It has taken me quite some time to collect my thoughts, in part because I was busy with my wedding the following week, but also because there was just so much to take in and consider. Trying to express just how deeply affected I have been by the clinic has been really difficult as it has reached deep inside me and in a way rattled my core – but in a really good way. I have always had a passion for classical riding but never had the opportunity to learn – except out of books.
For the last two years I have been working with my mare mainly with horsemanship – which has helped me tremendously with my confidence and my relationship with my horse – and I have been very lucky to work with some wonderful trainers in that time and who I will always be thankful for. But I am always open to learning more and different ways (I don’t think we should ever stop learning or close ourselves off). In my core I have an instinctual way that I hope to be with my horse so am always searching for that thing that ‘clicks’ to help me on my journey.
I felt when I first heard of Manolo last year that he fit so well with what I had been learning, and I loved everything that I read and saw of his approach. The ‘Training for Wellness’ aspect really appealed to me as I really want my horses to be happy, strong and healthy. I was so excited when the possibility of Manolo coming to New Zealand arose but sadly the North Island clinic was the weekend of my wedding so I could not go – so I had to grab the chance to bring him to the South Island when I could. And I will be forever grateful that I did – and my horse will be forever grateful that I did. She is a wonderful wee horse but prone to be grumpy and easily stressed in her work.
There are some real lessons I learned over the weekend – both riding in my lesson but also watching the other lessons – I’m grateful for all the riders/handlers for sharing their horses with us as I know I learned so much from them and could often relate to what they were going through.
Major Lesson 1 – Make it easy for your horse and your horse will thank you for it and try for you. When it is easy your horse can find what it is you are trying to teach without discomfort – which then means they are always more willing to keep trying.
Major Lesson 2 – Be prepared to go slow and do/ask for much much less. If you horse shows any sign of tension or stress then you need to step back and start again and make it easier for you horse. Don’t be in such a hurry to get it right – allow your horse to find where it needs to be. Its ok to get it wrong – it doesn’t have to be perfect all the time.
Major Lesson 3 – Keep things very simple – do not overcomplicate your asks – because you don’t need to. The less you do the clearer it is for your horse and the easier it is for them to find it. We make it so much harder than it needs to be.
To me all of was particularly evident in the shoulder in which although my wee horse could do and we had been practicing and slowly improving – she was prone to popping her head up at times and losing rhythm. With Manolo’s help by the end of my second lesson I was almost laughing out loud with just how very easy it was to achieve a nice shoulder in with a happy relaxed horse – with no head popping up and maintain a nice steady rhythm. For me the key factors that stick in my mind were – slow down and shorten the stride a bit to make it easier for the horse to find its balance and be able to perform the movement. Ask on the circle first and only start with one or two strides and then walk off – don’t be tempted to keep asking (chances are if the head pops up I am asking too much). Gradually build the number of steps up but always listen to the horse and stop before things get hard for the horse. If you adjust your hands correctly (the way demonstrated so well by Manolo) and keep your contact quiet, steady and even – everything else will just fall into place – your body will automatically assume the correct position to make the movement clear and easy for the horse.
And that’s only just a tiny smidgen of what I learned. I could write pages and pages of all these things that really just seem so simple and so natural and so obvious.
On the second day of our clinic with Manolo I was riding around quietly during my lesson and had this overwhelming sense of coming home – ‘this is where I need to go’, ‘this is what I have been looking for’ – for me and my wee mare Tilly. It was quite an emotional realisation. To be riding my girl and to know that she was relaxed and happy with ears pricked enjoying her ride – that for me was worth more than I can express.
Manolo Mendez is one a of kind – his incredible empathy for the horses, combined with his extensive knowledge of bodywork and training, his great sense of humour and wonderful stories, and his incredible grace and skill as a rider – all of these things made for an incredible clinic and left us all excited for what is to come for us and our horses in the future. I feel like I have taken the first step on a new path and how incredibly blessed am I.
Driving home from Dunedin after taking Manolo and Kate to the airport I had the mantra running through my head – ‘When the student is ready the teacher will appear’ – I had no idea just how ready I was.