Judge, trainer, international rider: Gabriel Armando does it all

By Nancy Jaffer
February 14, 2016

Gabriel Armando and Zipero.

WELLINGTON, Fla. — As was the case for so many people, the events of Sept. 11, 2001, changed Gabriel Armando’s life.

The banker from Argentina was working in midtown Manhattan that day, not at the World Trade Center downtown, but he had friends who died when the buildings were destroyed by terrorists.

While the idea of changing his hobby of training dressage horses into a profession had been in the back of his mind, the notion that it was time to make the most of the rest of his life could not be denied after the twin towers came down.

He became involved with the horse business in multi-dimensional fashion.

Not only does he do clinics in many locations, both in the U.S. and elsewhere, he also is an international rider and  judge who has officiated in 20 countries. That’s a rare combination. A two-time Argentine national champion, he and his wife, Suzanne Ross-Armando, run Armando Dressage in Ringoes at Diamond Creek Farm, where they are assisted by Stephanie Weber. This winter, they are based in the White Fences development near Wellington with 15 clients.

Gabriel, 53, has been competing this winter at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival with a well-behaved and friendly Dutchbred 11-year-old, Zipero, owned by Tania Loeb Wald of Brazil. The horse has been with Gabriel for a year and he has developed him to Grand Prix from Small Tour.

“He’s doing his first steps into it,” said Gabriel, noting the horse has only been in five Grands Prix.

Top people from around the world come to Wellington to show, which can be intimidating to some, but not to Gabriel..

“It’s a great experience to compete against the best, that pushes me to become better,” he said.

Gabriel competes for Argentina, which he represented in the 2003 and 2007 Pan American Games, qualifying for the freestyle in both on Euclid, a Westfalen, who he developed and was only seven years old in the first Games. On the other side of the coin, he judged the 2011 Pan American Games in Guadalajara, Mexico.

In 1998, Gabriel was on Argentina’s silver medal team in the South American Championships in Sao Paulo, Brazil.

Obviously, international competition is important to him, and he may be interested in pointing toward the 2017 Reem Acra Dressage World Cup Finals, since they are in Omaha.

“It’s interesting,” he said, noting Zipero should be more developed in Grand Prix by then.

But as long as he rides in international classes, he cannot judge internationally in the same year, though he can judge national classes. There’s always a choice involved in these things; few international judges continue to ride internationally.

But he manages to do both well.

“He’s a sweetheart,” said Elisabeth Williams, an FEI steward at WEF and chair of the U.S. Equestrian Federation’s High Performance Dressage Committee. She noted he is easy to deal with both as a judge and as a rider, which, she added with a sly smile, can’t be said of everyone.

Lars Petersen, a Danish Olympian and top dressage trainer, said of Gabriel and his wife, “I really like them both. I have respect for judges who judge the big classes and then throw themselves out there (in the arena). Most people just like to talk about it, but he’s still throwing himself out there and I think that’s great.”

Growing up in Argentina, Gabriel liked jumping. His father, Norberto, was a casual rider, yet he “understood dressage was the way to develop balance and, the seat.” If Gabriel wanted to jump, “The rules were we had to do dressage also,” he said.

Gabriel Armando competing on Zipero at the Adequan Global Dressage Festival.

So dressage was, in effect, just a means to be able to go over the fences. But it all changed when Gabriel was 16.

“My Swedish trainer made me ride a schoolmaster,” recalled Gabriel, who trained with Owe Christian Moltke.

The well-educated horse “was doing all these tricks, piaffe/passage and piroutte. And I decided that was the feeling I wanted to have on a horse.”

When it was time attend university in Buenos Aires, where he majored in business administration, “I tried to go to college, ride and work,” he said.

That was an impossible regimen.

“Something had to go,” said Gabriel, who stopped riding for 2 and 1/2 years at that time.

“I was miserable because I couldn’t ride,” he noted.

When he finished school and went to work for a bank, however, he started riding again.

It turned out the bank “needed a specialist in emerging markets in the branch in New York.”

He was eager to take the job in 1997, to a great extent beause it would give him the opportunity to ride and train in the U.S.

After he made his decision to leave banking for horses, the 2003 Pan American Games were in the back of his mind.

“I wanted to be in full-time riding by then,” said Gabriel.

He has never regretted giving up banking.

“I love the horses, being outside, you’re your own boss,” he said.

But there’s more to it than that.

“The journey of training a horse and making them better every day is what keeps me going–learning from my horses.”

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