“Fuego” means “fire” in Spanish, and that is precisely what Spanish Olympian Juan Manuel Munoz Diaz and his magnificent Andalusian dressage partner, Fuego XII, brought with them when they stepped into the arena to perform their Grand Prix Kür at the 2010 FEI World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.
To the delight of the audience and television viewers near and far, the calm and collected demeanor of both rider and horse quickly gave way to the fire in their hearts. When Juan Manuel saluted the judges and the crowd, there was an unmistakable electrifying energy shift throughout the stadium. The pair’s freestyle performance was the final entry for Spain in the competition, and they rose to the occasion with typical Spanish passion. In contrast to Juan Manuel’s quiet composure, “Empezamos esta fiesta!” (“Let’s get this party started!”) was seemingly on his mind as he and Fuego prepared to raise the roof of the full house.
Classic flamenco-style music reminiscent of their faraway home filled the air as they danced to the sounds of Spanish guitars and the crisp clapping of castanets. The audience was engaged immediately. Whistles and shouts of glee were heard seconds into their routine as their regal presence gave onlookers a glimpse at why the Pure Spanish Horse (PRE) has been revered as the horse of kings throughout history. The spirited artistry of Juan Manuel and Fuego delivered grandeur as their performance (which ended with Juan Manuel’s signature single-handed tempi changes) brought forth celebratory, thunderous applause with the audience on its feet wanting more. They were fifth in the Grand Prix Kür with a score of 81.450 percent, fifth in the Grand Prix with 73.957 percent and fourth in the Grand Prix Special with 76.042 percent.
“Did you see the Spanish horse, Fuego?” was the well-deserved buzz heard throughout Lexington and in the international media in the days that followed Juan Manuel and Fuego’s glorious freestyle. They made such an incredible impression on spectator and Prix St. Georges rider Linda deWilde-Petersen, that after seeing them compete she set her sights on breeding her PRE mare to Fuego. “I had Andalusians for 10 years but had never heard of Fuego until I saw him at the World Equestrian Games in Kentucky,” she said. “Watching him and Juan Manuel perform was tear-evoking.” Four months after the event deWilde-Petersen enthusiastically began researching the necessary steps to import Fuego’s frozen semen to Washington State. Fortunately, she had a chance meeting in Kentucky with a member of the Spanish national dressage team whom she had exchanged business cards with. She reached out to him, and he helped her expedite the process.
The breeding was successful and deWilde-Petersen now has two Fuego babies who are being prepared for dressage competition—a 2012 black filly, Centella de Fuego CFF (Spark of Fire; the only black Fuego baby on record in the ANCCE studbooks), and a 2014 grey colt named Fuegito CFF (Little Fuego). The same year that her colt was born, deWilde-Petersen and her pas de deux competition partner, Toni Mueller, traveled to Spain to experience Salon Internacional del Caballo (SICAB) for the first time. When they were there they were invited to the Cárdenas horse farm to meet Fuego. “That day was the highlight of my trip, and I am very appreciative of Senor Cardenas’s gracious hospitality,” said deWilde-Petersen. “We enjoyed a horse-drawn-carriage tour of the farm and were inspired while watching Juan Manuel ride several of Fuego’s offspring. And, of course, it was wonderful to meet the rock star Fuego!”
Fuego and the Cardenas Legacy
Fuego XII (also known as Fuego de Cárdenas) hails from some of the finest PRE bloodlines in Spain (Yeguada el Bocado and Yeguada Militar), so it was fitting that the grey stallion joined the herd of Don Miguel Ángel de Cárdenas Osuna—one of the most highly esteemed PRE breeders in the world. With an immeasurable passion for Spanish horses, history and art and a deep appreciation for beauty, Don Miguel lives a life steeped in proud tradition and excellence.
