I was born Manolo Mendez in 1953 in Los Palacios, South Spain. My father was a farmer. The bulk of his living was running cattle and sheep. Horses, donkeys and mules were always used on the farm and were essential to us in so many ways. I helped on the farm and learned to ride and work with horses from a very early age. I knew from the time I was very young that I had a special affinity with horses. I knew that even before I was big enough to lift the saddle onto my horse’s back.
In those days, my father would saddle my horse for me. He pulled the girth so tight; sometimes he put his knee into the belly to get the girth even tighter. My horse would give a big sigh and a snort. And that horse would look at me because he knew I was going to release that girth just as soon as I could. I would ride away from the house, across the creek to where my father could not see, and then I would jump off and loosen the girth. I knew my horse would go better for me because I had made him more comfortable. I understood because I work better when I feel comfortable, too.
Working with a horse all day in the country, you get so close. You start to understand his moods and feelings. In the end you just know how a horse’s mind works.
But it was not just being with horses that taught me about them. It was about being close to animals and nature in general. You learn to respect the earth and the bounty and beauty she will freely yield if you appreciate her gifts without pushing her to her limits to give more and more and more. You come to understand that all creatures are sentient beings who feel pain and joy and sadness, just as humans do. And you learn that you are a part of nature, not its master, and you must work with her, not try to exploit her because you want more than your fair share.
I remember that a man would come to prune the orange trees on my father’s farm. First he would study a tree from a distance to assess the overall shape for symmetry. Then he would cut away any branches that gave the tree an unbalanced appearance. He would take out wood to open up the middle of the tree so that the inside branches got more sunlight and could grow stronger and thicker.
I came to understand that this was not about how the tree looked, but about how it felt. If the tree was not balanced, if one side was heavier to hold up than the other side, then the tree was working too hard. It would not rest in autumn and winter after producing flowers in spring and bearing fruit in summer. It would become tired, producing fewer flowers and fruit each year.
With balance and symmetry came more flowers and more fruit. Because the tree was not tired, the fruit would be bigger. And the tree could carry its abundance more easily because it was in balance.
I came to see that training a horse is just like that. You assess the overall horse; you get a feeling for what he needs to find balance. Then you use technique to create that balance. Your goal is always what you can do in any given moment with any given horse to open him up to an understanding of what you want him to give you.