June 20, 2009 | | Comments 0

The Latin Horse Whisperer: Julio Mendoza

Interviewed by: Holle Abee

Part I

Once in a great while, a very special human being comes along who has an amazing gift with horses – someone who understands how the animal thinks, what motivates it, how to help each horse achieve its full potential. These talented individuals are rare and seem to be born with a sixth sense that no amount of formal training can teach. Julio Mendoza is such a man.

Born Julio Cesar Mendoza Loor in 1979 in Empalme, Ecuador, Julio was reared in the world of horses and was descended from a great equine-training family. His great-grandfather, Eduardo Carranza, was a professional horse trainer in Spain. His maternal grandfather, Bienvenido Loor, was a renowned horse trainer in Colombia, South America. Both of these men had a great impact on the young Julio. They recognized his gift and acknowledged his dream of someday becoming a professional trainer himself, and they nurtured his aspirations. They frequently offered him advice and tips on riding and handling horses and always encouraged him to follow his dream.

Julio remembers his grandfather’s telling him, “When training your horse all the movements of dressage, always remember it is like dancing. As the horse is your dance partner, always dance with your horse.” The young Julio took the advice to heart, and as always seen himself and his mount as partners.

Julio’s father, Ramon, was also an avid horseman. He founded a riding school called “La Tranquera,” where he focused on rider equitation and the principles of dressage and jumping. Julio learned to ride under his father’s instruction and on his own. By the age of eight, Julio was showing horses all over South America, competing in dressage and jumping events on Andalusians, Thoroughbreds, Hanoverians, warmbloods, and Lusitanos.

At the tender age of eleven, Julio became a groom for the military. He mucked countless stalls in exchange for instruction on their horses. Julio felt the more horses he could ride and handle, the more he would learn about different breeds and different individuals. Obviously, it paid off.

Julio Mendoza

Julio Mendoza

Julio has shown successfully in top-rated horse shows, including the Rolex and the Audi Cup, both held in South America. Amazingly, he placed in the top five for five years in a row at the International Cup, also held in South America. He has successfully trained and ridden horses to Grand Prix. In 2007, just before he left Ecuador for the United States, Julio placed third in the prestigious SA Rolex on his eight-year-old Hanoverian gelding, Gramero – out of hundreds of the world’s best horses and riders. This was a special win for Julio; he had owned the horse since it was a yearling.

When asked about the horse world in Ecuador, Julio describes it as “very wide.” All the popular disciplines in the US are also favorites in Ecuador, except for western disciplines. “You won’t find barrel racing there,” he explains.

The most popular equine event in Ecuador is called “doma vaquera,” a style of riding which enables horsemen to perform the daily duties normally involved on a working cattle ranch. It evolved in Spain from the practice of handling fighting bulls on horseback, and over the decades, it progressed into working cattle on large open ranges on horseback. In doma vaquera tests, horse and rider must show confidence and brilliance at the walk, trot, canter, and gallop. Judges sit at each end of a 20 x 60-meter arena. During the test, many riders choose music to accompany their performance, including Spanish or Latin guitar melodies without vocals. Horse and rider are judged on cadence and impulsion, but riders can improve their overall score by employing impressive style and presentation. Spanish-style tack and dress are used during the performance.

The second most popular discipline is hunter-jumper, followed by polo, and according to Julio, dressage is “dead last.” Horses are still used in the South American nation as a major form of transportation, too. People ride their horses to work and to the market to buy groceries.

Farming is common in Ecuador, making up 15% of the GDP and employing 30% of the total work force. The most common crops grown are bananas, coffee, cocoa, sugar cane, and potatoes. Horses are often used to plow the fields and for general farm work, especially on small subsistence farms that grow potatoes, maize, rice, manioc, and soybeans. The farm work is usually done by a breed unique to the country, called the “Runa Ecuadoriano,” or the runa for short. Julio describes the breed as tough, sturdy animals of excellent health. He says they’re actually a mixed breed, sort of a “mutt.” After the runas plow the fields and help harvest the crops, the small farmers take their produce to local markets to sell, again with the aid of the all-purpose runa.

Trail riding is also popular in Ecuador, especially for visitors. Numerous stables offer guided trails through stunning landscapes of ancient volcanoes, deep gorges, clear mountain streams, cloud forests near the tall peaks of the Andes, and lush tropical foliage and wild orchids. By offering rides for tourists, small farmers are able to subsidize their incomes through horses.

Although Julio had achieved much success in Ecuador and in South America as a whole, he always believed he could accomplish even more. His gaze turned north, to the United States, where his favorite discipline, dressage, was a “wide-open” field, full of gifted riders and talented mounts. The idea of moving to the US was firmly planted in Julio’s mind when fate offered a hand in the form of an employment advertisement.

