It’s A Busy Life For Rider Jennifer Santana


I first ran into Jennifer Santana at the Trump Invitational in January. She was one of a handful of talented amateur owners riding in the prestigious event. She struck me then as friendly and down-to-earth. I recently met up with her again at Santana Stables in Palm Beach Point, which she runs with her husband and professional jumper rider, Paulo.

Originally from Newport Beach, Calif., Jennifer grew up in the then-quiet surfer town engaged in a non-typical Southern California sport: competitive figure skating. She practiced long hours every day, before and after school, obsessed with making it all the way to the top. Until disaster struck.

“I was competing in the nationals, and I fell,” Jennifer recalled. “I did a jump and landed wrong and went down. I’d never, ever fallen before. I did not take defeat well. Not at all. I was humiliated. Here I’d given this sport a full life commitment, and after that, I quit.”

She was 9 years old.

“All of a sudden, I had nothing to fill my time after school,” Jennifer continued. “So one day, I tagged along with a friend when she went for her riding lesson. She rode western, but there were other riders there jumping. It looked pretty interesting. I decided to give it a try.”

As you can guess, when Jennifer does something, she goes whole hog. It wasn’t long before her father had bought her a horse.

“Black Tie was a lovely Thoroughbred, an ex-race horse, and the most terrible competitor ever,” she laughed. “Don’t get me wrong — he was a great horse with an amazing heart. He’d try anything I asked, tolerate any kind of stupid thing at all and never complain. One time there was a botulism outbreak in the area, so all the barns shut down and no one could ride. I rode him around in his stall for those two weeks.”

However, he had no competitive drive.

“He was more of a hunter than a jumper, and my heart was set on doing open jumpers,” Jennifer said. “Hunter classes were too boring. I love the simplicity of jumpers: either the bars stay up and you go fastest, or you don’t. Hunters are much more political, a judge’s opinion, which can be based on who you are and who you ride for and how much your horse and equipment cost.”

It’s takes a degree of savvy to be a jumper, she said.

“Despite what some people think, you really have to know what you’re doing to succeed in the jumper ring,” Jennifer said. “You can’t just ride like a crazy person and advance in the sport. You have to do things properly. You need a good riding foundation so you can plan a ride ahead of time and know the best way to present a course to your horse, rather than adapt to the situation and ride by the seat of your pants.”

Jennifer prefers being an amateur owner. Unlike the pro riders, she doesn’t get paid to ride, but competes three of her own horses: Option D’Auge, a new chestnut gelding; Fabelous, a gray mare; and Horse Kendall, another gray mare with whom she has been very successful.

“That’s just a lot of extra pressure to win for an owner. There’s enough pressure already, riding in these top classes. You have to bring your ‘A’ game every time. You’re not just a horse and just a rider. It’s truly a joint effort,” Jennifer said. “A successful partnership with your horse is like a marriage, you have to work at it all the time. The horse doesn’t know or care how much you paid for her. She only knows how she is treated. When you take the time to really know your horse, she’ll do anything for you. I have an incredible connection with Kendall. I enjoy her a lot, and she loves what we do. That’s what you want in a horse. You strive for that intense relationship.”

I was amazed when Jennifer confessed that she sometimes gets scared while riding. I thought all open jumpers were fearless.

“It’s a very fine line,” she confessed. “I do sometimes get scared while I’m on course and think, ‘I can’t do this.’ That can create a bad situation. It leads to a breakdown in communication with your horse and makes her doubt herself as well. Fear is a stifling emotion. It starts to asphyxiate you. I get through it with the help of my husband and coach, Paulo. He has a terrific work ethic and is really demanding. He brings out the best in me. Riding is such a mental game. I’ve learned to focus in a different way.”

Paulo rides for the Brazilian team and trains the Dominican Republic team. Their 8-acre working farm is filled, on any given day, with riders from all walks of life striving to learn this difficult sport. Jennifer and Paulo also travel some, following the big shows around the country and Europe. They try to never miss the Spruce Meadow show in Canada, which is where they first met in 2005, marrying a year later.

Their two children, Isabella, 5, and Mattheus, 3, also take up a chunk of Jennifer’s time.

“They both have ponies,” she laughed. “They’re pony obsessed. Isabella’s already boasting that one day she’ll get big and beat me and daddy. I’m not a natural rider. I have to work at it all the time. I always try to better myself. It’s a passion. Even when I take some time off, I’m always drawn back to riding. I’ve tried to walk away from it hundreds of times, but this is where my heart is. How often are you lucky enough to do what you love every day and incorporate your whole family into it?”

For more information about Santana Stables, call (561) 308-8206, or visit