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Clare Mansmann

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Position Matters: 10 Truths to Live by in the Tack

Photo by Anna Purdy.

Horses have no shortage of ways to communicate with us. For the most part, we can tell when they hurt and what hurts, we can tell if they are content, anxious, hungry, thirsty, excited, itchy, hot, cold, how they like to be groomed, and if they need to pee. We, however, have a much more difficult time communicating things to our horse.

While we tend to put too many human traits on our horses, we can sometimes use our knowledge of emotions to better relate to them (as long as we don’t take it too far). To do this, we need to have control and insight into our emotions, our reactions to our emotions, and control and awareness of what our body is doing, why it is doing things, and when it is doing it. It all boils down to our body language, which, in the saddle, is our position. Equitation, classically, is functional form, not a competitive discipline. And it does matter, no matter the discipline. Equitation is not ONE position, but it is the balancing of the spine on top of the horse, who just happens to be in motion. Simple, right?

As adults, this can be a mind boggling concept. I can’t tell you how often people will come for a riding lesson, ready to work on more advanced moves and practice jumping courses, and we spend two weeks working on posting the trot and how to look where they’re going. Ah, riding is a humbling sport indeed.

And so I compiled a list of the Top 10 most humbling, most obvious things about our riding position that makes them no easier to fix, but there is comfort in solidarity.

1. A steady leg is a loose leg. Say what?! Right. The horse is in constant motion. In order to appear still, the rider is actually moving quite a bit, and fluidly. The leg is relaxed and soft. If your leg is braced and locked, it will swing like crazy. If you stay still while the horse is moving, well, what do you think might happen? Furthermore, you don’t hold yourself on the horse with your legs. Frequently someone will say to us, “Oh you must have really strong thighs.” Eh, not really. I spend my whole day trying to use my legs only when I have something to say to the horse, so that they can hear me. If you squeeze all the time, they’ll tune you out like white noise. Your horse is not a ThighMaster.

Tip: Start out at the walk, and let your legs hang down at your sides with not stirrups, completely limp. Notice what happens to your horse. Does he slow down? That’s a sign that your legs may be “talking” more than you’d like.

2. Holding the reins will not save you from losing your balance. Let’s think about it. The reins are a thin piece of leather attached to a piece of metal (or the like) in your horse’s mouth. OR attached to something across their nose (which, fyi, is rather sensitive on a horse). In contrast, the saddle is a much larger, much more stable, piece of equipment. But we humans tend to pull on the reins, pop our butts in the air, and curl into the fetal position. Literally the opposite of what would actually be needed to stay in the saddle. When you’re using the reins to salvage your balance, you’re pretty much hanging by a thread, not to mention interfering with the horse.

Tip: Ditch the contact, put a big ol’ loop in the reins, ride with one hand, ride with no hands, take some lunge lessons, or ride with champagne glasses in each hand. #itworks

3. Your eyes are arguably one of the most important pieces of your position. We know it, but we just don’t always take it as seriously as we should. We either focus on the wrong thing, or we just don’t focus at all, or somewhere in between. Imagine playing tennis and not watching the ball, or driving without watching the road. Furthermore, whilst in the saddle, you are the driver, and thereby responsible for steering, and your eyes play a big part of this.

Tip: The next time you’re driving, or taking a walk, practice drawing an imaginary line with your eyes as you travel, and then take that to your next ride.

4. You should breathe. So simple, right? So why do we forget? Breathing makes a huge difference in your position and in your horse. Constricted breathing can read as anxiety to your body, and next thing you know, you’re riding scared and you don’t know why. Your horse will match your breath, in mind and body. Your body will match your breathing. It’s magical AND science.

Tip: Designate “breathe” markers around your ring, field, or course. When you see that particular tree or fence board, take a deep breath in AND (here’s the kicker) let it out. Additionally, practice taking a breath and letting it out slowly as you approach your fences and canter transitions.

5. Heels down, but wait, not that far! Do you ever start your ride by shifting back in the saddle and pushing your heels down and in front of you? Some riders do this without conscious thought, and it’s a habit worth noting, and stopping. Early in most of our riding careers, heels down was like THE goal. It was repeated and hollered and we’d even see that one rider with their heels down SO far and try to emulate that and make our coaches so happy. The result? A whole lot of braced legs and tight hips. It’s not that our heels shouldn’t be down, but it’s not all about the heels. It’s actually all about the hips. Weird, right? Our heels should only go down because our leg is so relaxed (see #1) that the heel naturally falls beneath our toes. Pushing the heels down creates tension and swings the stirrup like a pendulum in front of the body, hindering the ability to move forward with the horse, making using the actual leg difficult, and also removes the shock absorption function of the ankles. If the ankle is at the end of your flexion, it can’t take up the motion of the horse.

Tip: Start at a standstill, with the ball of your foot placed evenly on the stirrup bar, open your legs off the saddle and draw slow circles with your heels, keeping even pressure on the stirrup, and keeping the stirrup steady. A buddy on the ground with a phone can be helpful here. Relax, and move into the walk and trot, and canter if you’re comfortable, and have that friend video your feet and legs. If you have the tendency to brace, actually pull your heels up to be level with your toes, and slightly back. It’s the weirdest thing in the world to hear “heels up!” in a lesson, but it may be just what you need.

6. Up, down, up down. The reason posting is taught with a coach saying, “Up! Down. Up! Down.” ad nauseum until they have dry mouth is to help with the rhythm of the rider, to match the horse’s trot. This is frequently done at first by said coach running alongside the horse and rider, before progressing to the lunge line (if you’re lucky). What’s the problem with this, you ask? Well, you’re not actually supposed to go up and down with your post, but forward-up and back-down. It’s just not as easy to say quickly and still have time to breathe. But if the horse is trotting forward, and the rider is simply standing up and sitting down, they cannot keep up with the motion of the horse, and posting becomes difficult for the horse and the rider, when the point is to make the whole thing easier! As you rise in the post, the hips should tuck slightly and swing forward (think over the knees without pinching!), and on the way down, swing back to lightly touch the saddle just in front of the seat bones. In essence, in a jump saddle, posting is two-point, light three-point, two-point, light three-point.

Tip: The old Stand-Stand-Sit exercise. If you are correctly in the center of gravity, with your foot in the right place, with swinging hips, this exercise is very easy. (cue side-eye) In rhythm with the trot, you are going to be constantly changing your diagonal but during the “Up” phase of the post, rather than the sit. If this is a struggle, hold on to a neck strap or breastplate to assist you, and sound out or count to help (I like, “stand, stand, sit” but 1,2,3 or the like works just as well.) Your body will begin to take over, finding a better center, as you keep this rhythm up!

7. When in doubt, go forward! Fear is powerful, but it lies to us. When we think of anything a horse can do that is “scary” or “dangerous”, it is always “backwards” in behavior. Our inclination is to “stop” them from displaying a behavior. This usually results in shortening up on the reins (see #2). Sometimes we do this during the situation, or we do it to prevent a situation. And so then, we usually exacerbate a situation or actually cause it to come to fruition, because what the horse needs is to be sent forward.

Now obviously, there are a lot of training issues associated with behavior, but that’s not exactly what I’m referring to, as we are focusing on rider position. What I am referring to is the rider’s expectations and fears, and that the rider must learn to be comfortable riding forward to prevent many of these problems in the first place, and this comfort level is based in our position.

