By Katie V. Jones
6:00 AM EDT, June 17, 2012
Ivan loves a crowd. The big, black horse shakes his head, his mane flying, as soon as he enters the ring.
Xairel, on the other hand, is more reserved, though just as skilled in the ring. The light-colored horse knows how to respond to the most delicate touch of his master's hand, and doesn't flinch as a 12-foot pole swings around his head.
Since the age of 3, Julio Mendoza has worked with horses.
Now 33, Mendoza, a native of Ecuador, is a skilled horseman in dressage. He is an International Federation of Equestrian Sports trainer and instructor. He competes around the country, and last year competed in the Pan American games in Mexico.
He hosts clinics on dressage and teaches lessons for all ages and skills at his base facility, Mendoza Dressage in Union Bridge.
On June 23, he'll show off both Ivan and Xairel at the Potomac Valley Dressage Association Ride for Life's Dancing Horse Challenge. The program will showcase both his and the horses' skills while raising money for a good cause.
Now in its ninth year, PVDA Ride for Life is a two-day event that benefits the John Hopkins Avon Foundation Breast Cancer Center. Held at Prince George's Equestrian Center, in Upper Marlboro, the event is a licensed dressage competition that also hosts the popular "dancing horse" competition on Saturday evening.
"This is my second year in the challenge, and I love it," said Mendoza, whose act last year featured him riding while a twirling a flamenco dancer performed in tandem. "It is an honor to be in ... the challenge and compete and support Ride for Life."
"We've been competing and watching the show several years," said Jessica Mendoza, Julio's wife, about the Ride for Life. "They have performers from all over."
For Xairel's entry in this year's dance event, Mendoza will perform "La Garrocha," which will feature him twirling the 12-foot pole — the garrocha — while riding. Once used to protect a horse from bulls while moving cattle to different pastures in Spain, the garrocha is now used in dressage as an artistic tool.
"It takes a good rider, and the horse has to be a little older and more mature," Jessica said of the "La Garrocha" routine. "You have to create a trust and bond together to do a performance like this. It's a huge crowd, lots of lights and music. A lot of horses are afraid to do that."
On a recent weekday, Mendoza and Xairel made the routine look commonplace as they went over it in the ring. The trainer had high praise for the discipline of his partner.
"He is adorable," Mendoza said of 9-year-old Xairel. "He is so good."
Mendoza's other entry in the dance competition features Ivan in a freestyle dressage event.
"Ivan will dance to upbeat music," Jessica said. "He'll have a lot of fun with it."
While Mendoza learned dressage from his father and grandfather in Ecuador, he has been able to compete more since moving to the United States in 2007. In Ecuador, riding is geared more toward bull fighting or jumping, Jessica said.
"Dressage is very competitive and highly respected," Jessica said of dressage in the United States. "He has a lot more fun competing in dressage here. The people take it more seriously. There is so much more you can do with it and the horse."
At the stables in Union Bridge, Mendoza teaches and trains. He rides 13 horses every day but Sunday, when he and his family relax.
"We are really happy here," said Mendoza of the stable facility. "I am very lucky."
After gaining U.S. citizenship, Mendoza's goal is to compete in the 2016 Olympics in Brazil for dressage.
"Everything is possible," he said. "You never know."
Mendoza Dressage is located in Union Bridge. For more information, call 301-801-9353 or email firstname.lastname@example.org. The PVDA Ride for Life will take place June 23 and 24 at Prince George's Equestrian Center in Upper Marlboro. The Dancing Horse Challenge will take place Saturday, June 23, at 6 p.m. For more information, visit pvdarideforlife.org.