From a coma to the World Cup Finals – Juan Matute

FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final 2022 – Leipzig, Germany

FEI Press Release by Louise Parkes


From a coma to the World Cup Finals – the extraordinary story of Dressage rider Juan Matute Guimon, in his own words….

Tonight 24-year-old Spanish rider Juan Matute Guimon competes at his first FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final in Leipzig with his horse Quantico. Two years ago he suffered a brain-bleed that left him in a coma for almost a month. He talks about the journey from there to where he is right now, and the gratitude he feels about his amazing recovery…..

Pictured with Seamus during his interview….Spanish dressage star Juan Matute Guimon (LPPix)

Two years ago it seemed your future was shattered. How does it feel to be here at the FEI World Cup Final this week?

It’s very, very emotional to come back to the international scene. This is the biggest show I’ve done in my career other than the World Equestrian Games in 2018. But on a personal level this is the biggest show of all because it is proof that I have overcome obstacles and proof that if you work hard and you have a dream and chase it that it can become a reality.

Talk about your illness, how it affected you and how you recovered

I was fully debilitated. I couldn’t move the right side of my body and since I got home after two months in hospital the rehabilitation process has been really tough, a lot of work, physiotherapy, training, a lot of psychological work. It’s been a difficult journey.

Explain the psychological part of that…did you lose faith in your ability to do things?

The disappointment of not being able to remember things, that’s been tough, for my type of personality particularly. I’ve always been a perfectionist and I’m very ambitious but with this challenge I was facing it was like a roller-coaster, many moments of doubts about whether I would recover and return to be myself.

Is it scary to talk about it?

Not at all, I’m an honest and sincere type of being and I’m proud I’ve overcome this. It’s been challenging but I feel stronger and better than ever.

So what did you do to overcome the initial sense of helplessness you experienced?

I set goals, I’ve always been driven by goals. Ever since I left hospital I said I wanted to make it to the Tokyo Olympic team, that was the dream, it has always been my dream to be an Olympian like my father. I want to inherit my father’s Olympic Spanish flag on his tailcoat – that has been the goal and the motivation. Even though the first day I was told I wouldn’t make the team for Tokyo it was heart-breaking, the following morning I called my Dad and said “you know I don’t care, the next goal will be Paris 2024” and here I am at the World Cup Final – another step on the ladder! 

Can you describe exactly what happened to you? You had a brain-bleed, out of the blue? Did you have a fall beforehand or do you know what could have triggered it?

I had bad headaches the week before, the day before it happened I told my mother I had a pain in the front of my left eye, she was concerned so we called the family doctor. It was in the pandemic and in Spain, on May 4th 2020 – he said take some paracetamol and see what happens in a few days.

It was the first week we were allowed to leave our homes and go training the horses, before that we could only go to feed the horses, we don’t live at the centre where we keep the horses.

All I can remember is the following morning I was riding and was giving my horse a break with some walking and I felt really dizzy. Luckily my father was at the ringside. I got off the horse, sat down on the ground and I remember vividly seeing my father walking around with Quantico (his horse) and I dropped to the ground unconscious.

My next memory was waking up in the hospital, 25 days later. When I woke I couldn’t stop crying, I was so scared. All the noise, people walking around the emergency rooms, I was so confused, I couldn’t remember what was happening from day to day and they had to keep telling me I was fine, that I’d had a serious brain bleed. I find it curious that many people are now having brain-bleeds, you hear about it all the time. But mine was caused by a congenital malformation. Something I was born with. Not in my veins, in my brain, it just burst and it could have happened any time.

In the first hospital the doctor said he could do nothing for me so I was transferred from the Hospital Universitario la Paz in Madrid to Jiménez Díaz. I had surgery through the veins instead of the arteries – the surgery at the first hospital failed through the arteries. With the second surgery the bleeding stopped and the veins were sealed.

Are there any after-effects? Is there anything you still have to be careful about?

No, after all the physio and training I have no after-effects, I feel better than ever, I’m stronger now. I try to stay fit, to run, to work out with some light weights, stay lean, take care of myself and live the athlete lifestyle.

You have a very close relationship with your father who is also called Juan Matute – he is your mentor?

Yes, he’s the reason I started. He’s a very demanding trainer, a loving father, a generous horse owner, he’s my partner, my trainer, my friend – he is everything to me! We work together very well. He competed at the Olympic Games in Barcelona, Seoul and Atlanta and reserve for Beijing in 2008. 

You spend a lot of time on the Florida circuit – is that because the weather is so much better than in Europe in winter time?

No, I lived there for 10 years from 2008 to 2018 with the whole family. It’s a second home to me. My main base is in Madrid where we have a total of 10 horses but I go back to the Winter Equestrian Festival in Florida every year. I have always been involved with the Wellington season but this year due to my health issue and the pandemic it was two years since I was there and it was very emotional going back. The people there are all like my extended family, I grew up around them and I had a very successful start to the year this time, winning the Grand Prix Freestyle at the 4-Star show with one of my highest scores ever!

How long did it take for you to get back into top sport after your health scare?

I did the Spanish Championships five months after it all happened but I was still very weak, still 50% weaker on the right side, the transitions weren’t there, I was moving around too much, but I wanted to prove a point to myself and to the world that when you set a goal and have the ambition and determination then you can make it happen!

What are your expectations for this week at the FEI Dressage World Cup™ Final?

Just to enjoy it and I already am doing that – to breathe in and learn and look around and watch all the riders. To take it all in.

Who is your hero in the sport right now?

I really admire Patrik Kittel (SWE), he’s a really good rider, very elegant, very subtle, very compassionate also with his horses, very loving and always happy. I share that with him – the happiness, the thankfulness to be alive and for the opportunities we have been given.

It’s almost like you are living a second life now – how does that feel?

I’m full of gratitude but still filled with ambition although I like slow down now and realise I’ve come such a long way. I’m just enjoying it. Like everything if you only focus on the end of the road you can forget to look around and appreciate the journey.

What is your long-term goal in the sport?

I’d love to fight for a top-place finish at the World Cup Final, the Olympic Games, the European Championships – at all the major Championships. I’d love to be one of the top riders in the world. But of course as everyone knows this is a very difficult. You need to be constant, continuously developing your horses, you need to be scouting horses, scouting clients, scouting sponsors and partnerships and this is something I’m learning about, so I must be humble and learn from my father.

It’s a way to go yet, but I’m on the road…..