Ecuadorian dressage rider Julio Cesar Mendoza Loor is having the kind of year riders dream about with his own Jewel’s Goldstrike.
The pair have won CDI3* classes in both Wellington and Ocala, Florida, this season and set personal bests in the Grand Prix (74.26%), the Grand Prix Special (73.02%) and—breaking the 80% ceiling for the first time in Mendoza Loor’s international career—the Grand Prix freestyle (81.21%) along the way. The results are bringing the North Carolina-based trainer ever closer to his goals of competing in his third Pan Am Games in Chile this October and contesting what would be his first Olympics in Paris next year.
“It’s been incredible,” Mendoza Loor said. “I feel so lucky to have this amazing horse and opportunity. We’re really starting to figure each other out and just starting to reach a new level, but there is much more in there to come.”
Mendoza Loor comes from a lineage of equestrians—his grandfather and great-grandfather in Seville, Spain, and his father, who ran a riding school in his childhood home near Quito, Ecuador.
In Ecuador, Mendoza Loor learned from his grandfather how to “have a good seat and how to care for them, how to raise them from youngsters and start them,” he said. “That’s what really started my passion for riding.”
Prior to moving closer to Quito when he was 10, his family lived on a small farm with horses and cows, and he and his brother used horses to get to school.
“We didn’t have public school buses, so I learned to ride quite young,” he said. “One time my brother pulled me off the horse sideways by grabbing my arm when we were crossing a creek. My horse galloped all the way home, and I had a long walk that evening. I decided I needed to learn to ride better to stay on.”
When the family moved, Mendoza Loor learned dressage at a local military school and equitation from his father at their family’s riding school, La Tranquera. It was there he met his now-wife, Jessica Mendoza, who was attending college in Ecuador, in 2005. Jessica, a U.S. Dressage Federation silver medalist, had competed in dressage and hunter paces with her Friesian during high school but sold him to help pay for her trip to Ecuador.
Her passion for the breed helped set their course when the couple decided to move north in 2007.
From Ecuador To The U.S.
“When we decided to come to the USA we had two job offers: a warmblood farm in Canada or a Friesian farm in Maryland,” Jessica said.
Jessica convinced Julio to go to Maryland’s Persistence Farm, where she would be the farm and breeding manager, and he would be head trainer, working with a breed that “he had never even seen or heard of,” she said. At Persistence, and several other farms in Maryland, Julio built a reputation for successfully showing Friesians.
Julio earned his USDF gold medal with one of those Friesians, a stallion called Ivan, and also competed on him on the Ecuadorian team at the Pan Am Games in 2011 in Guadalajara, Mexico—the first Friesian to do so.
The Mendozas eventually purchased their own farm in 2016 in Columbus, North Carolina, located just outside of Tryon, where they now live and train year-round. Jessica manages the operation while Julio is the main presence in the show ring.
The couple have three children, ages 21, 19 and 16, one of whom is a budding equestrian who hopes to compete in the U25 division. While balancing horses, fatherhood and being a husband has not been easy, Julio, 44, made a rule to be done with training or teaching at 5:30 every night so that they could have family dinner together.
Julio, a dual citizen of the U.S. and Ecuador, competes for his birth nation. In 2018, he qualified to compete in the World Equestrian Games in Tryon—the first Ecuadorian dressage rider to do so—and considers the experience one of his proudest accomplishments to date.
“It was so special to be right there competing at home and have all the locals behind us and cheering,” he said.
He is trained and coached by David Hunt, the current president of British Dressage and the International Dressage Trainers Club. Julio and David met at a clinic at the Tryon Equestrian Center in 2016. They’ve been training together virtually since then, with Hunt teaching Julio up to five times weekly and coaching him at shows.
“Talent is not the most essential ingredient for success,” Hunt said. “The most important ingredient is work ethic—the want to learn, the hunger for knowledge. … Julio had all of those in abundance, as well as being a really lovely guy.”
Julio’s favorite part of his day is building the partnership with each horse he works with.
Striking Gold With Jewel’s Goldstrike
One of the most exciting of those horses is his 12-year-old Dutch Warmblood gelding, Jewel’s Goldstrike (Bretton Woods—Zilia, Watermill Scandic).
Julio paired up with “Goldie,” who previously had shown through the Prix St. Georges level, in 2019, at the suggestion of the gelding’s then owner, Eliane Cordia-van Reesema of Jewel Court Stud USA.
“Eliane had said she thought we may make a good match and welcomed us to her beautiful farm in Wellington to try him out,” said Julio. “He wasn’t publicly for sale; it was more of a meant-to-be, worlds-aligning type of situation.”
It was love at first ride.
“I instantly felt a connection with him and something really special,” he said.
Goldie, who is sensitive and spicy, was a welcome challenge for Julio.
“Goldie had a lot of energy but could also be nervous and insecure, so the challenge was to build his trust and have patience,” Julio said. “From his nutrition, to farrier work, to his daily routine, we had to figure out exactly what worked for him, and then he flourished.”
The outdoors, and the hills surrounding their North Carolina farm, became a key component of their program.
“Our typical week looks like two to three virtual lessons with David in the ring. Then one to two days of hacking and hill work and trails [and] usually a day per week of long lining or ground work,” Julio said.
Plenty of turnout, too, they realized was critical for the horse.
When they first got the gelding, he seemed tight in his body and muscles, Julio said. They started to gradually increase his turnout time, and as they did, he kept getting better. Now, Goldie lives out 24/7 except when he’s at shows. When confined to show stabling, he’s hand walked as much as possible.
The changes in management have contributed to Goldie’s success with Julio. In 2022, their first season together at Grand Prix, he was named the Adequan/USDF Horse of the Year Grand Prix Reserve Champion.
Julio will focus this summer on qualifying for the Pan Ams, where he hopes to earn a berth to the Paris Olympics.