Tip: Most of our fears come from a lack of balance, or being unsure of our balance (some people have the ability to have good balance and don’t necessarily trust it). I could add a whole lot of tips here, but as a quick tip, a neck strap can be an amazing confidence builder for you and your horse. And exercising (such as Pilates) off the horse are integral. And have a trainer.

8. The horse is jumping, and you don’t … have to help them get up and over. Have you ever been guilty of jumping ahead of your horse? Ahem, me neither. The fact is, we are visual creatures, and so we lean. We lunge. We stand. We watch other riders and we watch their top halves (I was going to say front ends but I forget that humans have different parts…). We should be watching their hips. As we approach a jump, our upper bodies should rise up, and as the horse takes off, our hips slide back and our knees bend. As the horse descends, our upper body stays tall and our hips tuck forward over our knees. The rider should think more of a squat and less of a mermaid at the front of a boat.

Tip: Drop your stirrups and grab your neck strap, and trot or canter some small crossrails, allowing your seat to stay in the saddle with your legs relaxed even over the fence. This allows the motion of the horse to rock the hips correctly.

You know those mermaids on the front of boats? Don’t be one over your fences.

9. When giving conflicting aids, the horse ALWAYS chooses the one you don’t want, and if our aids are not independent, we are always giving conflicting aids. Independent aids means each body part works without another interfering. Can you move your right leg without your left, can you squeeze your calves without tightening your seat or arms, can you turn your head without leaning, can you move your right arm while looking left, do you lean in and make a face when you put mascara on in the mirror? People don’t tend to naturally have super independent body parts, but adults have movement patterns that are that much more ingrained for good or for ill. The great thing about riding is that, done properly, can truly change your body and make you stronger and healthier in your daily life. The sucky thing about riding is that it’s actually pretty easy to do it improperly, thereby exacerbating poor posture and causing pains where pains should not be. #stillhumbling

Tip: Exercising off the horse is vital, and yoga and pilates classes will be extremely helpful.

Photo by Anna Purdy.

10. Controlling our emotions is an important part of our position. The learning process can be frustrating, especially the more humbling it is. While we need to focus on ourselves as the rider, we cannot forget that we are dealing with a live animal, and they do not know what our frustration means. Picture this: a horse and rider are approaching a fence. The rider pulls the reins through the turn, disrupting the balance and rhythm, thereby taking the horse’s stride away. The pair is a bit too slow, the horse chips in but makes a great effort over the fence, clears it, and canters away. The rider, frustrated at themselves, growls and pulls up, maybe determined to try again but forgetting to praise the horse for saving the day. This happens all the time, and we are all guilty at one time or another. It can happen in canter transitions, trot work, lateral work, anywhere. What we see is an increasing anxiety in the horse, in response to the rider. Horses are flight animals, and they cannot differentiate between the rider’s frustration or fear, and we all know horses respond to fear with … fear!

Tip: Learn to laugh at yourself, leave the ego aside, and accept that you’ll never do anything perfectly all the time, or basically ever on a horse. And when I say laugh, I really mean it. I have trained myself to actually let out a laugh when I make a mistake, and always thank my horse.

The stages of learning something new are: unconscious incompetence (you don’t know that you don’t know), conscious incompetence (now you know that you don’t know), conscious competence (you know, but you have to think about it and work at it), unconscious competence (you no longer need to think about it to do it properly). Everyone goes through these stages to learn anything, but most people get stuck on conscious incompetence, because we just don’t tend to like the way that feels. But if we keep at it, we will reach the further stages, and look back wondering why it was so difficult.

The Position Matters Clinic is designed to break down position into digestible information, rather than trying to do everything all at once. It’s a fun environment, designed to allow questions and discovery of what your body and brain need at all stages, across disciplines. Join us in this unique clinic, where all well-trained school horses are provided and participants spend one whole hour learning unmounted exercises and revealing potential blind spots in their bodies, and another hour mounted in small group instruction.
Click here for more information and to register via Event Clinics!

Clare’s Road to the Makeover: Here for The Pictures

For 673 accepted trainers, the 2019 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover is now in the rearview. In celebration of the Makeover, Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers have blogged their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

Hoo-RAH! Another TB Makeover has come and gone except it’s never really gone because the process never really ends, much as we humans like markers of time. We’re still training the 2019 horses and we may already have 2020 horses, whether they stay for us to ride or they sell to others, it’s an ongoing process much like a series of novels that keeps introducing new characters and so you don’t have to worry about it going away anytime soon (Hi Thoroughbred Series!).

Gosh, we had a great time at the Makeover, as per usual, and I believe that has everything to do with going into it with the right expectations.

We love to showcase our horses and our students. We love for our horses to perform as well as they should to this point of their training. I dont expect them to never have rails because that is not the focus of our training at this point. I dont expect them to have auto changes because that is not the focus of our training at this point. I dont expect them to have perfect form over fences because the fences arent big enough at this point #amiright. 

Peter’s hind end is over-powering his front end, but that’s not a bad problem to have. He is clearly not scoped out at 2’6”, and in fact, these jumps are a touch too easy. Photo by Lauren Nicole.

Except for Hank, who can jump significantly bigger, but also knows when cameras are on him. (Ellen Dry and Walk Away Slow) Photo by Canterclix.

I do expect them to trailer well and unload like gentlemen (and women). I do expect them to stand outside the arena patiently. I expect them to lead well. I expect them to tie at the wash rack. I expect them to behave for the braider. I expect them to stand for mounting. I expect their personalities to shine and for them to display their happiness at a good jump. I do expect them to prick their ears for photos and I do expect them to hop over the fences in front of them.

Despite those expectations, if they do or do not meet them, it is up to us. They will or will not depending on how we have taught them, and so if they do or do not, we can learn how to teach them better in the future.

I had a wonderful lesson with John Smart recently and he said something that I will paraphrase badly but remember always:

The horse does not have to enjoy doing what we ask in order to do it, but if they do enjoy it, then we have explained it correctly.

Soooo good. Make It Right celebrating big accomplishments for a 4 yrs young whippersnapper! Photo by Michael O’Donnell.

I love this. I love when my horse gets appropriately frisky after a big effort. I praise him. I love when their ears and eyes lock on a fence even if we weren’t meaning to jump it. I giggle. I love when a corner or a skinny or a ditch rides no different than a simple table. I love when they continue through a combination in spite of my mistake, because that means I have not made the same mistake over and over, so they still trust me.

I love when students make a mistake and laugh. I love when they make a mistake because they are having fun, and not because of fear. I love when we keep the big picture in mind. I don’t love competing. It’s fine, but I don’t love it. I love horses and I love their people. I love learning. I also love snacks. #justsaying

Ellen is the best. Photo by Canterclix.

We are stewards of these horses, their care, their training, their present and their future, and that fact is always on my mind. A huge amount of resources go into getting a horse transitioned off the track and well started into a new career. The Makeover is just a great goal to keep focus in the first year of the re-career process, but the actual process is more like a 36-month one, and I mention that because I like to make statements that are slightly inflammatory and then explain them.

Teaching a racehorse the tools needed to thrive in a new career is like teaching a new language. Sure, Latin languages, so the root is there, but we still have to bridge the gaps. There are tons of nuances that could get overlooked, and you may not know it until later. You may think you know Spanish until you ask for directions and wind up…not where you thought.

Rosita actually knows mostly Spanish. We are, essentially, her ESL teachers. (Kim O’Donnell and Roseau). Photo by Canterclix.

