SI Vault
Alice Higgins
October 28, 1957
Humberto Mariles, the Mexican general who refuses to fade away, is back in the U.S. again to prove—by winning—that his equestrian principles are sound as well as sensational
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October 28, 1957

Rebel On Horseback

Humberto Mariles, the Mexican general who refuses to fade away, is back in the U.S. again to prove—by winning—that his equestrian principles are sound as well as sensational

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Politically, the strongest friend Humberto Mariles ever had was Avila Camacho, the man who, as Undersecretary of War, recognized Mariles' abilities and subsequently, as President, saw his judgment confirmed when Mexico became a topflight power in the horseshow world. Under Camacho, Mariles founded the equestrian school for army officers, whose international success was climaxed by the great Olympic victory of 1948 in England. That victory made Mariles a national hero. When Miguel Alem�n became President in 1946, Mariles continued to enjoy the benefits of favor in high places; as an admirer and close friend, Alem�n, too, gave him virtually free rein. But under President Ruiz Cortines, elected in 1952, things have been different. No horseman, Cortines had little interest in the development of Mexican equestrianism, which was Mariles' passion. As long as Avila Camacho was alive, however, the general was still assured of an influential voice in high official quarters. Then, one day in October 1955, Avila Camacho died.

In less than a year, Mariles' laboriously constructed equestrian empire crumbled and disappeared. The army jumping team was disbanded. Mariles himself was transferred from the cavalry to a meaningless job. Mexico went unrepresented in the 1956 Olympics in Stockholm, and it was only by a last-minute effort that the general was able to bring a scratch team, mounted on his own personal horses, to Harrisburg, New York and Toronto last year (SI, Nov. 12,1956). This year, too, the general remained in a military limbo, but he managed to stay in Mexico City and on horseback. And as technical director of the civilian-run National Equestrian Association, he won a quite different kind of recognition in his chosen field. By this summer, his children's classes were drawing pupils to the riding club near Chapultepec from all over the country.

It was with one of these classes, later that day, that we were riding home, following an afternoon on the outside course of the school.

"I prefer to work with children now," the general was saying. "They are not afraid and they learn so much faster." He dropped to the rear as the group strung out in the rough terrain approaching the highway. "There is no fox hunting here, so children do not have the chance to follow the hounds, jumping anything that comes along. Instead, we organize cross-country rides" (opposite).

Suddenly his attention was attracted by one of the club members riding in the nearby ring. "No! No!" he roared, "not that way!" Abandoning his children's class, he galloped alongside the boy. "What makes you think you are a horseman? See!" He motioned to his back. "Watch me—like this!" He moved his horse into a slow gallop, slowly circling the rider. "Now make yourself heavy in the saddle as you approach the fence...take the movement in your thighs, in the small of your your shoulders...urge the horse with your legs, not with a whip. No wonder he refused!" He changed his horse's direction and sent him toward the fence. "Now!" he shouted, "arch your back, lift your chin—you are light in the can get out of it when you jump. See? Now you try it." The boy circled his horse around and put him over the fence. "Again!" shouted Mariles. "Another time! Again!" After some 10 successful jumps Mariles allowed horse and rider to stop. "Let him walk a bit," he grunted. "Next time, your horse will know that fence and you will know how to make him take it." He rode back to his class.

The riders, relaxed and chatting, were just starting through a gap in a hedge, the horses with ears pricked in eager anticipation of the barn. Mariles' daughter La Gorda was in the midst of them, happy as the rest at a good day's work well done. Suddenly her horse, 14 de Agosta, in an access of playfulness, whinnied, tucked his head between his legs and bucked. La Gorda was thrown downhill, hard.

The general was by her side in an instant. Before his horse had slid to a stop he was on the ground and kneeling. "Move your arms, Gordita!" he commanded gently. The child raised them up and down. "Now your legs!" She bent one, then the other. "Now sit up!" La Gorda rose and buried her head, sobbing, against her father's shoulder. The general patted her back consolingly. Patty, her youngest sister and another member of the class, slid off her horse and put her arm around her. "�Te duele mucho?" she inquired. "Does it hurt badly?" La Gorda nodded and rubbed her head. Patty stepped back to examine her older sister critically. "She's not hurt!" she announced. The general clucked reprovingly.

"I think maybe her pride hurts her more than her head," he said. "This is the third time this horse has thrown her." La Gorda began to cry again. "My head!" she sobbed, rubbing her forehead. Patty again looked at her with suspicion. "But you landed on your back!" she said. La Gorda sobbed louder. "We will take her to the clinic," said the general.

Phone calls were made, cars summoned. Vicky, back from the barns, also arrived. She, too, stared at her sister suspiciously but put her arm around her nonetheless and cushioned her head against her shoulder as they drove. The little procession entered the hospital, was ushered past roomfuls of waiting patients and into the X-ray cubicle.

La Gorda climbed to the table and loosened her waist-length hair. Her sisters started carefully picking the grass and straw from the thick blonde tresses while the general patted her shoulder consolingly. "She isn't hurt!" said Patty again. "She just wants a Lambretta motor scooter like Vicky's!" La Gorda burst out sobbing again.

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