Manolo Mendez Dressage

Balance Is Confidence: Lessons Learned From Working Equitation

by Manolo Mendez Specialist of in-hand and Classical Equitation with writer Caroline Larrouilh

This article originally appeared in Issue 9 of Baroque Magazine (January 2013, pg. 68)

Article Excerpt: Balance Is Confidence: Lessons Learned From Working Equitation

The brown leather chaps I wear are over seventy-five years old. The carefully oiled, supple hide was cut, hand tooled and stitched together for my uncle before me and I have held them dear for forty- five years now. I am the only one who handles, cleans and folds them. They are a modest but priceless treasure. They are also a reminder of where I came from over 30 years ago, and of a way of riding and training horses, of understanding horses, that I was born into, and use every day, in one form or another.

Spain has a rich and long tradition of working equitation: classical and country dressage used to manage vast herds of sheep, cattle and bulls.

The first lesson I learned was about rider balance. On our farm, for many years we had sheep and cattle. Many a time, I accompanied my uncle on three and four day trips to the village markets where we sold them. We slept like cowboys, outside, our saddles for pillows, wrapped in our serapes. We herded our sheep and cows on horseback through brush, Pinsapo Spanish Fir, Almond, Olive, Poplar and Cork trees, and I learned to anticipate their actions and keep them together, dashing at full speed or slaloming between trees, sometimes jumping small dry arroyos (creeks) to bring back renegade sheep, calves or independent cows back to the path.

Learning instinctively how to move fluidly with my horse, to over take, spin around bring back or sometimes separate cattle or sheep. Leaning forward into the speed, leaning sideways to avoid branches, turning back to situate myself, without even thinking about it as a riding education, I learned to stay “alive” in the saddle. I learned to place my body where it helped my horse best, to stay balanced in the saddle without pulling on the reins, clamping my legs or pushing my seat into the horse’s back whether I was sitting, standing, leaning or turning my body halfway left or right I rode to stay on, and help my horse succeed in doing the work I asked of him, as conservatively and effectively as he possibly could...Read More on

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