In addition to the language, they need to develop entirely new muscles, and no matter what you want, that takes time. I have ridden my whole life, so I don’t often get sore in the saddle, but the first time I did jiu jitsu, and thought I could keep up with the squats, I almost died, friends. Died. Literally. And while I can make those dumb decisions, I don’t want that for our horses, so that’s where our gymnastics come into play (flat and jumping), our hills, our walking, all the slow, but consistent, work. It doesn’t happen in the field and it doesn’t come in a bag.

Uber cool warhorse, Highly Cynical, and Tom. Photo courtesy of Clare Mansmann.

It’s important to us that this gets talked about and understood. We want prospective owners to understand, juniors to understand, adult amateurs to understand, racehorse owners to understand, and trainers to understand that there is an investment and a bearing of burden far beyond the horse’s racing career that many of us are taking on solely for the love of the horse, and we’d love to see more people from all walks of the OTTB’s life take that on. The Makeover has provided a stage to celebrate this in a way that wasn’t happening before. Most of the competitors are not going there with dollar signs in their vision. Winning the entire thing isn’t going to cover what it cost you to get there. The real payout is in the smiles and celebrations, the pictures, the camaraderie. The success is in the details, and that success is exclusive to each horse and rider’s individual journeys. This competition allows us to watch it unfold and share in joys and the tears, year after year, and not just in the horses. We’ve seen our Makeover friends get engaged and get married, there have been (SO MANY) babies born, we’ve been to 1st through 30th birthday parties, we’ve watched them fight cancer and we’ve watched them whoop it as we pray alongside them, we’ve supported them as they’ve left great careers to start even greater new businesses, we’ve cried when they lost a beloved horse or dog, but also cried when they persevere despite the loss and warmly welcome others. Lives change and we’re all still here and the list goes on.

With Amanda Cousins, swapping disciplines. Photo by Amanda’s mom. I call her “Amanda’s mom”.

It’s not about making it to the Makeover, but about making the most of the Makeover, and there’s no greater group of people to do that with.

 

Clare’s Road to the Makeover: An Ode to the Ammies

For 673 accepted trainers, the 2019 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover has entered the homestretch! From the beginning of the year until the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers have been blogging their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

Kim O’Donnell with Roseau, yours truly with Make It Right, and Ellen Dry with Walk Away Slow (aka the only adult in the bunch). Photo by Allison Howell.

A client once asked Tom how he learned to control show nerves, to which Tom responded something like, “You do this a few thousand more times.” #helpful

The journey to the Makeover is very different for professionals and amateurs. We’ve had a slew of horses come and go this year alone, we changed horses and divisions, and we’re driving as I write this with three horses behind us, 11 shoes (don’t worry, Soft Rides and Animalintex are
also on board).

Many people have had to opt out of competing this week for a variety of reasons, but more are actually en route to Kentucky, and THAT IS AMAZING. Let’s be honest, to get any horse to anyWHERE at any TIME you choose is a feat in and of itself. Our background in eventing has certainly taught us this, particularly in the long-format days, when you’d work all year for that one three-day with no other option, only to have your horse abscess two days before shipping, sending you into a well of despair and tears, only to have your farrier work magic so then you’re happy crying and you spend the next week of your life in a blurry glass case of emotion and thank goodness there’s video footage because otherwise you remember nothing.

Just me?

Ah, teenage angst…

I digress…

Anywho, we learned from those experiences, and what we learned is that drama is unnecessary and unfun. The world has enough problems of its own, and there’s no need to add to that. So this morning, while Tom pried my horse’s sprung shoe off at 4 a.m., I gathered the bandaging
supplies and sent up a blessing to Soft Ride for sending us boots that fit him perfectly, and off we went.

We strive to live in such a way as to impart this attitude to all of our clients (*most* of the time we do okay), but especially to the two who have been training for the Makeover with us all year. They’re amazing, but they will not brag about themselves, and so I must brag on them.

There’s a big commitment to horses when you make them your career, but it’s no less of a commitment when you do it for fun, it’s just different. Horses are humbling creatures who take our time, our money, a bit of our bodies, and a lot of our minds, but we have a responsibility to care for them, and a large part of that is, of course, their training.

When Kim got Rose (Roseau), she knew she was head over heels for the horse, and she knew her own preferences, and she knew she wanted help with the process. But she didn’t know how much sass was in those twinkle toes, and she didn’t know the mare had a firecracker for a tail. She didn’t know that she’d be taught how to add to her fences, emphatically. She didn’t know that she’d have an extremely capable jumper, and she didn’t know there was a hidden hunter in there (if the jumps got big enough). She didn’t know that she’d learn a new position, but she also probably didn’t know how just strong she was (Kim, not Rose). She also didn’t know that the mare would hack on the buckle like a sedated donkey.

When Ellen got Hank (Walk Away Slow), all she knew was that she wanted a horse to do the Makeover, and she knew she was attracted to the war horse type, and and she knew he’d need a great farrier, and she knew (from us) that Sarah Hepler had a knack for finding horses with great brains. What she didn’t know that Hank actually did have a great brain (fortunately). She didn’t know that he’d go through an awkward balancing stage that felt like he actually was Hank the Septopus, but she also didn’t know that his lanky limbs would learn to snap up over fences. She didn’t know that they’d learn to nail their leads. She didn’t know that he’d get even bigger, and she did not know about the droopy lower lip. She didn’t know how challenged she would be, but how capable she is.

When you make a commitment to do right by a horse, whether it’s a horse you keep forever or one you are preparing for someone else, you might be surprised by what you learn, and not just about riding.

And so, once again, in true sappy-Clare fashion, I present the Year One journeys for Kim and Roseau, and Ellen and Walk Away Slow. Please enjoy these video peeks into their processes, and join me in congratulating these teams, and all those working their way to the Kentucky Horse Park. It has been a tremendous amount of focus, development, and hard-earned but very rewarding accomplishments for everyone involved. We have been honored to be a part of it, and we are looking forward to Year Two as much as they are!

Here’s Rosita!

And here’s Hank!

We’re here in Kentucky and we’re here for the pictures and the parties (which are, evidently, all in barn 9), ‘cause we’ve all already won.

Clare’s Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: Alarmingly … Everything

For 673 accepted trainers, the 2019 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover is fast approaching! From the beginning of the year until the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers have been blogging their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

Today Clare catches us up on her Makeover partner, Alarming (Unbridled’s Song – Malibu Legacy, by Malibu Moon), who — spoiler alert — might not make it to the Makeover after all but has a bright future ahead nonetheless.  

We don’t always make a big deal out of it when a horse sells. Some new owners aren’t all that into the limelight, and since our horses tend to get a lot of pushy limelight (I’m very guilty of this but I love them so much I want to squish and squeeze and tell everyone about them and I CAN!!!), we are respectful of others’ wishes.

Alarming, however, gets no such respect. He’s just a bit too much to hide his light under a bushel. He’s too big and too funny and too boisterous and too … everything to not share! And so he not only gets a big deal, he gets a little extra limelight.

When we first met Alarming, it was in the coliseum at the Kentucky Horse Park at the end of a long week of showing. We had agreed to join in the first ever Makeover MasterClass at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover, and were very excited (though we weren’t sure what to expect), but when Sunday rolled around and most people were heading home, our kids were tired, the “manny” was worn out, and I’d lost 10 pounds of water weight (but looked great in my RRP shirt!), what we really wanted was our own beds and to shower without flip flops. But, of course, we love our RRP and so we scurried over to the indoor, 7/8ths of the way packed, Tiz Solo Vino in tow. It was a great group of people in that arena, though, and we made lasting friendships and contacts and isn’t that just what this Makeover has done for so many?