A celebrity in his own right, he grew up in the city of Écija in the province of Seville and loved horses since he was a young boy. His parents inherited farmland and livestock from their families, and his father began breeding PREs in the 1940s, marking the beginning of the carefully established and exceptional Yeguada de Cárdenas bloodlines. (The Cárdenas PRE bloodlines are among the oldest found in the United States.) After the passing of both of their parents, Don Miguel and his brother, Pedro, divided the Cárdenas herd. In keeping with Andalusian customs, Pedro (the youngest son) inherited their father’s brand. With his brother’s blessing, Don Miguel created his own brand by adding a “C” around the two yokes and anchor of their father’s brand. (Their grandfather’s brand was the anchor.)
With an unwavering commitment to perfection, Don Miguel carried on the Cárdenas PRE lineage, and he and his beloved horses won countless championships, honors and awards for decades, including numerous Champion of Spain recognitions (the most coveted breeder honor in Spain). But it was Fuego who much later captured his heart in a way that no other horse had. He first saw the young stallion when he competed at the 2002 ANCCE Cup Final and won the 4-year-old class at the annual SICAB in Seville. He was so captivated by Fuego’s disposition and the breathtaking way that he moved that he said, “I want to buy that horse!” Following SICAB, Juan Manuel (the official rider at the Cárdenas breeding farm since 2001) accompanied him to further evaluate Fuego at the Yeguada Indalo farm in Malaga, Spain. When they saw him again, Juan Manuel agreed that Fuego was exceptional and Don Miguel purchased the stallion. (He also bought Fuego’s sire, Utrerano VII.) “In the old times we looked for beauty. Now we look for beauty and movement,” said Don Miguel.
With their sights set on winning, preparation for international competitions began immediately. Juan Manuel and Fuego’s training was focused and rigorous and they eventually earned a spot on the Spanish national dressage team with coach Jean Bemelmans. During the eight years leading up to the 2010 WEG in Kentucky, the pair had numerous Grand Prix, Grand Prix Special and Grand Prix Kür wins and notable finishes in competitions throughout Europe. They clinched the Spanish dressage Championship in 2008 and the same year Fuego was the only Spanish horse to compete in the Summer Olympics in Hong Kong, where they earned a respectable Grand Prix Special finish (15th place).
Six years have passed since the dynamic duo rocked the house and rewrote their history under an autumn night sky at the Kentucky Horse Park. Though they returned to Europe, they left behind unforgettable memories of their exquisite performance and sparked an even greater appreciation for PREs in North America and throughout the world.
After Kentucky, Juan Manuel and Fuego competed in Europe for three more years. Their many accolades during the pair’s final competitions included first-place finishes in Grand Prix and Grand Prix Kür at CDI Saumur (France) and at CDI Wiesbaden (Germany) in 2011, and another first in Grand Prix and the Grand Prix Special at the 2012 CDI Saumur. They also ranked 10th in the world at the 2012 Summer Olympics in London. Their final competition was at CDI Treffen (Austria) in 2013, where they finished second in the Grand Prix and Grand Prix Kür.
When asked what was special about competing with Fuego, Juan Manuel said, “During competition he always felt very important and proud and he became very large. That always made him very expressive, especially with his gaits.” Reflecting upon his greatest accomplishments with Fuego, he proudly declared, “We competed in two Olympic Games, three European Championships and the World Equestrian Games.” As for his favorite competitive experience with his illustrious partner, “The Kür in Kentucky!”
Fuego is now retired and is continuing his legacy as a breeding stallion at the Cárdenas horse farm in Écija, Spain. Juan Manuel also lives in his hometown of Écija and is currently competing an 8-year-old chestnut horse named Rio de Cárdenas, training and developing young horses for competition at the farm (including two 4-year-old colts sired by Fuego), coaching dressage riders and traveling as an expert speaker. In January he traveled to Wellington, Florida, and did a presentation on selecting and preparing the PRE horse for international competition.
Diane Barber (center) lives in Los Angeles and is a freelance writer and interior designer. She is a dressage enthusiast with a passion for Spanish horses and travels regularly to Spain to train with Rafael Soto and his protégé Vivi Garcia. Diane attended WEG in 2010 and cheered for Juan Manuel (right) and Fuego.
For more information, visit caballoscardenas.com, ancce.es and prehorse.org.