Carolina Villanueva Suarez didn’t look the part until the horse started galloping. The four-year-old girl who looked like she might fall off the giant horse began navigating fences like an equestrian veteran, winning her class in her first-ever competition against foes three times her age.
Now 15, she still might be underestimated competing against older riders, but she’s far from intimidated these days, especially when the Hockaday sophomore thinks back on that debut.
“My saddle was so small and the horse was enormous. People didn’t know how I stayed on,” she said. “I knew what I was doing. That’s when I realized that I was having fun and this was what I wanted to do.”
Indeed, Suarez has spent almost her entire life riding horses, a passion she attributes in part to both of her grandmothers, who lived in Spain. One owned a ranch, and the other had a restaurant decorated with equine art on the walls.
Suarez first climbed aboard a horse when she was 2, when her family lived in the Netherlands. By the time she moved to the United States a few years later, she already was an advanced jumper for her age. She competed in her first prestigious Grand Prix event at age 11, making her the youngest American rider in history to reach that level.
“I’ve never been in a class with someone my own age,” said Suarez, who trains daily with an instructor at a farm in Argyle. “It’s my passion and I work every day for it.”
Her family moved to the Dallas area from South Carolina about a year ago. Last winter, Suarez spent several weeks in Ocala, Fla., which is a hotbed for equestrians in the U.S. While competing against riders in their 40s and 50s, she finished second overall in the HITS Ocala event among junior amateur jumpers while breaking in two new horses she just bought in Germany. She now owns four total.
As with many other equine enthusiasts, one of the 8main appeals of the sport for Suarez is the special relationship between horse and rider.
“I’ve always really loved them. It humbles me how these animals give you everything that they have, and in return, you have to give them everything,” Suarez said. “Jumping requires a distinct level of patience combined with a strong will.
I love the feeling of being up in the air with the horse. There’s so many things that have to come together.”
Contrary to tradition, Suarez said jumping is becoming more popular with a younger generation of riders because of the increased exposure and money involved in the sport.
“We’re trying to progress this sport,” Suarez said. “Many young people are starting to get involved.”
For Suarez, that means continuing to progress on the international stage in the next couple of years. Besides competing one day in her homeland in Spain, her aspirations are higher than any bar she’s cleared on course.
“My goal is to get to the Olympics,” she said.