Alarmingly Striking

Amongst all the peopling, we met none other than Alarming, brought to the demo by the lovely folks at MidAtlantic Horse Rescue (MAHR). He was tall, dark, and handsome. He was on his toes but not off of them. He was a little like a tea kettle, and our job was to let the steam out before the whistle sounded. He allowed us to show some of our training methods (which, if you were one of the lucky few in the audience, you may remember consisted of me scurrying around trying not to get run over by Tom, and this is, in fact, a large part of our training methods…promise…) and was supremely responsive. We were alarmingly smitten.

Tom and Tiz Solo Vino with Alarming. Photo by Lucky Clover Photo.

Alarmingly Loving

He came to our farm shortly thereafter, and won everyone over with his adorable bedhead, smarts, and affection. We even caught our manager sitting on him in the field in nothing but a blanket, just for fun. And that’s Alarming’s motto: just for fun.

He’s even fun in the rain … almost …

Alarmingly Soft

I don’t know why, but he is the softest horse in the world.

Alarming at his first “show” at Beverly Equestrian, where a gaggle of teenage girls swarmed him to exclaim over his softness. He. Was. In. Heaven.

Alarmingly Big

He grew inches over the winter. He went from gangly teenager sitting on the bench to beefy quarterback dating the prom queen at an alarming rate.

This is when he was small.

Visibly growing in this picture.

Alarmingly Athletic

He blew us away as he developed. That gawky stage was short-lived, as he learned where to put his feet. We knew the value of going slow, and allowing him to tell us what he needed and when. We learned to train better, to ride better, and we had a heck of a lot of fun.

Alarmingly Dorky

He doesn’t know how to lick. He licks with his tongue out and rubs it on you. That’s weird, and probably on purpose.

I just … I dunno … about either of us.

Alarmingly Adored

We put time and thought, a lot of sweat (no blood), a few tears, dinner conversations, breakfast conversations, driving conversations, and a whole lot of laughs over this horse. We had dreams for him, and despite ourselves, we always knew those dreams would not include us forever, much as that’s what we would want.

Photo by Anna Purdy Photo.

And that’s the crux of our job and our promise. Our horses must move on, find their job, find their people. We are but stepping stones in their lives, though we strive to provide a firmness in their foundation, so that their next homes are happy and functional and fruitful. Their futures are not about us, and not in spite of us, but in part because of us, and the time and effort and thoughtfulness we put in to each and every horse.

And so Alarming has found his spot. He is the huntsman’s and staff horse for the beautiful Keswick Hunt in Charlottesville, VA. It is with a team of people we know and respect, and we are nothing but thrilled for this horse. Many people have asked, rather in shock, if we were still taking him to the Makeover. While there are some owners who would enjoy that, the truth is, the horse is not ours anymore, and he never really was. He has a job to do, and a job he loves doing (and is quite good at), and taking him to the Makeover would be for us, and no longer for him. Our whole purpose is to find a way forward for any horse that comes to us, and remembering to leave ourselves out of it.

We aren’t just rehoming, rehabbing, or retraining, but reCAREERing. Alarming is not the first, nor will he be the last, but he is, without a doubt, alarmingly special, and will hold a place in our hearts and minds and stories from this day forward, and every future horse will benefit from what he taught us.

And so in true, sappy Clare fashion, here is a montage of his training for the past nine months.You will see the highlights, but we will remember the quiet moments and the snuggles, and hacks and lightbulb moments, and yes, the significant airtime and how to ride a horse who lands on his hind legs like a kangaroo, just because he can.

Photo by Anna Purdy Photo.

Clare’s Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: The Art Within Preparation

For 673 accepted trainers, the 2019 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover is fast approaching! From the beginning of the year until the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers have been blogging their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

Art is funny. Be it paint or pencil, photography or writing, no styles are the same, some compliment others better, and one person can swoon over a piece while someone else cocks their head in disbelief. That’s the beauty in the world, even in the small world of equestrianism.

When I was about 13 years old, I haughtily told my father that there was an art to cleaning stalls, and he still teases me about it, and I STILL retort that there IS an art to cleaning stalls, and he does it wrong. And I’m right.

If there is art to picking up poo, then there is certainly art to training horses, and so we can jump to discussing the forms of art involved in preparing a horse (or six) for the Thoroughbred Makeover. This is how my mind works. My husband is a lucky, lucky man…

Anyway, for this, the fourth year of our Makeover, we are more prepared than ever(ish). Or, shall I say, our horses are more prepared. I, personally, still can’t find safety pins and I buy two new hair nets for every single show.

Tom and David L – Photo by Allison Howel

Believe it or not, this isn’t a humble brag post, I promise (was it ever?). This is the voice of experience. Our first Makeover, we took a horse that we acquired on the last possible day, had truck trouble and blew three tires en route, showed up basically a day late, missing the Field Hunter division, skating into a scratched slot in the Eventing division (and, ahem, wound up tenth, because OTTBs are amazing and horses look at Tom and yell, “Okay!!”).

Year two, our horse was very well-schooled in eventing and jumpers, but we always knew his wheelhouse was show hunters. He was phenomenal at the Makeover, but probably if the Makeover wasn’t his first hunter show, that would have been cool. But you know us event riders—we’re gonna get around a course.

Posers. My hair isn’t right.

Year three, our horses were even better. Two had been able to compete and hunt, one was still quite green and one just went for the experience. What we had not been able to do prior to the Makeover was off-site stabling and competition, and so, quite honestly, we weren’t prepared for the preparation needed when we arrived in Kentucky. As an example, we mainly ride in the mornings at home. I turn into a pumpkin at 2pm, but I’ll get up at 4am happy as can be. When I hopped on Buff Dude at 4pm for a school in the coliseum, I had an uncharacteristic dragon. Long story short, I learned that you do nothing with Dude without feeding him first (and I do not mean just free choice hay—that doesn’t count). And I mean nothing. You let him eat, or you have hangry Dude, and when you ride a horse who could deploy your air vest over a cross rail, you only ride them happy, not hangry.

Feed me, Seymore!

It could be easy to blame anyone but ourselves for any part of the above. We could blame the horse, their feet, their earlier training, their breeding, racing, the Makeover competition itself, the time frame, where we live, wherever we got the old trailer that also blew a tire on the way home on year 1 (okay, I can’t give them all the blame but I’m okay with passing a little on there). The truth is, the training and preparation of the horse is our responsibility. We need to make the best decisions for each horse, as each horse will require a different plan. This is not to say that every plan should include the Makeover competition, but if you’ve done your homework, you should know pretty early on if the “if” is capitalized for your horse (but maybe with a soft maybe), or if it’s just a plain old hard no, and that’s okay.

Some of the super fun crew, including a Parm photobomb.

As equine professionals, we assume that role on behalf of our equine partners quite seriously, but we also have a great responsibility to our clients (the two-legged kind). We have a phenomenal clientele, quite by design, and this year has brought some of them into the RRP family. Helping to get horses ready for the Makeover for others, rather than just for ourselves, has truly upped our preparation. Tom may be able to swing a top ten finish in ranch with little prior competition experience in that division (*insert eye roll*), and I may be able to finish a 3’ show round pretty happily for the first time out, and we both should be able to canter around a cross country course and finish a horse trial pretty respectably. We are not against using a large show as a schooling opportunity, but we want our clients to do better, to feel better, and to have even more fun.

