Manolo pointed at the fence where a piece of pipe stuck out, and I thought he was going to tsk me. A horse could scrape himself there. Then he spread his arms wide and pivoted in a slow circle, as if he were gathering the whole property in an embrace. With a few gentle words to me, a young trainer focused wholly on riding and training and teaching, he made his point clear.
Even though I boarded at this facility, and did not own it, I needed to take responsibility for every single piece of my horse’s care and health. I could not excuse unsafe fencing or dusty arenas or insufficient feeding routines just because I was not in charge of the barn operations. You have to love all of this, Manolo Mendez told me, meaning every mundane detail of my horse’s wellbeing.
If I owned a horse, I alone was in charge of his wellness, always. I was not just his rider and bill-payer. I was his advocate, his health-watcher, his best resource.
Since that moment a decade ago, I have operated with those words close at heart. And, funny enough, taking more responsibility has not meant more work or burden. In most ways, it has felt like a vow to deepen my connection not just to Corazon but to every horse in my training program.
As I increasingly prioritized the role I played in their daily wellness, I opted a few years ago to lease my own facility here in California, which seemed initially like financial suicide. Stepping away from operating my business out of boarding facilities to run a property under my own direction presented risks of both money and time investments.
Luckily the financial part has been okay. Even luckier: my connection to these animals is the most complete and satisfying I’ve ever known. I observe them each in their pens daily, tracking their hydration and moods, their appetites and energy levels, whether or not they are socializing with other horses. I’ve learned to rate the quality of my farrier, my hay grower, and saddle fitter on par with my ability to teach a shoulder-in or canter departure.
I watch each of my horses’ individual personalities play out over the course of each day, letting it inform my approach to their training sessions. As a result, I appreciate and honor their unique natures better than I did as a younger trainer. I possess more patience, more correctly calibrated expectations. I guess you could say this has led to having better connections with my horses. And somewhere along the way, I learned to love all of it.