California Riding Magazine • December, 2013

Horse People: Iana Gonzalez
2016 Paralympics in the sights of
San Diego dressage trainer.

by Diana Gomez (reprinted with permission of La Prensa San Diego)


It starts in Mexico City in the year 1934, when a young Fernando Gonzalez Diaz-Lombardo sets off to Canada to begin his career in the exciting and fabulous world of Thoroughbred racing.

In Canada, Fernando is sent by railroad to take care and train his uncle's Antonio Diaz-Lombardo's horses. He spends a couple of years there and then heads back to Mexico, where he decides to go into business and politics. But, the love for horses never leaves him and in 1969 he heads to Tijuana, B.C. Mexico to take over the Caliente Racetrack.

Here is where the legacy starts. In October of 1970 his daughter Iana Martina is born. Don Fernando, and his wife Doña Diana, put Iana on the back of a horse when she is only 1½ years old; and she has never stopped since.

Iana started with ponies when she was 5 years old. Rocket was her first, then came Cara Blanca, a sturdy black with a "white face." She and her friends would roam the hills and valleys all around Bonita, their neighborhood. They would go around the golf course and race each other in the hills. Here Iana started to become involved in jumping.
When Iana was 11, she was accepted to train with Jean Tisso, a two-time Olympic gold medalist from France. When she returned from Europe, Iana continued with her career in jumping until the age of 15, when she had a horrific accident.

When she attempted to mount a young Warmblood stallion, he reared up on his hind legs, and lost his balance, coming down on Iana, crushing her right ankle and damaging her left hip and shoulder and leaving her with a disability for life.

The year 1991 is pivotal in Iana's life. Don Fernando died in September; Iana is devastated, her life as she knows it disappears. She has the opportunity to go back to Europe where she starts to heal. "I tried to leave the horses, and do something different, but I could not…they always whisper to my heart," she states.

"I am strong like a weed" is Iana's mantra. Seven surgeries and many years later, she continues with her dad's love and passion for horses. She had to discontinue jumping, because as Iana puts it, "when you have to choose, walking or jumping… Well, the choice is obvious. This choice brought her to start her career in dressage. In 2008 she met her coach Lena Wedenmark, a two-time Pan American Games coach and a USDF bronze, silver and gold medalist. Thus began Iana's journey into a never-ending world of learning.

In July of 2012, Iana was classified as a Para Equestrian Grade IV, according to the FEI classifications. Now, she says, the question has become "how many steps from here to there?" As time goes by, her injuries have become worse, the wear and tear on her joints becomes more painful, but in dressage she can still manage to ride and compete. There are not many treatment options available for Iana's disability. Right now, there is an ankle "allograft" surgery, which is a cadaver replacement. It is something Iana does not want to venture into. "What if I get a marathon runner's ankle, and it starts wanting to run on its own," she says jokingly. "I could never catch up!"

"I think I have another 10, maybe 15, good years in me left, and having the opportunity of going to the Olympics as a Para rider has given me a new hope in life."

Olympic Dream

Most every rider dreams of making it to the Olympics and representing their country. The Para-Olympics are held at the same time as the Olympics, which will be in Brazil in 2016. "Horses have always been there for me: they are my soul and I am proud to have inherited that from my dad."

Iana's ultimate goal is to bring attention to the many benefits that horses bring to humans. "I am proud to be a US citizen of Hispanic decent, and I would love to bring awareness to the many wonderful programs and therapies horses can bring. I have volunteered at some of these therapy centers and have not seen many Latinos at all. There are many benefits to equine therapy, from autism to muscular dystrophy to team working, teenage psychology programs, to jail programs. The Latino community needs to be aware of how wonderful horses can be.

"To begin with, horses are always a team effort, and a partnership," Iana continues. "The team consists of the owner, the groom and the rider/trainer. Everything from making sure the horse has the correct nutrition, to the most important, the psychological and emotional well-being of the horse. Because, without the horse's desire, there is nothing. The horse must be invited to train, and he must be a willing participant, because when anything is forced with these great animals, nothing good comes from it."

Iana has a special relationship with a horse called Relampago ARM V. He is a majestic being, full of personality and get-go. She met him three years ago when she started working with his owner and breeder, Raul Armendariz, owner of Rancho Armendariz.

Raul has the distinction of being named the best breeder of the PRE (Pura Raza Española) in the U.S. for the last seven years. Achieving this title is no easy task, for he must present his own stock at the horse shows. Everybody can buy a champion, but to make one is a whole different story. Apart from being the best breeder, Raul has made history by producing the only American-bred horse to have won the title of Champion of Champions three individual times with Distinguido ARM.

"When I first met Relampago ARM V, he was very much a handful. In fact, I could not get on him easily, he would scoot away every time I tried, hence his nickname 'Scooter.' But over time, Iana and Relampago ARM V have achieved a special relationship that has produced a bond in which Scooter feels completely safe and loved. This has let him develop and shine into the horse he has become. "Believe me, if I win the lottery tomorrow, I would offer to buy him immediately," she says. "There are not many times that a bond like this is created. When I am on him, I forget everything, I don't even feel pain. Thankfully, I have known Raul Armendariz and his family for over 10 years now, and they are my biggest supporters.

"Raul has always encouraged me to become my best. Obviously without Raul's blessing and sponsorship I would not be riding Relampago ARM V. Raul encourages everyone to work as a team. We each have our individual roles in which compromise is necessary to make his breeding ranch produce the champions he has. I'm very excited to work with the next up and coming youngsters that are designated for dressage."

It has not been an easy journey, and dressage is a lot more complicated than it looks. Iana has recently gone to live in Florida for several months to train full-time with her Coach Lena Wedenmark. "I thought I knew what dressage was. Boy, was I wrong," she says. "There was even a time that I honestly thought to myself, what the heck am I doing? I should just quit, I don't know anything about dressage!" Her mantra of being a weed keeps her going. "I guess in the end, it does not matter what happens, you can do whatever to me, but I will always come back."

The legacy continues with the goal of the World Equestrian Games in Normandy France next fall. That, says Iana, is the short-term goal, the real prize is Rio de Janeiro 2016 Paralympics. "I pray to God, and thank Him, for blessing me with the opportunity to keep my dream alive. I know my dad could not be happier and more proud of me. In truth it is the journey that counts the most, with all its ups and downs. Yes, having a gold medal would be awesome, but the experience of experiencing is priceless."

No matter what, Iana will continue her legacy and reach her goals, for this is one tough weed.

If you would like to help Iana by becoming a sponsor, you may contribute to her fund through the United States Para Equestrian Association, and receive tax deduction as it is a 501C. Please make out the checks to the USPEA in care of Iana Gonzalez and mail them to following address: 4441 Cresta Verde Lane, Bonita Ca 91902.
For more information on Iana go to: www.ianadressage.com or find her on Facebook.