King Santacruz Prepares and Develops Balanced Horses and Riders for the FEI Levels

Written by Betsy LaBelle - In Dressage - Sunday, December 11, 2016

King Santacruz riding Divinity CR (Donates x Scarlett) Photo: Dressage Headlines

Accomplished trainer, rider and coach, King Santacruz is admired for his highly respected hard-working intelligence having mastered all aspects of bringing up horses from foals to training horses up to the FEI levels. For the last five years, he’s learned from great opportunities with Conrad Schumacher, Hubertus Schmidt and consistent daily work with Kevin Kohmann. The last seventeen years, he’s learned every aspect of working with world-class dressage horses through Lou and Melanie Pai’s Canaan Ranch, from mares with foals to conquering young horse classes to setting his goal on the FEI Levels with those same young horses he brought up as youngsters. 

At 36-year-old, King is an inspiration in his approach of connecting in a fluent way with a horse. King begins his workday at Wellington’s Diamante Farm working up the levels with two mares owned by Canaan Ranch, the 6-year-old Oldenburg Divinity CR (Donates x Scarlett) awarded this last winter season with scores of 68.03% at Third Level and with 11-year-old mare Fuerstin Tina CR (Fuerst Heinrich x Love Tale (by Argentinus)) at the Prix St George level heading for the FEI Small Tour.

After a super-focused morning, King’s day includes a mad dash in helping others to achieve their goals. King offers boarding, grooming and care, coaching, riding, training and starting babies at IDA Farms in Little Ranches.King coaching Carloyn Goff and Dolce Photo: Dressage Headlines

He manages a top staff caring for up to a dozen horses each day. He also coaches and rides for a select group of amateurs throughout the day and he is also sought out during the winter seasons by esteemed dressage coaches, trainers and riders from other nearby farms, such as George Williams, Bent Jensen and Shana Harding when they need an extra hand and assistance in breaking, with riding, or in-hand work.

Coaching Riders - Building Communication and Trust from Horse to Rider

A compassionate man, King knows what makes a horse trust him, “I learned by riding so many different horses over my lifetime and how to most effectively communicate with them. I know to wait for that moment when a horse shows that it’s okay to start working. Once I have a horse on my side, then it’s easy to show the rider how to communicate with the horse.”

King’s approach of building a bridge of trust helps them become more inclined to comply with the intentions of their adult amateur riders. “I can feel from the very first time I sit on a horse what type of personality it has,” he described, “for instance, if the horse is unsure, fearful or cleverly resisting their rider.”

Brilliant at working with adult amateurs and their horses, King gives strong confidence to both rider and horse. 

Personal History

King Santacruz grew up around horses on a cattle farm in Durango, Mexico where his parents, older and two younger brothers worked the ranch from horseback. At just 4 years old, he became aware of the love his parents and older brother had for the horses and at age 5 he began helping out. “I remember my brother backing me up all the time and always saying, ‘you’re okay, let’s get up on the horse one more time.’ The horse may have bucked me off or I fell off, but my brother helped me every single day. I remember it as fun. It was always about the horses. It was our whole life.”King Santacruz riding Divinity CR (Donates x Scarlett) Photo: Dressage Headlines

As King grew, he and his older brother and later his two younger brothers became familiar with horse handling techniques by riding racehorses at a track near his home.  Growing up with the incredible weight and height restriction for jockeys, King exercised Thoroughbreds at a local race track near his home he said, “It was always about the weight and height. When I was thirteen, I grew and became a little too heavy, so I was only allowed to exercise the horses in the early morning.”  Later he moved on to riding racing Quarter Horses, but mostly he worked with the Thoroughbreds at the local track in the Mexican state of Durango.

At 19 years of age, King moved to Texas and began working for Lou and Melanie Pai at their Canaan Ranch, a large breeding farm in Fulshear just west of Houston. He worked and managed the entire daily care of the horses and prepared the horses for their upcoming inspections. With over twelve foals born a year back then, he worked with the broodmares and their babies and the stallions, “I was the one who worked the horse’s in-hand every day in preparation for horse inspections, the in-hand breed shows and the finals at Devon every year.” He added, “I remember it was two or three trailers loads, one with a stallion, others with young horses, mares, all traveling to the competitions.” King helped Melanie become the breeder of the year in 2009 and 2010 while also being awarded the Best Handler's Award at Dressage at Devon in 2009.

Down to breeding and foaling one or two foals a year, the Pai’s are focused on seeing the horses they bred and foaled succeed in the international arena. Step-by-step the training is led by Melanie Pai’s positive approach and commitment to working through the ups and downs of a horse’s beginnings all the way to the FEI arena. In 2008, Melanie moved to Virginia where she tapered down her breeding program to begin the quest up to the FEI levels in 2011 in Florida. King is now schooling several of those horses Melanie bred up to the FEI Small Tour. Given the opportunity to transition from riding young racehorses to riding young European dressage horses, it soon became apparent that King’s inspiration for a young horse’s willingness and loyalty was based on the breaking it received. Impressed with how King kindheartedly built a bond of trust with the younger horses and how well they responded to his trainings, Melanie invited King to relocate to South Florida when they expanded their Canaan Ranch business to Wellington.

Often, longtime mentor, coach and dressage judge, Carla Symader will visit from Germany to watch and encourage the riding team, King said, “Carla always works with me. She has such an eye for detail and it’s wonderful to work with her.”

King has competed many of the Canaan Ranch top bred horses which he trained from the beginning, “I am so grateful to Melanie,” he declared. “I love how much she enjoys the horses. She has such a huge heart and is a beautiful person through and through.”

Looking toward the future King said, “My long-term goal would be to make the Olympic Team for Mexico. I want to inspire other young kids from my country. I want others to know it can be done. It’s important for me to let others know that they, too, can work hard, achieve amazing goals and reach their dreams.”


King Santacruz

Santacruz Dressage, LLC

Wellington, Florida

Phone: 304-905-3599


 Emilija Anderson, King Santacruz and Fuerstin Tina CR

 King Santacruz and Fuerstin Tina CR (Fuerst Heinrich x Love Tale (by Argentinus)) and Kevin Kohmann Photo: Dressage Headlines