In a recent interview with Retired Racehorse Radio, I was asked for some of my top advice for at the Makeover, and I rambled on because I have SO MUCH ADVICE! (You can listen to the podcast for August 25th.) After actually thinking about it, I have compiled a bit of a list, so here goes. The top ten. Until I think of more…

1- Field trips. The RRP made the hashtag of #fieldtripfriday and we were on board before it was even official. When training opened in December, for the horses who were with us, we had them all over the place. Okay mainly indoors. Fortunately our loving relationship with Ashland Equestrian and Beverly Equestrian allowed us ample opportunity to work our horses through the winter in “competitive” environments.

As the weather warmed, we still took advantage of our friends and neighbors (don’t worry, we reciprocated as best we could), but we also kept pushing it. We went to Loch Moy several times. We shipped at least twice per month to our friend, Natalie Wales’ place to ride with Jimmy Wofford, we went to schooling shows, recognized shows, got up at 4am to go to Overlook’s fabulous show jump schools. We had the opportunity to perform demos at the VA Horse Festival in Doswell, VA, allowing us to practice stabling overnight.

We went down to Lexington, VA for the House Mountain Shows and had an amazing time during the week. We went BACK to Lexington (VA) for the Thoroughbred Heritage Show with even better horses (same horses, they were just even better). The Virginia Horse Center there is the perfect prep for the Makeover, with indoors and covered and cross country and outdoors and hunters and jumpers and dressage and if you time it right, BARREL RACING!! Epic.

2- Farrier. Good gracious, get a good farrier. Get two. Maybe three. Your horse needs it, even if you don’t realize it. Do some studying on hoof conformation, internal and external. Learn about what a balanced hoof looks like. Realize that it can take time, but that also that time can really pay off, and a horse with kinda not so great feet can turn out to have pretty darn good feet. Don’t be scared of glue. Don’t be scared of the progression. Don’t be scared to ask questions, and if you are, then don’t be scared to figure out why. No hoof, no horse, is real.

3- “Help, help! Who can help?!” So…this is from a children’s book and I can’t even say the word “help” without repeating the lines. If you aren’t like me (“one duck, stuck in the muck”), aka normal, then just, go with it. Training a horse isn’t an individual sport. I feel amazing frequently until I watch a video of myself or have Amanda Cousins *gently* say, “Why are you going so slow?” We need trainers and ground people who help us pull our heads out of our keisters so we can sit back, keep our feet underneath ourselves, and stop picking at the reins, for our horse’s sakes.

4- Different riders. When I wrote some questionable OTTB dating articles for Horse Nation, I maybe mentioned that when searching for your new partner, you shouldn’t be afraid to date others. I’m not 100% certain that my analogy transfers precisely, but still, one rider on one horse is truly never a great plan.

Having someone else, whether they be a professional, a good riding amateur, or even a student or friend, can be a game changer. Not only can you learn a lot about a horse by watching someone else on them, but you can learn a lot about your own riding and its effect. Find their holes, your holes, and how you can build a team to fill them.

Even Dude needed to eat his feelings when I was done braiding…

5- Training jumping horses like working hunters. I bet there are a few of us who are tired of seeing the “this horse is NOT a ______” said with all assurance in the first year of their training. Now, there’s no reason you can’t speculate in the positive, as in “this horse has the form for the hunters”, or “this is a super brave horse for XC”, and the like. But there is no reason to put limits on any horse, outside of an actual physical limitation for safety. Our limitations are our own.

Trained properly, an OTTB should be able to go in any ring you enjoy in the lower levels. Sure, some naturally have better form than others, but that doesn’t mean a whole lot to me. Form can be taught and improved through flatwork (DRESSAGE), groundwork, and gymnastics. If a horse jumps a cross rail in perfect form, I tend to worry about their scope over a larger fence (though, if your goals are 3’ and under, you go get that horse STAT—they are valuable). If they push so hard behind that they overpower and jump over their front end, I tend to take notice.

As they continue in their first year and into their second, we want to see them canter down to the base of the jump with a loop in the rein, in a balanced canter. Not picked to the base by the show jumper, not gunned for the long by the eventer, and not leaned to the weak, long by the show hunter (you know who you are—shoot, sometimes we’re all three in one day). From there, you can begin to specialize because the horse (and the rider) has the right foundation to build on.

Don’t be scared of taking your hunter into the jumper ring and vice versa. Go on with your bad self in the dressage arena; twenty meter circles and the ability to do transitions make for a good over fences course! And get your buns outside of the arena! Jump some logs, walk through water, gallop up a hill (okay, this is EN…I’ll assume this isn’t revolutionary, but still!!).

6- Leave your ego. Show your horse. Step back and note the progression. Not the progression compared to anyone or anything else, but the actual progression of the horse. Don’t count days. Pay attention to the details, but marvel at the big picture on the regular.

7- Goals are great and we totally recommend them, but something to consider is how to shape that goal. The Makeover is not the end game or the ultimate goal, but a short-term one. And maybe the goal shouldn’t be to compete at the Makeover, but to prepare for it, to train for it. Rather than putting all the pressure on a few days, let the Makeover be an outlet for the work you’ve put in, something to help you stay on track, and also a test against which you may find that training is enough, and competing isn’t the right decision. Or that going for the experience and awesome camaraderie is the point and that being competitive falls by the wayside.

8- Train your horse like it’s for sale. Train like it’s for someone else. I always kinda/sorta jokingly recommend that when someone buys a green horse, especially with a particular discipline in mind, consider spending that first year pretending the horse is for sale. With that perspective, we tend to create a more well-rounded horse. We get to know them without feeling the pressure of a long-term commitment and allow them to tell us (or perhaps we just listen better) when we don’t put our own expectations on them. At the end of that year(ish), decide if you want to buy your own horse!

Speaking of art, how stunning are these?? Hill’s mane was down to his shoulder, and Alyssa Shelton from Blue Ribbon Braiding worked magic. And yes, she is hired again. And again and again.

9- Here’s a big one. Hire a braider. I used to resist. I’m a good braider and I don’t want to pay for anything not better than mine. We’ve all been burned and it’s like the worst thing most first world problem in the world. It’s also an ego problem. I don’t want anyone to think I did a bad braid job, or that I think a bad braid job is a good braid job, or for our clients to have a bad braid job, and really it’s just clearly very stressful.

So, over the course of several Makeovers, there I was, in the dark, after riding for hours along with trying to care for our tolerant children, braiding like an idiot, with the exception of hiring out hunter braids (you people are ninjas). Here’s the thing: in Lexington, KY, at the Makeover, there is a collection of some of the most talented braiders I’ve ever seen. Hire them. Pay them.

I don’t know why more people don’t get married on a beach in France. I also don’t know why more grandparents don’t go to France to babysit children for said wedding…

10- And finally, Go. On. Vacation! No seriously. It started by accident, or by friends getting married in France just before the Makeover a few years ago and who says no to that?! Probably plenty of people but we are not them. It has become a trend that our summers are busy, and they aren’t just busy drilling our horses. Eventers work hard and party hard; that’s always been a thing.

