The Boss

12/30/2022 01:10 AM By Lisa Anderson
From the Paddock
Joey Perez
Joey Perez
Story by Cynthia McFarland • Photos by Joshua Jacobs

The Boss

Cuban-American Horse Trainer Lives His Passion

Joey Perez’s lifelong obsession with horses has influenced many of his decisions, and he wouldn’t have it any other way. Born in Cuba to a Spanish mother and Cuban father, Joey has been drawn to horses since childhood.

“My uncle had one old horse he couldn’t catch. I figured a way to catch him when I was about 8,” remembers Joey. “I took a rope, made a loop and floated it on the water in the trough, and tied the end to a tree. When the horse put his head in to drink, I caught him. Then, I made a homemade bridle with the rope, hopped on, and rode him around.”

In 1981, Joey’s family immigrated to the United States. “This is my country,” he declares. “I was 10 years old then, and I’ve never gone back to Cuba.”

He soon found a way to be around horses constantly. After learning to ride pleasure horses as a teenager, he began working in the barn at JD Equestrian Center in Miami.

“There’s an old saying that if you stick around the barber shop long enough, you’ll get a haircut. This happened to me staying around the stable when the trainer gave me the opportunity to ride,” says Joey, who eventually became lead rider at the program.

“I got a university scholarship and there was a point when my parents thought I’d be a veterinarian, but the discouragement for me was being inside four walls for six years. Instead, I told my parents, ‘I’m going to be a horse trainer.’ You can imagine their faces,” he recalls.

Spanish Influence

While he was riding Purebred Spanish Horses at the training center, the breed captured his heart. “Anything to do with classical riding really appealed to me. I was more inclined to Spanish horses because of how animated and flamboyant they are when they move,” says Joey.

Often called PRE (short for Pura Raza Espanola), they are an ancient purebred sport horse from Spain, the Spaniards' chosen mount for the battlefield and classical riding. Some people confuse PREs with Andalusians and Lusitanos. Joey explains that they (and some crossbreeds) fall into the category of Iberian Horses, referring to their native origins.

Early on, Joey realized that just being a skilled rider didn’t guarantee security, so he made a practical decision. “When I turned 18, I met someone who worked at UPS, and there was a late shift opening. They said I’d have to start at the bottom unloading trucks. I did that and worked my way up to a full-time position. Thirty-six years later, I got a full pension and retirement. For 36 years I had two jobs: horses and UPS,” says Joey.

Art of Riding

While working at the riding center in Miami, Joey fell in love with Ruth, a rider from Spain who competed with hunters and jumpers. The two have now been married 27 years.

Since they shared a passion for Spanish horses, it made sense to take a leap of faith and go out on their own.

“We opened our own farm in The Redlands in Miami, but Hurricane Andrew came and put a hurting on everyone. Then, we started contemplating moving to Ocala and having a farm here,” says Joey.

In 2007, the couple relocated to Ocala and bought a farm in Silver Springs. That farm, The Art of Riding, has grown to just over 30 acres where Joey and Ruth buy, train, and sell Iberian horses—mainly PREs and Lusitanos. Most are trained for dressage competition.

As a classical trainer and rider, Joey has found it rewarding to see how Spanish horses have captivated American horsemen. “They’re very trainable; they have a lot of heart, sensitivity, and a great mind. They always focus on their rider,” he explains. “All horses have a flight instinct, but Spanish horses seem to have it less than most other horses.”

In a world where people expect rapid results from almost every endeavor, Joey believes in training horses to enhance the animal’s life, not just elevate the sale value. “In both the U.S. and Europe, the training and techniques of riders have improved so much, since I began riding in my teens. But there’s still an attitude of wanting fast results,” he says.

Joey prefers to take a big picture approach, whether he’s training his own horses or clients’. “The idea is to make whatever you’re doing on the horse look seamless,” he states, noting that his focus is on making a horse for the future, not just for tomorrow.

Joey and Ruth ride and train together every day. They usually import two horses from Spain each year, which they train and eventually sell. Their barn is also home to clients’ horses in training; Joey does some classical riding instruction and competes in dressage.

The couple have no two-legged children. Except for their old English bulldog named Zumba, all their kids have four hooves.

Joey considers himself truly blessed in his career. “A lot of people go to work and complain about their boss. I don’t complain about anything. I go to work and ride horses, and I’m the boss,” he grins. “My wife and I are devoted to this life. It’s very fulfilling for me.”
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