In the Spring of 2007, Julio and his wife, Jessica, moved to the United States. They felt that they would have much more opportunities in America for training and showing. Julio has always had an intense interest in dressage and was, in fact, one of the few trainers in Ecuador who focused on and specialized in dressage and flat work. Julio believes his success at jumping is due to the fact his jumpers were first trained in dressage. He explains that in Ecuador, dressage is considered boring and is often not taken seriously. In contrast, dressage is a serious, well respected discipline in the US. In America, Julio would have the chance to compete in more shows against a much larger number of horses.

When the Mendozas discovered a job opening in Maryland for a trainer and manager of Friesians, they both felt it was the right position for Julio. Jessica had imported her own Friesian when she was just thirteen years old, and she loves the breed. Julio contacted the stable and got the job. They left Ecuador right away for their new life in the United States and never looked back. They left everything behind, including a farm, family, friends, and their beloved horses, but as Julio explains, “It is a decision we will NEVER regret!” Julio and Jessica both say they plan on staying in the United States for a very long time.

Julio has held a number of jobs throughout his life, as groom, trainer, farrier, veterinarian, farm manager, and stable hand, but every position allowed him to be around horses and to learn from them. In fact, he’s never had a job that did not involve horses. For the past nineteen years, Julio has been training horses in dressage, driving, and jumping, at all levels. He’s currently the trainer and riding instructor at Rolling Ridge Stables in Laytonsville, Maryland, where he specializes in competitive dressage and in dressage-based horsemanship. Julio instructs his riders in the importance of correct training from the beginning and provides a safe, positive, upbeat atmosphere for his students, be they human or equine.

The owners of the facility, David Deal and Michelle Lee, have five beautiful Friesians, including three stallions and two geldings. One of the stallions, a seven-year-old named Ivan Sport, is currently performing fourth-level dressage. He’s also the youngest stallion ever to achieve the Sport Predicate, which is earned through high scores in third-level or above dressage competitions. Another Rolling Ridge stallion under Julio’s care, Tije 401 Sport, is a Preliminary Approved Stallion from Holland. Julio has just started training Rompke, a four-year-old Ster stallion at Rolling Ridge, in dressage and says the young horse exhibits amazing potential. The two geldings, Miendert and Falko, are great in the ring, too. They also serve as wonderful schoolmasters and teachers for the lessons program offered at the stables.

In addition to training for and managing Rolling Ridge Stables for Mr. Deal and Ms. Lee, Julio is able to take on his own clients to train. He still competes in the show ring, also. He states that he and his family are very happy with his current situation, and he loves working with Friesians. Although he has been successful with many impressive horses representing a variety of breeds, the Friesian is his favorite. According to Julio, “Their temperament and willingness is hard to beat with any breed. No matter where I go with them, they are always a show stopper. They have a special presence you could never train into a horse; they just have it naturally.”

If you ever have the chance to view Julio aboard one of these magnificent Friesians, you’ll understand why they draw so much attention: the slim olive-skinned Julio, donning white shirt, white gloves, and white breeches, along with black coat, black tophat, and tall black riding boots, astride a magnificent, powerful jet-black Friesian. Horse and rider move as one, in perfect harmony. The pair are hard to forget, and apparently, many top judges feel the same way.

Not only has America proven to be the land of opportunity for Julio, it has also offered a whole new world of horses for Jessica. Julio says that in Ecuador, female riders in shows are few and far between. Out of every twenty competitive riders, only one or two are female. In the US, of course, horse showing is more equally matched between the sexes. Jessica has been riding and showing horses all her life and has discovered many more opportunities for horsewomen in America than there were in Ecuador.

The Mendozas seem to be the perfect partners and kindred souls, especially when it comes to horses. Julio says, “Jessica works with the horses, and I would never be able to do it all without her. She is a very knowledgeable horsewoman. It’s wonderful sharing my passion with her, as we both live and breathe horses.”

Julio and Jessica have a beautiful two-year-old son named Justin. He’s already following in the footsteps of his father, his grandfather, his great-grandfather, and his great-great-grandfather. Justin adores being around the horses, and he can often be found helping out at the barn. Even as a toddler, he’s already exhibiting the “horse blood” that runs deep in his veins. No doubt Julio will continue the family horsemanship tradition through his young son, adding a fifth generation to the equinefamily legacy.

Julio and Jessica are actively involved with the Mid-Atlantic Friesian Association, a group that promotes the Friesian breed and educates horse owners through a variety of clinics and demonstrations. The association is open to Friesian owners and to Friesian enthusiasts and includes members from Florida to Pennsylvania. The couple is also part of the Friesian Horse Association of North America, or the FHANA.

Other horsemen who have watched the tall, lanky Julio work with equines have been amazed at his ability to read the horse and coax it gently to his will. They have nicknamed him “the Latin Horse Whisperer.” Julio himself best sums up his philosophy about handling horses: “I create a bond with any horse I am working with, and we become like one. My horses and I enjoy what we do, which makes a huge difference. I am very happy and find myself so lucky to get to work with such great people and horses.”

To learn more about Julio Mendoza, and especially about his training methods and philosophies, stay tuned for Part II.

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