With maturity, the partying has probably changed a bit (particularly as I enjoy being in bed by 9pm). But we take time. We see family and we take days off. We go away for our anniversary, or maybe we’ll stay close to home, but I promise we’re not out practicing our wtc circles when we should be celebrating 12 years of marriage that should certainly be celebrated.

These horses don’t need to fitness of an old format 4* horse. Give them a break, give yourself a break, and see how well you both come back.

Otherwise, get a T-Rex. Better yet, get two! (They’re herd animals.)

The point is, don’t take all this stuff too seriously. The world has enough troubles of its own. Have a plan, keep it open. Work hard, but only when you’re working. As Mickey says, “There is no right and wrong, when it comes to making art. Making sure that you have fun is the most important part.” If you have children, you know exactly how this sounds in my head.

Otherwise, get a T-Rex. Better yet, get two! (They’re herd animals.)

Clare’s Road to the TB Makeover: Honoring the OTTB by Supporting the On-Track One

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover is full-speed ahead! Between now and the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

There has been so much negativity surrounding the racing industry that it has become a bandwagon people love to jump on. Currently, there are news articles and media of all kinds portraying only the worst of the worst, without giving thought to the consequences. While, yes, the industry as a whole needs change, anyone involved in horses in sports (and we all should be, because they cannot return to the wild, just fyi) needs to be careful allowing extremists the power to dictate that change. The changes need to come from people who love horses, who love the sport, and who understand the inner workings, and all sides of each story.

Racing has always been a little different from other equestrian sports, a little separate. You may know several people who ride hunters, jumpers, eventers, endurance, fox hunting, dressage, trail riding, and they may even ride OTTBs. But you may not know anyone within the actual racing world; you may not know a groom, hot walker, exercise rider, trainer, jockey, or owner, especially personally.

All too often, we, at Pacific Farms, are praised for what we do, and for rescuingthese horses, which we are quick to dissuade. These horses are not rescued. Even the horses that came through an organization with rescuein the name were not rescued.

Now, because the internet is what it is, I will head off the most common attacks, real quick. Of course, there are bad apples in the racing industry. There are bad apples EVERYWHERE. Someone will say they got their horse from a kill pen and list the atrocities. Thats horrible, and cowardly of anyone. But the thing to remember is that those horses more rarely end up in those situations straight from the track. When those horses are found with a tattoo, they are traced directly back to their last track connections, and the penalties are steep. No one wants that coming back to them, and thats just leaving aside the emotional aspect of finding a horse that they cared deeply for in grave trouble.

Sadly, most of the OTTBs wind up in those sad situations because of whoever took them from the track, and didnt know how to handle them, and didnt know how to reach out for help before things became dire. They didnt know how to provide for them calorically, they didnt know how to transition the horse from tying in the stall to chilling in the cross ties. They didnt know how to teach them to stand at the mounting block, how to trot on a loopy rein, how to respond to the leg, how to cross water and jump logs, how to hack by themselves.

They didnt know, they didnt know, they didnt know. So, the horse didnt know. I already wrote about this when I wrote The Other Side of Aftercare, and its a soapbox I can stand on because we live it often.

But, let me tell you about ANOTHER side, a much larger side. These horses have a history of people who cared for them, loved them, and rode each race, even if it was from the sidelines. I want to tell you where some of our Makeover horses have come from, past and present.

When Nooshs Tale was ready to retire from racing, John Stuart of Bluegrass Thoroughbred Services reached out to us. Nooshs owners had had him his entire racing career, and wanted to make sure he found a great home. John owned part of Nooshs dam, and even came to the Makeover to watch The Big Horse.

John Stuart visiting the “Big Horse” before his cross country round at the 2017 RRP Thoroughbred Makeover.

Several horses have come from Tommy Town Thoroughbred in California. The manager there calls when horses come up, sends us some terrible photos with a promise that he likes the horse, so we will too. We always have, and we send him pictures and videos all the time.

Buff Dude, bred, raised, and trained at Tommy Town. We like him okay. Photo by Ali Patusky.

Hill Four Elevens owner sent him out to us and paid for all his transitioning and brain surgery. Their family follows him regularly and we always send updates.

Spoiled Hill enjoying his Pulse treatment. Spoiled Dimple stealing energy.

Tiz Solo Vinos owners made sure he ended up with Trista Reynolds of Stoney Hill Stables, who then got him to us. They had owned him and loved him his entire racing career.

My favorite picture of Vino, posing as Alf. Photo by GRC Photo.

Make It Right was injured at a race in December of 2017. His owner and trainer hadnt had him long when the injury occurred. They didnt owethe horse anything, but immediately performed a surgery on his knee and a subsequent long and thorough rehab, resulting in a horse with zero limitations and kinda cool X-rays, simply to give him a shot at a new career and sending him to MidAtlantic Horse Rescue through Beyond the Wire. They are amazing. All of them.

Yeah Peter. You’re in the big time now. (Make it Right with his mentor, Alarming. Lord help us all.)

Best of the Bleus was turned out for the winter, as per usual for him. At six years old, his owners decided he was ready for another career, unblemished and fat and rested from hanging in Kentucky at Rosie Napravniks Off-Track Sporthorses. Rosie knows what we like, and she knows the horse well (since she and her husband started him in the first place!). His owners love seeing updates.

Blue loves kids. Actually he loves everybody.

Highly Cynical recently shipped from Arizona, along with his buddy Mr. Coker, simply because his owners were motivated to see him have a long and happy life in a new career. Before he even got on the trailer, this awesome California bred war horses assistant trainer and groom reached out, sending pictures of his wins, tips on winning his affection, and follows him on social media, loving seeing him with all our grass!

Happily dappley. Cynie enjoys the Virginia grass, still not sold on Virginia bugs.

This is not unique. There are so many more stories like these. I could go on and on. The racing industry has problems. Dont we all? (Hi, SafeSport.) But dont let the word industryovershadow the people. There are people involved with racehorses, individuals who love their horses deeply. As much as you love yours. The business side of racing is that horses come and go. They do get claimed, they do get retired, they do move to different trainers, different barns. It happens to us, too.

I cry every time a horse leaves our barn.

Grace, Katie, and Dan Conway, of Conway Racing Stables, with El Grand Patron.

So do they.

 

Clare’s Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: The Makeover Is a Team Sport

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Between now and the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

When I was a kid, I got teased a lot that I got into riding because it was an individual sport. Apparently I didn’t play well with others, or I was bossy, or independent or, like, maybe all of the above and it should probably be mentioned that all that teasing came mostly from my own parents.

As I have matured (it’s recent), I have realized that nothing could be further from the truth. Training a horse well is a collaborative effort, making it necessary to keep your horizons broad, meet new people, reach out to others, think outside the box, study, read books, discuss situations, and above all, exercise your humility.

Oh my gosh, it’s like everything the horse person thought they were getting away from in life. Joke’s on us.

We, at Pacific Farms, have a bit of a leg up on this team effort, as our business plan and marriage covenant require us to figure out how to work together. Every. Single. Day.

Tom and Clare Mansmann on OTTBs Alarming and Unbridled Glow. Photo by Anna Purdy.

All joking aside, we love it, but that’s because we love each other, and we truly love horses. Here’s another kicker. We love people. In this business, we’re all aware that the love of the horse and the human can get lost all too easily. This is not because anyone gets into it just for the money or greed (come on), but because horse people really are fairly crazy and wear down the professional (also a crazy horse person) who actually started for the love of the horse and maybe even had friends, but after years of nickel-and-diming, mind-boggling sales stories (seriously, folks), poor nutrition (of the human, not the horse), and heartbreak, a solitary office job that allows the luxury of keeping one nice horse to ride in fair weather at someone else’s barn sounds pretty groovy.

