wasn’t feeling it. I [treated] her like she was my family. At the shows, she was on it, but at home, it was more like, ‘OK, I’m going to let you be a horse.’ That’s when I really fell in love with a horse. That’s when everything started for me. She taught me that love between a human and a horse.”
In 2015, Mario accepted an offer to travel to Europe with M. Michael Meller of Gallagher/Meller Sport Horses, with whom he spent the summer before returning to Wellington to work with Lauren Tisbo.
“[Tisbo] had five FEI horses that were jumping the five-star classes, so it was very good for me to get back at it,” said Mario. “It was great because she had those top horses; we were showing in the top classes. She also taught me a lot.”
After a year with Tisbo, Mario got word that Welles was looking for an FEI groom. He took the job following a phone interview.
“Honestly, I thought it was going to be short term, but then I remember my first week—it just felt like home,” said Mario. “[Andrew] works so hard. Alex, his wife, their kindness—they care so much for the horses. It was something that sometimes you don’t see very often in the horse industry. It felt like home with them, and I’m still here.”
Mario has a close relationship with the 14-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding Brindis Bogibo, a horse he first met at Tisbo’s barn. In 2016, she purchased the horse from Andrew, who bought him back in 2018.
“Two months after, they were jumping the [Saturday Night Lights grand prix classes] in Wellington,” said Mario. “Seeing [Brindis] with Andrew, it was something really special, actually. It was like Andrew is his person, his rider. Ten months later, we were jumping the [BMO Nations Cup in Spruce Meadows], which was an incredible feeling. Seeing the partnership that they have, it’s incredible.
“When he came, we had a small group of horses, seven or eight,” Mario added. “Andrew took his time with him; [Brindis] looked so good and so happy. They already knew each other; he was always Andrew’s horse, so you could really see that. We were in the middle of WEF when he bought him, and [Brindis] just made us feel like he was ready to go and jump some bigger classes. He’s still jumping his heart out for Andrew and for me as well.”
Granados, who currently grooms for Ireland’s Richie Moloney, is proud of his son’s growing list of accomplishments.
“My dad is a very quiet guy,” said Mario. “He’s not a talker or anything, but he’s always reminding me to be down to earth and stay focused and to enjoy what I do because that’s really what matters. When you get to enjoy what you do, you don’t really work anymore, and that was big advice from my dad.”