“I was 13 years old, and in a show jumping competition in Mexico. There was a poster I saw in a bathroom of a blonde woman on a horse jumping a drop into water, and I thought it looked like fun, so I said, ‘I want to do that.’”
And so, she did.
Daniela Moguel is the first CCI4* (now CCI5*) rider to represent Mexico, and the first Mexican event rider to compete at the FEI World Equestrian Games (WEG). Her impressive career highlights also include top honors at Morven Park International and the Dutta Corp. Fair Hill International CCI3* (now CCI4*) competitions, and the 2015 Pan American Games.
Moguel set aside some time to chat with STRIDER during the COVID-19 shutdown, which interrupted her spring plans to run the Kentucky Three-Day with her longtime partner, Cecelia.
Hailing from a nation where show jumping is the prominent equestrian discipline, Moguel’s passion for adventure and drive to reach the upper levels of the sport meant that, for many years, she split her time between Mexico and the United States.
“I was at a crossroads in Mexico. I could be a show jumper or a low-level eventer. I always wanted more and had that push. In Mexico, eventing has a very small community. Everybody does show jumping in Mexico. So, if you’re an eventer in Mexico, you don’t have many options for high-level competition. There are limited venues that even offer cross-country-style jumps.”
Moguel’s initial introduction to high performance eventing came when she took a working student job with Joy Pharr after high school that brought her to North Carolina. She went on to compete at the North American Junior/Young Rider Championships in 2001. When Moguel and Cecelia were preparing for the 2015 Pan American Games, she met now-mentor and coach Karen O’Connor.
“Karen has been a big influence even before I met her. When I was younger and watching the World Equestrian Games and the Olympics she always stood out to me. I wanted to watch her ride, I wanted to be like her one day. Karen was training the Mexican Military team at the time, and that’s how we ended up meeting. She had to coach me!”
“We became really good friends, that’s how I ended up staying in the States. I could show and do more and get to the highest level. For a long time I had clients in Mexico and left my horse with Karen, and was spending more time here than in Mexico.”
Shortly after the 2018 WEG at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, Moguel and her husband, show jumper Zully Castrejon, made the decision to close their booming equestrian business in Mexico and relocate to the United States. Moguel now leases Joy Pharr’s farm where she was formerly a working student. She and Zully now operate Da’Zull Eventing, their training and sales business, out of picturesque Shelby, North Carolina. In addition to a full roster of training and lesson clients, Moguel travels frequently to compete, train with longtime coach Karen O’Connor, and teach clinics.
“I’m just here for the adventure. Who knows? It may last another 10 years. I didn’t want to look back when I was 60 and say, ‘I never tried.’”
To meet new groups of riders and experience different facilities and locations through clinics adds some welcome variety to the high-performance lifestyle. Moguel’s passion for the sport of eventing is infectious, and she enjoys fostering new connections with riders to create a productive environment for learning.
“I get to meet people regardless of the level of riding. My friends here in the U.S. talk about horses 24/7; if the horses are moving their legs properly, if the horse has a nice shape over the jumps . . . It’s great, but it’s not everything. Through teaching, I get to meet people who can speak about other things.”
Through her clinics, Moguel hopes that riders will be able to enjoy their horses and walk away with positive experiences. She recognizes that many riders get intimidated in a clinic setting, but Moguel is quick to point out that the intimidation factor and vulnerability goes both ways.
“The first time I taught a clinic in the United States I wanted to prove to myself that I belonged here. It was more like a test for me. I really needed to make sure that I deserved it somehow. You always see people like Karen [O’Connor] or David [O’Connor] or Buck [Davidson] teaching clinics, before my first clinic here in the States I wasn’t positive I belonged in that group.”
“I had taught for years in Mexico, I knew my way there very easily. I was so driven to prove myself here in the States, and to try to prove to myself that I had skill in an unknown place.”
“When I was first invited to teach at a facility my first feeling was fear! I didn’t think I would be up to the task. Then, I got excited. I thought to myself, ‘How cool is it that someone would ask me to do this?’”
Moguel has been able to develop friendships with her clinic organizers and lesson participants. They stay in touch during the competition season and Moguel regularly checks in on their progress with their horses.
“It’s really cool from both sides. We are humans. No matter who we are or what we have done, we are just people,” Moguel told STRIDER.
She promotes a positive sense of community and enjoyment of the sport through her general teaching style and the specific exercises she sets for horses and riders.
“I learned this one from Karen [O’Connor] and use it all the time. I set two small verticals, or a vertical to an oxer, six strides apart. I tell them to jump one and stop in between. I use it every time! It helps riders to get a sense of balance and control, plus it’s a great way to connect with people and help groups connect. I can praise the ones who stop and get creative to help the ones who don’t.”
“I always say to my students, ‘We do this because we like it, right? Let’s have fun, let’s enjoy this.’”
Enjoyment of the horses first and the sport second is a priority for Moguel, who does not take any rides for granted. She very nearly stopped riding 17 years ago after a bad accident fatally injured the mare she was riding for a friend in a steeplechase race.
“I remember her every time. My father took me to her body and said, ‘Because you walked away today and because of her, you have to keep riding. We’re going to thank her for saving your life today.’ If he didn’t do that, I wouldn’t be riding. I still think about her all the time.”
“I remind my very-competitive students who get very worked up if they have a runout or a rail, or if they drop placings because of extra time on cross-country, that this is not what’s important. I try to remind them, ‘You ride horses because you like it. We do this because we have fun doing it.’”
“If a horse knocks a rail, believe me, it’s not a big deal. Look at what is going on in the world! Be thankful you can be on a horse and having fun.’”
Moguel had her sights set on the Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day this spring with longtime partner and crowd favorite, Cecilia. The cancellation of the spring competition season has shifted Moguel’s focus to a few exciting young horses in her string.
“You have two choices, either you laugh, or you cry. I’d rather laugh.”
As so many riders face cancellations and uncertainty, Moguel’s positivity is the energy our community needs right now.
“I was 13 years old when I fell in love with this sport, and I made it happen. Be patient. Patience is a big deal. If you don’t get what you want in the moment, it doesn’t matter. It will come later. If you are patient and consistent, you will get it.”
While many states are still on lockdown due to the COVID-19 crisis, you can connect with helpful exercises and training tips from team Da’Zull Eventing on Facebook and Instagram. Upcoming clinics and socially distant opportunities to #StrideForward with Danny Moguel can be accessed via STRIDER at https://www.striderpro.com/calendar .
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This article will be updated to include statements as they are released from upcoming USEA recognized events regarding actions they are taking due to the coronavirus (COVID-19).