A few years ago, we were in a deep dark hole bit of a rut. Our firstborn child was in and out of hospitals for years, and we had a second child in the midst of that because it sounded like a great idea at the time (it WAS a good idea … eventually). Tom was running the business largely by himself while I was home being a night nurse, and a day nurse, and a therapist. We were surviving but that’s about it. It was the Thoroughbred, along with the 2016 TB Makeover, that re-inspired us and re-invigorated our business. It was also the Makeover that brought to light all we
can learn from others, and the fact that we must, and that is why we are going again, four years later!

Because we like horses, we need people. And so we branched out.

We took up a little cutting.

Photo courtesy of Clare Mansmann.

And here is my much less successful but ridiculously fun attempt at cutting:

We picked the brains of hunter trainers, and even let them braid for us. (Thx, Charlotte Cannon!)

Buff Dude and Clare Mansmann at the Warrenton Horse Show. Photo by Susan Carter Photography.

We shipped out to learn more about ranch riding and trail obstacles.

Due to our lessons, people actually thought Tom knew what he was doing here. Even Vino. Tiz Solo Vino and Tom Mansmann at the 2018 TB Makeover. Photo by Lucky Clover Photography.

 

We ride at least twice a month with Jimmy Wofford and, yes, we know how blessed we are to be able to have access to his knowledge. He has taught us how to better teach horses in any discipline.

 

Jimmy Wofford giving his seal of approval to Alarming. Just not a treat, much to Alarming’s dismay. Photo by Amanda Cousins.

We walk out with hounds and talk to the huntsmen, to see if fox hunting is the horse’s jam.

Tom and Vino, second in line, at the 2018 TB Makeover Field Hunter division. Photo by David Traxler.

We take advantage of visits from Richard Lamb.

Fun with Richard Lamb. EVERYONE should ride with him at any given chance. Photo by our daughter.

We take advantage of a long-time friendship with Dressage muckamuck, Ali Brock.

Ali and Dude. He’s super impressed. Photo credit: my obnoxious self.

We take advantage of our friendship and now partnership with Amanda Cousins of Ashland Equestrian.

I don’t have a picture of Amanda helping me, though she does, oh so much. I DO have this picture of me forcing her to stretch, and that’s priceless. Photo by Anna Purdy.

We take advantage of the RRP Makeover Trainer group on Facebook by messaging other trainers in other disciplines with questions too lame to post publicly. Over and over.

Basically, we take gross advantage of all that the Makeover offers, which is access to a wealth of knowledge and resources. So much so that there is no excuse to not become a well-rounded trainer trying to develop well-rounded horses that have safe and successful futures ahead of them. And when we know all there is to know about horses and how to work with them, then I suppose we can go off on our own. But since that literally will never happen (literally), we love them too much not to rally the troops and celebrate our team spirit.

Alarming smooch. Photo by Amanda Cousins.

Clare’s Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: The Many Routes to Kentucky

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Between now and the Makeover, to take place Oct. 2-5 at the Kentucky Horse Park, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

As the 2019 Land Rover Kentucky Three-Day Event has come to a close, many of us are exhausted, as we clearly rode around the course with every single competitor. I would go so far as to say that we are even more taxed than the actual riders. I mean, at the end of the day, we’re the ones who rode that course many more times. We even fell off and then rode around it again, thirty-whatever times. Emotions are high, people!!

Hot on that event’s heels was the Kentucky Derby. Horse enthusiasts and laypeople alike are picked their favorites, a winner was crowned, and Makeover competitors are anxiously waiting to pounce on the opportunity to take home a new hopeful, because clearly, we’re all getting a Derby horse (well, Rosie Napravnik anyway, but she’ll probably let us pet it).

Close on the heels of these iconic events is the Thoroughbred Makeover.

-Ish.

Anyway, pretty close. While our horses may not have run for the roses, and they may be a little way out from navigating the Head of the Lake, we are hard at work preparing for our trips to the Kentucky Horse Park.

I plead the fifth on this one, except to say that we eventers will do anything for a water school. Photo by Sara Myers at the 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover.

From our home base in Middleburg, Virginia, there are really two ways to get to Kentucky. One is taking I-64. It’s pretty straightforward, easy roads, relatively smooth sailing, barring a flat tire or three.

Thanks for the pic, Amanda Cousins, and the rest of the RRP trainer group who all have a similar one!

The other takes you through the mountainous roads of Wild and Wonderful West Virginia. In a car, it’s sketchy. With a horse trailer, it is white-knuckled, gripping the steering wheel, jaw-clenching, eye-straining hours of up and down, twisting and turning, sheer drop-offs, and sometimes random patches of dense, treacherous fog. And, of course, it is stunningly beautiful. That’s our God. He’s got a great sense of humor.

So how does one get from the Kentucky Derby to Land Rover Kentucky, or like, at least somewhere in between?

Mmhmm. Blasted dandelions.

Well, you gotta pick a few dandelions, that’s for starters. Sometimes you blow and all the seeds fly and all your wishes come true. And sometimes it takes a few twists and puffs. Sometimes you need to pick a new weed, er, flower. The good news is that apparently there are dandelions all over the darned Horse Park, and I’ve actually seen them in Virginia as well, I’m not sure about your state.

Recently I spent a few (ha) hours at the Loudoun Hunt Pony Club Horse Trials at Morven Park, alternating between schooling a 2019 Makeover hopeful, competing a 2018 grad, and watching the Kentucky live stream. I should probably mention that my husband and I cared for our two children, walked courses, braided multiple horses (OK, that was me), taught lessons, pulsed horses, doctored horses, cheered each other, took videos, provided snacks (not for ourselves, obviously), and finished our days late, falling asleep on the couch. Horse showing when we were single was vastly easier, but way less fun. Our kids are the best cheering section ever.

We don’t compete a tremendous amount anymore, but when we do, it is specifically for the training of the horse. We do not train to compete. We compete in order to further the training of the horses entrusted to us, and to prepare them for their owners, or future owners. Even the Makeover is not any kind of resulting culmination of the training of our horses, but a fantastic spring board to their future careers.

This is contrary to some thinking. I know that competitions are expensive, especially recognized ones. While a lot of homework can be done at the unrecognized levels, at some point, the vibe and atmosphere of recognized shows needs to be experienced. You want to go and be successful, but not necessarily mean competitive, YET. Now, if any horse is going to come out as a seasoned pro at their first show, it will probably be an OTTB, but that’s not always the case. However, we can teach them how to compete, largely by, well, not competing.

Alarming was entered in the Beginner Novice division of Loudoun. He’s been training beautifully, but we had a plan going in that if the cross country seemed like it would back him off, he would simply do a combined test. If he needed a to circle or trot mid-course, that was fine. If he needed to hang out on a rope for the day, perfectly OK. Earlier in the week, he pulled a shoe galavanting in the field and his foot was a little ouchie.

This horse is like a freshman on the varsity basketball team who has trouble making class on time but he charms all the teachers and always scores the winning shot.

