Daniela Moguel is used to rescheduling her season at this point. Every plan she’s made with advanced horse Cecelia has changed as events cancel or postpone due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After getting one run in at the River Glen Horse Trials in New Market, Tennessee, in June, the Mexican rider returned Aug. 1-2 to compete her diminutive 17-year-old Thoroughbred mare (Connecticut—Penny Stock, Spend A Buck) in the CCI3*-S and came away with the win.
The pair partnered up in 2014 when Moguel bought the mare from her former rider Leslie Chelstrom. Since then, they’ve completed the Land Rover CCI5*-L, represented Mexico at the 2015 Pan American Games (Canada) and the 2018 FEI World Equestrian Games (North Carolina), and have been consistent competitors at the country’s top events.
Two years ago, Moguel and her husband Zully Castrejon left Mexico for Shelby, North Carolina, where they run Eventing D’azull. They have a group of young students and import and sell prospects from Mexico.
We caught up with Moguel, 37, to find out how she’s settling in to a full-time life in the United States.
Congratulations on your win! What was your goal for the event?
It was definitely very nice to be able to go out there and do something different and see other people. We went to River Glen as our first show [in June]. It was very nice to see they changed the cross-country design.
It was great to see most everybody wearing a mask and social distancing. I think that speaks very highly of the eventing community—how much we want to keep doing this and how people are trying to be responsible.
River Glen is a show we like to go to. We love the people there. They’ve been my friends and almost my family since almost 20 years ago.
The first time I came to be a working student, before I found a place, I lived with [River Glen owners Kathy and Bill Graves] for a couple of months, and they were the ones who helped me find a place to stay. I call Kathy my American mom. She took care of me when I was 18. So it’s also a very emotional place for me to go.
I would say the biggest win for me and Zully this weekend was not necessarily Cecelia, but all the kids we had at the show. We had eight horses with different kids from different parts of the country that have been in our program. We have six kids spending the summer with us. It feels like we’ve created a family here with different cultures and different ways of looking at life. It’s been amazing.
What is your goal for this year?
I’ve changed my season with her five times already. It’s crazy! We were planning to do Kentucky, probably for the last time because she’s 17 years old this year. I was thinking it might be her last one, but now I’m seeing if I can push it for one more year to 2021. After we changed that plan we were aiming to go to Fair Hill [Maryland], but then they canceled. Then I said, “Let’s do Ocala Jockey Club [Florida],” and then they canceled.
Now I think I’m going to go to Morven Park [Virginia] and try to do the four-star long. [I had hoped to go] to the AEC [Kentucky] in a couple of weeks, so I wanted to prepare for that without running her too much. Being an international, [the CCI3*-S] also helps with points.
If everything goes well, I’ll try to aim for Kentucky next year.
I also wanted to make the show schedule work because I’m looking into an embryo transfer to get a baby from her. I would love to have one of her babies, so we’re trying to work on that. If that happens, we’ll have to start in November and do everything in January.
Tell me about your partnership with Cecelia.
It’s a match made in heaven. I knew she was the one. We just know each other a lot better. I don’t know what happened or how it was meant to be, but it’s so easy.
I was doing my warm-up before cross-country this weekend, and I was thinking, “This is the coolest horse I’ve ever ridden and that I’m probably ever going to ride in my life.” It’s amazing. She knows exactly what I’m thinking when I’m thinking it, why I’m thinking it—we’re so connected. It’s so cool.
Tell me about starting your business here.
The way I found Cecelia, it was meant to be. It was really random. I didn’t look for it, and it ended up happening, sort of like the Cinderella story.
Where we are right now is kind of the same thing. I was in Tryon [North Carolina] at the competitors’ party for the test event for the [2018 FEI World Equestrian Games].
Tryon is very close to the place I ended up being a working student [when I first came to the United States]. Bill and Kathy had this girl, Joy Pharr, coming and teaching clinics for them. She had an opening for a working student. They sent me to her. She’s in Shelby, 30 minutes from Tryon. Then I went back to Mexico for college.
Twenty years ago, social media wasn’t what it is today, so it was harder to keep track of people, but Joy and I knew of each other and knew we were still alive. I knew she didn’t ride anymore, but she had the farm, and she had kids.
I was at the competitors’ party, and I heard my name and turned around and saw her. I knew who she was even though we hadn’t talked to each other in 20 years. She said she came to have dinner with her family at Tryon and saw the party and thought I might be competing at the event.
She saw me from far away and knew it was me. We were super excited. She asked if I was planning to live in the States, but I had a nice business in Mexico. She invited me to come see the farm again and offered to let me lease it and run my business there. It was totally random.
I called my husband and asked if he wanted to come see the place where I grew up and where all of this started. And here we are! We moved right after the WEG in 2018.
Was it hard to give up your life and successful business in Mexico?
Yes, definitely. It was more than hard, it was very scary. For the first time in my life, I was not sure that what I was doing was going to be OK. It was scary to walk through that big change, especially the first year, to change the way you live. It’s a completely different way of living in Mexico. We had a much more comfortable life than we have here. Sometimes it was like, “Did we make the right decision?” But at the end, it’s not about being comfortable or being secure or making the right or wrong choice, because I don’t think you can go wrong or right.
I think it’s more about the adventure. In 20, 30, 40 years, I’d like to turn my head and say, “Look what we did. Look how much fun we had.” If I stayed in Mexico, I was going to be the 70-year-old woman training the same kids and having the same experience.
What is the sport like in Mexico?
It’s a small community—lots of military riders. The president of the Mexican Eventing Committee [Ricardo Perez Conde] has been very supportive of me and Cecelia. We have a couple of places, including his own place, for shows. There are some girls doing the lower levels [but mostly men competing]. The prelim level is the highest. If they have to go higher [for qualifications] they run some special events.
If I’d stayed in Mexico, I would have never gone anywhere in the sport. If you want to do something you have to come to the States or go somewhere else.
Karen O’Connor is still working with their team. She goes and teaches clinics, but they don’t have a really strong regular program. They do it when they can and when they feel like it. They worked really hard with her for the Pan American Games.
I try to train with her regularly, but it’s the distance and her schedule and my schedule. Now I have more horses and more clinics and kids to teach at home. It was easier when I was living with [the O’Connors]. When I go to Ocala [Florida] I go stay at her place. We try as much as we can.
What have you been doing during the lockdown?
It didn’t feel much different! We have a couple of kids who’ve been riding with us because they’re not in school now. We did more exercises and paid more attention to the younger horses. We took a little bit more time with every horse and every exercise, and I think that paid off really well. You’re always in a rush with the shows and selling horses.
We could slow down and pay more attention to details. When they opened the shows, we felt a difference with the kids and the horses.
Who else do you have coming up behind Cecelia?
We have a cool mare named Estela De La Galerna (Orujo De La Galerna—Impertinence). She’s owned by Pedro Gutierrez. He’s one of the top Mexican eventers, and he’s in Ocala.
After the Pan Am Games, he said he had a mare who was pretty tiny and asked if I wanted to partner with him and see where she goes. She’s very nicely bred. She just did her first prelim last weekend. I’m very excited about her. I hope she can be my next upper-level horse. We have great expectations for her. She has very big shoes to fill in!
Zully is also competing, and his goal would be to go to the Central American Games so we can go together.