San Diego County’s rural Jamul doesn’t spring to mind when thinking of the far-reaching teachings and experiences of an international dressage trainer and horseman such as Jesús Piris. However, this Spanish master has put Jamul on the equestrian map since he expanded his business to include three weekly visits to the privately owned Crossman Ranch in Jamul, as well as other San Diego area farms including Quinta Córdova, Rancho Nevado and Tipton Ranch.
After a true equestrian odyssey throughout Europe, first as a Royal Andalusian Riding School student, then trainer, breeding manager and mounted opera performer, Jesús moved to Southern California in 2000 to be head trainer with the Spanish-owned Medieval Times Dinner Theater. He trained the horses and riders at Medieval Times’ Anaheim venue and made the breeding decisions at the company’s Texas farm. Seven years ago he set up training shop for himself in Riverside. With his new expansion to San Diego, Jesús looks forward to bringing his masterful teachings to dressage and general horsemanship enthusiasts at all riding levels.
He is a talented, charismatic man with a great sense of humor, extraordinary work ethic and sterling principles. Horses are drawn to Jesús. He has an uncanny ability to communicate with them in a manner that is crisp, clear and leaves no room for confusion or misunderstanding. This and his strength of leadership provide a great sense of security for the animals. He is well known for taking aggressive or severely withdrawn horses and turning them into willing, gentle, personable and obedient mounts.
His love for the horse is readily apparent in the great joy he finds in the personality of each and every equine he encounters—from the finely bred, blue-blooded athlete to the most humble backyard trail horse.
Jesús was born in Ceuta, a Spanish territory on the northern coast of Africa, and moved at age 11 to Sevilla, Spain. He first admired the ruggedness of Northern Africa’s Barb horses and later spent every moment he could in the Sevilla Police Stables where his father, the Chief of Police, was responsible for the city’s 150 police horses.
At 15, Jesús wrote an impassioned letter to the legendary rejoneador (mounted bullfighter) and hero of Spain, Álvaro Domecq, founder of the Royal Andalusian Riding School of Jerez, Spain. Jesús spoke of his love for the horse and his burning desire to spend the rest of his life with these charismatic animals. Lo and behold he received not only a response, but an interview with Domecq at the school.
Jesús still speaks through the eyes of an incredulous teenager as he describes the spectacle he witnessed when he and his parents entered the school. Those great white stallions, the grace and majesty of the riders who danced with them, the finery and splendor of the facility—all of it took his breath away.
Jesús was admitted to the school where he was assigned the responsibility of grooming seven horses and preparing his instructor’s horses for riding. His principal professor was Francisco Cancela de Abreau, whom he considers one of the best riders in the world. Abreau was a student of Guillermo Borba, himself a direct student of the great Portuguese master Nuno Oliveira. Every day the talented young Jesús was given a lesson on the lunge and another off the lunge. After only two years he attained the title of Jinete (rider) and Instructor.
In Spain the term Jinete is not bestowed lightly and means far more than it does here in the U.S. Jesús acknowledges that he had excellent instruction at the school, but reflects that he was by no means a seasoned rider, even upon earning the Jinete title.
Jesús credits the Frenchman Enrique Vidón with teaching him much of what it means to be a masterful rider, especially the notion that it was not just the theory he’d read in books by the great masters such as de la Gueriniere that mattered, but what the horses themselves could teach—the feel for what each particular horse might require at any given moment.
Jesús toiled hard, holding several jobs at a time including teaching at riding stables, schooling young horses over jumps of up to two meters, and bullfighting on horseback. For two years he worked for the rejoneador Javier Buendía on his bull breeding ranch, learning about the country’s famously aggressive toros bravos (brave bulls), before spending 10 years working and competing in the art of mounted bullfighting in Spain and Portugal.
Eventually he left the sport to run breeding farms in Spain. Then, dressage training opportunities arose in Italy, France, Belgium and Germany, where he rode a wide range of horses, many of them native Warmblood breeds.
An Unusual Stage
Back in Spain, Jesús was recruited by the well-known theater director Salvador Távora to play the mounted role of the rejoneador José, the heroine’s lover in the opera Carmen. Before spending two years touring across Europe in that role, he was tasked with selecting the Spanish stallion he’d ride in the production, and given just six months to train him to do the upper level movements such as piaffe, passage and pirouettes necessary for him to dance with the leading ballerina on stage.
Jesús laughs as he recalls the grey Spanish stallion of pure Terry breeding named Ilustrado XIII (nicknamed “Bohorquez”) that he chose, who at first “bit like a dog.” Besides the challenging dressage movements, he also had to teach Bohorquez to take in stride the lights, the crowds, the melee, and the often harrowingly dangerous circumstances of the stage environment, including one theater with a clanging freight elevator that had no walls or railings.
Bohorquez thrived in his unique equine role, not because he was calm by nature Jesús explains, but because he was “domado” (trained). As with our words for “rider,” there is a distinct difference between the Spanish word “domado” and its English equivalent, “trained.” In Spain a horse that is domado is completely obedient under all circumstances, scary or not, following its rider’s guidance unquestioningly and with total trust. This is the level of education to which Jesús aspires with every horse in his charge, and if given adequate time he achieves it.
After this thrilling but exhausting stint in the limelight, and after equestrian positions across Europe, Jesús was recruited by Medieval Times and so began the American chapters of his unusual life story.
For more information on working with Jesús Piris at Crossman Ranch in Jamul, visit www.crossmanranch.com or call 619-468-9227. To work with him in other locations contact Rebeca Córdova at 619-846-6742.
Author Rebeca Córdova breeds Andalusians in Crest, and competes in dressage. She is a longtime student of Jesús’ and counts him and his wife María among her dearest friends. To learn more about Jesús’ fascinating story, click on the link to his page at http://quintacordovaandalusians.googlepages.com.