Hector Alejo Isasa, known as Toni Isasa, is today a recognized Polo horse trainer. He was born in Ayacucho in the province of Buenos Aires, Argentina. Polo Lady had the honor of interviewing him in La Serreta (Segovia, Spain) where he is currently working.
How old were you when you started training horses? How did you start?
“I started in the countryside in the province of Buenos Aires with a cattle ranch, breeding and cattle caring at the age of 15. There, I worked for seven years with working horses and I started training creole horses which are a well-known Argentinian breed. After that, I started working around the area in farms which were dedicated specifically to Polo horse breeding. Then I began training horses for different owners. I continued like this and became more and more passionate about horse training until I met Alberto Pedro Heguy (Indios chapaleufú II). It was then that I started working for them for a year and they brought me to Spain to alternate six months here and six months in Argentina.
“In Spain, I also worked in the estate El Ardido, training foals for 13 years. Many horses that I have trained played the Open and did very well. Later, I continued working in La Montana in Madrid and ended up working in La Serreta, where I am currently working.”
How long does the process of training take from the beginning with a foal until you finish?
“You take the foals when they are two and a half years old, approximately, and it takes me six or seven months until I finish with them and hand them back.”
What do you like the most about working here in La Serreta?
“The peace and quiet. I am here almost by myself and manage my time and tasks comfortably. Also, they offered me the possibility of having different patrons from outside (I had up to eight patrons); they are very nice and generous people and easy to work with.
How many horses do you work with on a daily basis in high season?
“Between 13 to 16 horses a day.”
How long do you spend with each one?
“From 20 to 30 minutes each.”
Could you explain the process in general terms?
“First, I start in a small livery stable. I hold them with a whip (an 8- to 10-meter rope), and tie their legs so they learn to stay still. Once they respect the rope, I ride them gently with the rope over them but not tied, and encourage them to start. This is the moment when some of them hop and others don’t. I work on the floor for two days before I ride them, working with a long rope, a whip, a leather headstall, and a plaited muzzle.
“When I ride them, I work with snaffle bits (when I started, I used leather bits and then metal bits, but now I work with snaffle bits directly and stop the horse naturally). I spend two months with snaffle bits and later, Pelham bits or gag bits—it depends on the needs of the horse. I also take them out of the farm so they are not frightened of going outside and they can start trusting me. Going out for a ride is very good for them as there are different animals around running loose such as deer, wild boars, birds, hares, and more. I also take them across the river so they are not afraid of water. Finally, I ride them and stick and ball gently and patiently for about a month and a half before I hand them over. This way, they are used to the ball and the stick. It is time for the horse worker to continue training so they learn to fight and confront on the field. The work with these new horses is very important.”
What kind of breeds are there in La Serreta?
“Quarter mile and race purebred.”
What do you like the most about your job?
“It is a great satisfaction to see the horses I have trained playing in the field.
Could you give us any examples of horses trained by you which have been successful or awarded a prize?
“Yes. El Abrojo, Martín Fierro from Soria, Urbana, and Miranda from Pieres. There are some owned by Gerardo Mazzini, such as Lora, Fantasía, and Machu Pichu (horses which have played well in Polo competitions in Spain). There are five horses from El Ardido, which won awards for the best Polo horses in different years. I presented two of those. I rode them and presented their skills in the foal exhibition for the Spanish Association of Polo horse breeders in Sotogrande.”
Have there ever been any incidents in all these years of horse training?
“Only once. I had to stop working for a month when I was confronting a horse, that is, when I was facing one against another that was coming from the opposite direction. My brother was riding from the other side and when he came nearer, my horse got scared in a way that he lifted on two legs and fell back as in somersaults. I got a vertebra injured, but after a month, I was riding again.”
What is a trainer’s best quality?
“Patience. You cannot work if you are not patient and it can be harmful to the horse.”
Toni also tells us that in the mornings and at dusk, he can see deer eating at the paddocks next to the horses. There are also foxes around as tracks show; they are heard but not seen. La Serreta had cows before and sometimes calves were killed by wolves. Now, they do not work with cows anymore.
“La Serreta is a special place,” Toni says. “I enjoy listening to the sounds of deer when they are in heat, at night, or in the early morning. It is a wild place. It is like a film,” he tells us with a laugh.