Moving picture: Elgin man trains 'Medieval' stallions

Mario Contreras is a classic type “A” personality.

As head horse trainer at Medieval Times in Hoffman Estates, the 42-year-old Elgin resident often works a seven-day week. In his spare time, he operates his own training facility at Indian Hills Farm in Gilberts, where he trains horses and riders for competition and exhibition.

Growing up in Guadalajara, Mexico, Contreras' father worked with Andalusian stallions and performed shows throughout Mexico to promote a brandy company.

While on vacation in the United States in 1990, Contreras visited his brother, who was the horse trainer at Medieval Times in California. With some convincing from his brother, Mario began his new career.

Contreras has worked for Medieval Times for the last 23 years.

“I started from scratch,” Contreras said. “I really like what I do, and I always try to pass it along to the people who work for me.”

Contreras gets his Andalusian stallions from a breeding farm in Texas that is owned by Medieval Times. The breed makes up the majority of the show.

“Andalusians were actually used in the Medieval times,” Contreras said. “They are not just beautiful, but very athletic.”

It takes about a year to get the horses ready for the show.

“We start with very basic stuff,” Contreras said.

Little by little, the horses become more willing to perform and less nervous during the show.

Contreras' training is a mix of three disciplines: Classical Dressage, high school maneuvers and Doma Vaquera.

In his free time, he runs a business training student riders. He also has a team of eight riders who compete in horse shows across the country.

Contreras was awarded Horseman of the Year in 2011 from the International Andalusian and Lusitano Horse Association, and he participated in the opening ceremonies at the 2010 World Equestrian Games in Lexington, Kentucky.

“That was the biggest thing I've ever done,” Contreras said.

Competition has helped Contreras with his job at Medieval Times.

“That has helped me become a better coach with my people at Medieval Times and improve our training programs,” he said.

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  Mario Contreras of Elgin keeps a close eye on an Andalusian stallion at his training center in Gilberts. Steve Lundy/
  Above, Contreras rehearses with the horse before a show in Hoffman Estates. Below, he takes a horse through training at Medieval Times. Steve Lundy/
  Mario Contreras watches a recent show at Medieval Times in Hoffman Estates, where he is the head horse trainer. Steve Lundy/
  Contreras at his office in the Indian Hills Training Center in Gilberts, where he holds his private horse training sessions. He is one of the most decorated horse trainers in the Midwest. Steve Lundy/
  Mario Contreras practices outside the castle at Medieval Times in Hoffman Estates. Steve Lundy/
  Mario Contreras, one of the most decorated horse trainers in the Midwest, is the head horse trainer at Medieval Times in Hoffman Estates. Steve Lundy/
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