I believe that learning never stops and will always seek the opportunity to further increase my knowledge and experience, whether it be riding, fitness, horse training, anatomy, physiology or therapy.
The more I know, the more I can help riders help themselves, to help their horses.
I first came across Manolo’s training philosophy and approach about 1 year ago and have been following him from a distance since. This weekend (26-28th April 2019) I had the opportunity to travel to Poland to attend the Manolo Mendez Clinic in Poland with my friend and colleague, Anita.
Manolo’s is a seasoned horseman; he likes to say he has over sixty years of experience living, breathing, working with and training horses. He started his professional career at the young age of 14, training the Alvaro Domecq’s personal horses, to later become one of the six founding members of the Royal Andalusian School of Equestrian Art. Manolo is well known for Classical Dressage training with specialist skills in training the Piaffe, Passage, and Pirouette, known as the 3 P’s without coercion or force.
Manolo uses a holistic approach to training, looking at the horse as a whole to sympathetically train, develop and rehabilitate. An approach that is sought after from many professionals and individuals across the world to assist with straightening, releasing tight, stiff, and crooked horses and to assist in the development of correct posture, movement, and gait enhancement.
Look & listen
For the 3 days, I sat in an indoor arena for about 10 hours a day in so many layers of clothes to keep warm in the cold and damp weather that Poland greeted me with. Despite being so so cold I was fascinated, mesmerized and moved by Manolo’s ability to see, feel and understand so much from a horse in such a brief encounter, that I was not able to leave. It was truly enlightening and awakening to see a person have such a connection, with not just a one horse, but all of the horses he met.
There were a total of 8 riders who each had a session a day with Manolo, which allowed you to see the progress over the 3 days of the clinic. Whilst many of the sessions started mounted, but if Manolo saw that the horse was stiff, tight, anxious, nervous or just unsettled he asked the rider to dismount, and un-tack horse to then work with him from the ground, while the rider was observing Manolo and absorbing his skills. There were times when Manolo would just walk to the horse and touch a specific area and the horse would immediately react as if Manolo heard the horse tell him exactly where there was an issue. It was truly emotional to see as you could see the change in Manolo as he felt the pain himself, sharing it with the horse.
The sessions lasted as long as they needed to in order for the horse to feel comfortable and confident in their environment and with whatever task was being asked of them. For some this simply meant walking around, a little lunge work, some in-hand, and bodywork from Manolo. There was never any rush, pushing, forcing or frustration from Manolo and if the horse ‘expressed’ themselves Manolo was listening and would say ‘ok’ and go with whatever the horse needed.
When allowed a voice, many of the horses had much to say through their body language, head tossing, and resistance to settle due to nerves, anxiety or tension. Or perhaps they were already saying it but there wasn’t anyone listening or they didn’t understand what was being said?
I think it is easier to think that horses are resistant, lazy and naughty rather than that they are trying to communicate with you.
Manolo loves to give you analogies and detailed descriptions to help you understand to educate and increase your understanding, to show you that it’s not complicated; it’s simple when you look and listen. I love this, I will never be Manolo but if I am prepared to look, listen and feel then I can learn how to be better for my horses.
Back to basics
Whilst the sessions were perhaps not what the rider originally hoped for it was clear that Manolo’s approach of watching, listening and going back to simple basics paid dividends as come the next session you could see the horse had changed. They were freer, more content, and soft in the eye and more willing to listen and work alongside Manolo and their owner/rider.
I am unsure of where it really comes from, the need to rush a horse through its experiences and education. It seems that society expects horses to be at a certain level by a certain age irrelevant of the fact that they are still young. To be able to perform a variety of moves such as Travers, Shoulder In, flying changes, Piaffe yet the horse has not been granted the time to become balanced, have straightness and rhythm to work with regularity and ease. I have felt that pressure myself with my girls, being made to feel that they should be competing at a specific level or have achieved such moves but I have never pushed them and at the age of 11 now, they are just starting to really expand themselves and for my resistance to the pressure I will have happy, healthy horses with longevity.
Manolo uses a cavesson and bamboo for groundwork and nothing more as it is important to allow the horse to work without restriction and stress and to develop a fitter, healthier, sounder horse. Whilst watching him working on the ground with the horses it was easy and quick to see how the horses started to correct slight imbalances such as leaning into a circle, flexing outwards and shortness on a side when allowed to move correctly and freely.
Manolo expressed that when working a horse on the ground it is important to make the work as easy as possible, and then they will give back 10 times more because you have allowed them to be comfortable.
Manolo has many stories to tell but the main message is you must treat horses with respect and kindness. We would not like to be strapped up and made to rush round unbalanced, horses are just like people. When given the opportunity to be comfortable and free through the body and mind the horse will be happy and want to work.
This is something that I think we may be starting to forget. Some appear to be more interested in their pride, stature or the money the horse can generate for them; the latest gadget, fashion or luxury item or promise of peer respect, success and vanity.
“ Be kind to your horse”
– Manolo Mendez –
Manolo always focuses on the horses and works on what they need to work on to find balance and regularity in their movement. Whilst the rider may want to more advanced work, Manolo does what the horse needs. This is a quality I greatly admire and respect.
A quality that I think many instructors have lost or never found. In order to create harmony between horse and rider, you need to work within the capabilities of the horse, not the desire of the rider.
“A trainer should act like a horse’s bodyguard and not let anything bad happen to them in lessons. The horse knows when the trainer’s instruction is causing him pain”
– Manolo Mendez –
I have found it hard to write about such an experience as I came home tired, emotional and feeling a little broken. Feeling that perhaps I have let my horses down at some point.
Listened to an instructor to push my horse when I should have protected them or been too focused on what I wanted to achieve that I did not see what they needed. Whilst I know that this would never have been intentional I can’t help but think ‘have I let myself and my horses down?’ It has taken me a few days to get my head around how I have brought my horses up through their years but have come to the conclusion that yes, I have made mistakes but my continued desire to learn and strive for better a harmony and partnership and to help others achieve it too gives me some reassurance that I have and will continue to do the best that I can to make their lives better.
What I have learned or more so remembered is that I have horses because I love them and it is not about what they can do for me, it is about what we can do together.
Treat your horse with kindness and respect and allow your horse to grow healthily both physically and mentally naturally. Protect them from those that may harm them, intentionally or not.
You are their partner, their friend, their protector.
I am quite shocked that most of the people I mention Manolo too have never heard of him especially in the dressage circles but I urge you, no matter who you are, go to one of his clinics, open your eyes, your mind and listen. Remember why you have horses and see that it is possible to help your horses through correct training, kindness, and patience more than spending money on material items they just don’t need.
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