Pedro Cebulka The Ringmaster…the man with many hats and not just literally.
Pedro is the equestrian ringmaster extraordinaire, and is as well known for his collection of flamboyant hats and costumes which he wears at competitions shows, as he is for being the man responsible for ensuring riders enter and exit the ring on time. He turns chaos into order at some of the world’s top shows.
I was lucky enough to chat via zoom with Pedro at his Canadian home before he set off on his travels with his wife Janet, something which he loves to do, seeing different cultures around the world.
His Mantra is, ‘I am here to help you
Pedro explains that it is important to have a ringmaster, and his job is to guide everyone to the right place at the right time and guide them through the whole process. Just because a rider has been to countless competitions doesn’t mean that in the heat of the moment they may not make a mistake or not even think about how the whole process works.
His Mantra is, ‘I am here to help you’. As ringmaster he needs to be firm but fair. Safety is important and it is imperative things run on time as there are lots of riders and if 50-plus riders were a minute late each, there would be chaos. The day needs to run to time and there are always other considerations and much to coordinate, for example tv schedules if it is being filmed and often words of encouragement are needed.
Down to earth
Although he has been to multiple Olympics including 2012 London, the Pan American Games and so many more of the world’s elite events, Pedro is very down to earth. He knows that he’s there to do an important job and without his organisation at these events things could go awry. The demanding nature of these events means that it isn’t always plain sailing, however Pedro keeps things running smoothly and ensures that everyone is where they need to be.
A story about Charlotte Du Jardin
Whilst listening to Pedro animatedly recounting anecdotes about stand-out career moments, I soon realised that this very engaging character has so many stories to tell that an afternoon spent in his company would be wonderful but nowhere near long enough.
He tells a story about Charlotte Du Jardin asking if she could borrow his hat for a photo and recalls that afterwards she asked to wear it again to the prize giving which ended with Pedro and Charlotte swopping hats. Pedro admires Charlotte and likes what she brings to the sport and what she has done for dressage. “Not only is she a professional athlete, but she shares her life so people can see what she is like outside of dressage and she is also fun”.
He says “Winning is easy. Anyone can do that. It is the losing that is harder.” He likes to be supportive in those situations and “when someone wins after a difficult situation it is even more rewarding”. Many of his stand-out moments stem from that. You can tell when he says this that he really feels that way.
Pedro didn’t start out in the equestrian world
Pedro didn’t start out in the equestrian world. He started out in banking and then went onto a degree course in Economics. Whilst taking his degree, he worked as a bartender. A trip to Brazil in 1976 changed the course of his career and he ditched Economics.
It was an offer of a carpenter/helper job in August 1977 from a Swiss guy says Pedro, who said he was working at a new equestrian centre, Spruce Meadows, that steered Pedro towards a completely new career path.
Ron Southern, founder of Spruce Meadows formed a strong bond with Pedro and treated him like a stepson. Whilst helping out at Spruce Meadows, Riding Master Albert Kley said he could help at a show. During his second year at Spruce Meadows Pedro was called into action as an interpreter, an announcer in German and Spanish and also as a course builder.
The next five years saw him divide his time between helping out at Spruce Meadows and working as a tour guide in South America and South-East Asia. It was during this time under the hand of British Course Designer, Pam Carruthers that Pedro also expanded his course building expertise and helped develop Spruce Meadows.
In 1979 he went off to Europe and assisted at the FEI European Championships before being invited to help at Hickstead. After many years of working for Spruce Meadows he decided it was time for a much needed break. And left. This time to work in sales.
Another of Pedro’s passions is music
Alongside travel, another of Pedro’s passions is music, it brings him joy and plays an essential role in his life. For Pedro part of the enjoyment in music is that he is able to give back. Whenever he is in Canada he plays at a local Hospice every first Tuesday of the month. He can also be found playing tunes on his tin whistle at gatherings with friends.
Pedro has played the tin whistle with the Gypsy Kings backstage
Incredibly, Pedro has played the tin whistle with the Gypsy Kings backstage and also played with the Chieftans. Somehow when he recalls these moments, you realise that he hasn’t shared that to impress. Simply to highlight part of the rich tapestry of this remarkable man’s life to date.
He and Madonna both own a hat from the same hatmaker
I was also surprised to learn that both he and Madonna both own a hat from the same hatmaker. Although I doubt Madonna has quite as many hats in her collection as Pedro does. He has around a hundred of them. If only those hats could talk, many of them hold memories and would have more stories to tell. People from different countries all over the world send hats to him.
Some key lessons learned as an Equestrian Ringmaster
When asked what he had learned along the way through his job as ringmaster, he outlined some of the key lessons:
Communicate. People must be able to understand what you say, and able to follow it. There is a difference between people understanding what you say and what you say and what people actually hear
In gate – always have spare halters (head collars) for horses. There will always be a loose horse at some point, and he has learnt along the way how to deal with them.
Words of encouragement are needed, riders can have problems, doubts and nerves.
You can take something away from each competition, he is always learning.
Another thing that came across clearly during my chat with Pedro is his positive outlook on life. He tells me, “find the positives rather than the negatives, life is short, live the life that you want.” After our conversation I could see he does exactly that.