Growing up in Wellington since the age of 10, dressage rider Monica Burssens is currently traveling to Mexico City with two horses to qualify in the selection trials for the XXIII Central American & Caribbean Games.
Born in Mexico City, 31-year old Burssens grew up in a tight-knit, hardworking equestrian family.
She attended Wellington High School. “I was a cheerleader there,” she said. “I started going to school in fifth grade in Wellington at New Horizons, Wellington Landings and then Polo Park.”
The opportunity to represent her team for the upcoming games will be a huge step in her career, and it will put Burssens on the map for potential sponsors in the future. “This is my dream,” she said. “I have a very high chance of making the team if I can make it to the selection trials.”
The Mexican Equestrian Federation requires its team competitors to be in Mexico City for the selection trials April 7-8, May 5-6 and May 25-27. Burssens and her horses, Elfentanz, a 10-year-old Oldenburg mare, and Sao Passionat, a 9-year-old gelding with whom Burssens has done all the training, are heading down to Mexico City to prepare.
Her aunt is Mexican FEI 5* Dressage Judge Maribel Alonso. In Mexico City, Burssens will be surrounded by family. “My grandparents, a few uncles and cousins, including my aunt Maribel Alonso, will all be there cheering me on. If I make the games in Bogota, Colombia, they will all go, too. I am really excited,” she said.
She has been riding seriously for 10 years at IDA Farm in Little Ranches.
“As a child, I didn’t take the dressage training seriously, until I moved away for college to Madrid, Spain,” she recalled. “I missed riding too much, and when I returned, I decided to pursue the sport with 100 percent effort.”
Both her father and mother run a large stable in Wellington with dozens of horses in training, horses for clients and horses in their care for amateur riders who work locally. “My family has always been involved in horses,” Burssens said. “My dad, Patrick, is a well-known trainer here in Wellington.”
The family, however, is from humble beginnings.
“My parents were never wealthy growing up,” she said. “My dad worked super hard to send us to a private school in Mexico because the public school system is really not that good. Both my parents work hard. My mom is pretty much the backbone of everything.”
In her younger years, she took every opportunity to ride.
“I never had a pony growing up,” Burssens said. “I would ride what anybody would let me ride of my dad’s clients. Usually, I walked the horses before or after their workouts. Little by little, a client would let me ride one of their horses a bit longer. I had to work to get myself riding jobs here and there just to ride.”
Now, she is preparing to represent her native Mexico.
“I was born in Mexico City, and I have one brother who was born in Ohio when my dad had a job there overseeing stallions, mares and foals. But then we moved back to Mexico City,” Burssens explained. “In Mexico, the sport of dressage is kind of small. That is why he said, ‘Let’s relocate to Florida,’ and we moved to Wellington. When we first moved here, Southern Blvd. had only one lane of traffic going each way. In 1997, my parents bought IDA Farm in Little Ranches, which was only one main barn, and the rest was owned by Ken Adams and his family.”
Monica has two brothers: Alex Burssens, who manages and runs Red Barn in Loxahatchee Groves with his wife, Marcela, and Santiago Burssens. “It’s a huge local store here in our area,” she said. “They love it.”
Eight years ago, Burssens was short-listed for the 2011 Pan Am Games in Guadalajara, but unfortunately, her horse foundered, and she was devastated.
“My horse was Dance of Joy, and he was such a magnificent horse. He was lent to me by a super friend of my family. After a qualifying show at Jim Brandon, he was getting off the horse trailer, and he was completely lame,” she recalled. “We did everything possible for him. We tried stem cells, but he could not continue to compete and had to retire. I was devastated. We had become so close.”
Now, with two of her own horses that she has trained for the last five years, Burssens is looking forward to her upcoming trip.
“I feel like I just want this so bad. I have had these horses so long. I am the one who has done the work on these horses,” she said. “Yes, I have had help from my father, but I have really put in the hours to get them ready for this top level since they were three and four years old. They have been such good projects for me, and I adore both of them.”
Burssens is quite passionate about her horses. “It’s all day, every day,” she said. “I start before 8 a.m., and I ride around nine to 10 horses a day, and I coach several clients every day, six days a week. It’s a lot.”
However, she is not in it alone.
“I have always had a lot of support from my family and our great clients, who are always doing little things to help me out,” she said. “Right now, my husband and I have a horse in Europe, [and] we are selling pieces of him so that we can fund some of this. It’s not ideal, but I keep saying to myself, ‘If I had all the money, would I go?’ Yes, I would go. So, I am making the decision to go. There is a quote that says, ‘If you can solve all your problems with money, then they aren’t really problems.’ I am just going to find the money somehow by selling things, and I have started a GoFundMe site. If all of my friends give me $20, that is already enough to help me a lot.”
The XXIII Central American and Caribbean Games take place every four years and are scheduled for this July. The competition works as a qualifier for the Pan-American Games, and likewise, the Pan-American Games is where the countries’ federations qualify their teams to be able to compete a team at the 2020 Olympics.
But before she can get to Bogota, she must qualify in Mexico City.
“I know if I don’t go, I will wonder forever why I didn’t go. If I do make the team, they will take me more seriously next year for the Pan-Am Games,” she said. “I will have some experience under my belt with these games. It’s great to go to these big games to learn how to deal with the nerves and how to push through any nervousness.”
Hopefully, this is a start of an amazing journey.
“This chance will be a dream come true and a magnificent opportunity for me and my horses to learn how to compete under pressure and be part of a team,” Burssens said. “Ultimately, my goal is to make it to the Pan-American Games in 2019 and the 2020 Olympic games in Tokyo.”
A newlywed, Burssens married Manuel Lecuona last year.
“My husband is also a rider, a jumper rider, and we are both from Mexico City, but we met in Florida,” she said. “We met almost 10 years ago and have been together seven years now and married for one year — and now we just found out we are pregnant.”