She was born in Nigeria but lived in Kenya. She moved to Canada and then to the Dominican Republic - the country she is proud to represent at her second Olympic Games in Tokyo 2020
Forget the regular concept of family or nationality. The equestrian athlete Yvonne Losos de Muñiz is far beyond that.
She has a very diverse background. She was born in Nigeria, lived in Kenya, moved to Canada and then to the Dominican Republic.
Her parents -both Canadian citizens- were also raised in different countries. Her father is originally Polish and grew up in India. Her mother is German but grew up in Iran.
"We're not the kind of family that people are used to in any sense," explains Losos de Muñiz.
Additionally, as a professional athlete, Losos de Muñiz has trained in Germany, Spain and Florida, among others.
"Since I started competing, I have been where the competitions are. I am just travelling around all the time, competing and training because there is nothing in the Dominican Republic for me, unfortunately. I am on the road a lot."
“I belong to no place."
How to ride in the Serengeti
Her family began life in Africa as a result of her father's job. There was "no option", says Losos de Muñiz, but to love animals.
“My father was writing a book. He was doing his research on tropical diseases in domestic animals. He was, for a long time, one of the leading experts on this. It was great for kids to grow up in this ambiance. It was fantastic!"
“In Kenya I had a real fantasy upbringing. Even as a kid, when I came to Canada and I told the kids how I grew up in Kenya, riding among the zebras and the animals on the Serengeti, people would never believe me. But that was my life. It was, you know, galloping through the field to the plains of Africa. So telling people those things when I was younger, in my teens, people didn’t believe me. They were like ‘there's no way', but I did.
"I had to ride alongside the dogs because there were lines in the area, so we had to come in at certain times because the predators started hunting the dogs. My parents didn't want us to be part of the hunt. I had a fantastic upbringing and that's how I learnt to ride. The rule was, just don't fall off because you could be chased by something. It was amazing!" she exclaims.
When I tell people how I grew up in Kenya riding among the zebras and the animals
on the Serengeti, people would never believe me
She started riding in Kenya at the age of six.
“The horses that we rode were ex-racehorses and they weren’t the quietest things in the world to ride. That way you really learn to know how to ride. We were called the Kenya Cowboys and that’s exactly what it was. There was no technique other than to stay on, and you walk or canter or gallop all the time. If you see how I rode when I was a kid and how I ride now it is like, 'Oh my God, two different people!'”
The makes complete sense when you see how her dreams have changed as she has become more professional.
“When I was a child, my dream as a little girl was to be a jockey – as I lived in Kenya with all those ex-racehorses. Unfortunately, by the age of 10 I was already taller than most jockeys. So I had to throw this dream out of the window. I always stayed on the horses anyway."
"Then I met my husband in the Dominican Republic. At that moment I started riding, but just for fun. When the Pan-Ams were on, I thought, 'well I want to start competing'. I competed a little bit in Germany, nationally, many years ago. My husband is also athletic and competitive as well, so he said, 'You know, let’s do this'. But he is like me - we don’t just go a little bit, we go full out.
"So we jumped into dressage, super disciplined and riding full time on Spanish horses. We did jumps, we did everything. It was really fantastic. I went through the last 20 years focused on the dressage, but I’ve always been competitive. So If I do something, I don’t do it just to have fun. So we tried, and thank God I was actually pretty good at it, so I became more competitive," she explains.
Representing the Dominican Republic
Losos de Muñiz has always competed internationally for the Dominican Republic. Even the woman who seem to belong everywhere has a place to be. A nation. A flag.
“Representing Dominican Republic is just amazing, absolutely amazing. I am probably the luckiest athlete in world. The support I get from my federation, my Olympic Committee and also from CRESO, a foundation that creates Olympic dreams for athletes in the Dominican Republic. I hear all these stories of other athletes that have to fight for their position because they don’t have any support, and I am the exact opposite. I have all the support - everything that I’ve ever needed from my country."
Representing the Dominican Republic is just amazing, absolutely amazing.
I am probably the luckiest athlete in world.
And so she went on to compete on the greatest sporting stage: the Olympic Games. Her first Olympics was at Rio 2016.
“It was the most amazing experience for me, in the sense that those were my first Olympics and just seeing the quality of athletes and the discipline of these athletes, it was just a whole different level. Everything that goes into these Olympic athletes is just absolutely amazing. I was amazed walking around in that Olympic Village. It was an honour to be able to experience the behind-the-scenes of the Olympics: the cafeteria, how they eat. The behind-the-scenes is absolutely amazing. For me, that experience was fantastic.”
How to train for equestrian without horses
Yvonne Losos de Muñiz will once again experience taking part in the Olympics at Tokyo 2020.
“Qualifying for Tokyo 2020 was absolutely amazing, especially since I was able to qualify with two horses, so I have a backup. It is very difficult for us, for South America. We have to be very far away from home because there is no qualifying system within our own countries and our own region. So it is a huge sacrifice for me and my family. So when I finally received the quota it was fantastic," she remembers.
However, as with many athletes, she has to wait another year for the Games to begin. These days have been tough for her. Not only because of the lockdown, but because she suffered a great loss just weeks ago.
“I am based in the Dominican Republic, but I am in Canada right now, just because my mother was very sick and she just passed away. So I am up here trying to organise things for my father. I am finishing everything now. My horses are based in Florida right now, just because of the whole coronavirus situation. I am not sure what we are going to do, where we are going to go. We were originally supposed to be competing, but that’s not happening. Next week I am going to where my horses are and I am not really sure about what the future is going to be like for the rest of this year.”
In essence, she is training without horses.
“It is a bit tough, because I am used to being with the horse six hours a day and now it has gone to nothing. I haven’t been able to ride for two months. I am doing cardio, I am trying to work out twice a day and then I am doing my core. Just doing the best I can in order to be fit. But absolutely, it’s not the same thing."
"Mentally, I am also trying to stay on the ball, stay sharp. I find this situation very challenging because I work very much on schedules, on goals…Not having any of that for now, for a minimum of six months, is just challenging. It is challenging for me to know how to physically peak and how to be physically at what time. I’ve always had a system. I peak, I come down. I peak, I come down. But I don’t know how to do that right now."
New strength...and a dedication
Despite the uncertainties, Losos de Muñiz felt relief after the postponement of the Games.
“I am very much in agreement with the postponement. Considering my personal situation, obviously with my family and my mother. Obviously, that was not going to affect it. I mean, I would be still going to the Olympics," she explains.
And she will. But with a little more time to overcome everything with more strength. Time that could lead her to improve on her former Olympics experience.
“In Rio, I was trying to survive, basically. I was overwhelmed with being there, and my horse wasn’t 100 per cent. I kept telling myself, ‘this is just about participation'."
"My goal for Tokyo is make it to the Special and then, who knows? Everything can happen from there. And again, I want to absorb these things around me - such an incredible atmosphere, getting to know people. There are also so many countries in the same place at the same time that the full aspect of it is just amazing. The whole Olympic experience from the start to the finish is the reward you get for qualifying," she said.
And these Olympics in Tokyo are even more special to her. Losos de Muñiz will dedicate them to the honour of her mother.
“It's still a little rough for me to talk about it, but absolutely, yeah."
The woman who belongs to nowhere, but represents the Dominican Republic, knows where she belongs: with her family.