Each day, he got progressively better, but we’d lost some rather valuable training time and certainly didn’t want to compete him if he wasn’t 100%. That said, we knew we weren’t going to get our entry fee back, so instead of scratching, we just decided to go, maybe do a dressage test, hang out, and “pretend” we were competing.

He got a bath, stayed in a stall overnight, got braided, rubbed his braids, got his braids fixed, got his feet polished, loaded in the trailer early … all things that he really didn’t need to do to go and pretend to horse show, but all things that will prove valuable as he progresses.

Why you rub my braids, punk??

He hacked over to the warm up (which is super scary, btw), ate a little grass, and warmed up through his excitement beautifully. He went into the dressage arena and llama-llama-ed himself through the test, not really understanding why we weren’t hanging out with the other horses, but still performing each movement shockingly accurately, all things considered. It should be mentioned that the wind was blowing approximately six million miles per hour. That’s just a guestimate. It could have been more.

I hold to the fact that the wind actually blew his haunches over in the halt. Look at poor A! Photo by Tom Mansmann.

After the halt and salute, and great big pat, he went and ate more grass (we like to eat our feelings), and then stood tied like a perfect gentleman at the trailer while the other horses competed. His friends came and went (though he had his constant friend, alfalfa), he drank water, and watched about 12 soccer games (complete with fog horns).

Were we competitive? Um, no, not at all. But was it a waste of time, money, or rubbed mane? The mane is questionable but really, Alarming’s mane is untamable anyway, so I’m not worried. The experience was invaluable to him, it was positive, it was focused on the long-term. It was a decided success on his road to becoming what we believe to be a truly wonderful and talented partner for someone, as long as you get him out of bed in time.

Remember Zach from Saved by the Bell?

The routes to Kentucky will be full of highs and lows, injuries or illnesses, dandelions or roses. We can’t control all of that, but we can control our expectations, our enjoyment, and our joy in the process. And at the very least, plan to take I-64.

Clare’s Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: Leave the Jumping to Your Horse

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next eight months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

WHY JUMPING SMALL JUMPS IS BAD FOR YOUR HORSE

[pause for irate social media response to inflammatory title]

{I live a quiet life. Gotta get my kicks when I can.}

Anywhooooo …

In beginning a horse over fences, specifically an OTTB, as that’s what we’re here for, we see riders jumping so many small fences. They’re jumping poles, cross rails, flower boxes, little verticals, tadpole courses. And I mean jumping them.

So how many little jumps are you jumping?

Hopefully the answer is zero, because YOU should not be jumping any of them. Your HORSE should be. And yes, I just outed Jimmy Wofford’s favorite joke.

Bear with me here. Many of us were taught, in our early riding education, to get up in a two-point, grab mane, and trot over poles and cross rails. The idea was to stay out of the horse’s way as we learned what jumping feels like, which, in theory, is great. In practice, there are a whole lot of bodies out there who think that leaning forward (i.e. being ahead of the horse’s motion) stays out of the horse’s way. I say bodies because even when our minds know what we are supposed to do, our bodies go rogue fast and fall on past habits.

When teaching riders to jump for the first time, we teach them sitting. Now, certainly we don’t want anyone sitting over large fences; we are believers in the forward seat. But we do want our students to be comfortable getting left behind, and to learn to do it softly. It’s very easy to teach someone to come forward after being back. It’s very difficult to get someone to lean back who has been taught forward.

I’m gonna give us event riders some credit on this, because we get picked on a lot and also because of four things other competitive equestrian sports don’t have: ditches, banks, water, and solid objects (ahem, at speed). 

Clare and Sunday’s Thrill at, ahem, speed.

When we are working with a horse over a ditch for the first time, our keisters aren’t going to leave the saddle and our upper bodies are going to be very slow. The horse is to jump out from underneath us as we slip our reins (similar to dropping down a bank and certainly to navigating water). We all the know the consequences of mucking these things up, so we tend to ride them better. A cross rail in an arena has, well, fewer consequences, so we can get away with, well, stuff.

Clare and Buff Dude — only one of us is supposed to get wet. Photos by Toland Petraitis.

But just because a horse tolerates something doesn’t make it good. And for the Thoroughbred learning a whole new way of balancing as they come off the track, our body position becomes even more important. The racehorse gallops with more weight on their forehand, and to jump, that forehand has to levitate! That’s a pretty big jump from A to Z, and while the horse is gracious enough to get the job done in spite of our attempts “stay out of the way,” it is very important that we do better.

Before we jump under saddle, our horses have jumped on the rope with quiet guidance from the ground person, or with a pony horse, so there is no fear of the obstacle. But often when they come to the jump with a rider, they take an extra look, fumble their footwork, or over jump. They have to figure out how to get up and over with the weight of the rider, and so the weight of the rider needs to allow that process, and we need to “stay out of the way”.

Tom and Roseau. Poor quality photo by me.

What is NOT “staying out of the way” is leaning in front of the motion and allowing the horse to catch up. Try walking up a flight of stairs and having someone drop a backpack that equals 10-20% of your body weight on you just as you are raising a leg. Or, running down the stairs and having someone drop that same backpack on you as you reach the bottom. Not super fun, right? You may be able to stay upright with some effort, but you may not. You can navigate those same stairs with ease when the backpack is properly positioned and remains with your body as you move.

via GIPHY

We all know, in our minds at least, that our bodies are to be independent of the horse. In practice, we will spend our entire riding careers striving to attain this, and it will come easier to some than others. That’s okay. That’s where the graciousness of the horse enters and that’s why we care for them the way we do (i.e. far better than we care ourselves). We simply owe it to our horses to obtain as much education as we can, to learn from others, to read, to watch videos, to ask questions, and to be open-minded to change, particularly when we have to rethink our early lessons.

Our students, and ourselves, work on the ground, on yoga mats, balance balls, with ropes, the famed EquiCube, paper plates, champagne glasses, odd water-filled balls under our butts, bareback, stirrup-less, rein-less, and ON TRAINED SCHOOL HORSES (just a sidebar that training a horse to jump without being able to first practice on a horse that already knows how to jump is supes hard on everyone involved). The hunter princesses (you know who you are) go cross country schooling and learn how to jump a ditch (SITTING!) and into water, and how to sit in a dressage saddle. We will jump small jumps sitting and learn how to slip the reins and learn that only a handful(ish) of people fall off the back of the horse and you’re probably going to be okay (we also practice somersaults just in case).

Pacific Farms and Ashland Equestrian’s Position Matters Clinic. Photo by Crystal Sorrenti.

Students at Pacific Farms. They don’t know I took this picture. *shhhhh*

In order to learn to jump best, the horse needs the rider to be the common denominator, rather than the variable, and the result is a horse that learns how to jump well and safely and confidently. They don’t depend on the rider to tell them where to take off, and they aren’t so focused on what’s going on above them that they can’t focus on what’s in front of them. We want all our horses jumping with their ears pricked forward, not back at the rider.

I am not good enough to want to teach my horse to be dependent on me. They learn from the jump, and how to watch the top of it, and not because the rider kicks or shoves or flails around, but because they spider-monkey the first one and land on all fours, decide that’s not so fun, and then come back and try to trot it and knock every rail down like pick-up sticks, then come back a third time and have a lightbulb moment and the only thing the rider changes is the level of effusive praise when the horse completes the task properly.

One of our rather famed and much-loved Makeover horses for this year is Alarming, and I wanted to show a few pictures and videos of his progression over fences, because he is adorable and incredibly talented, but also because his early jumping was more like a jello-legged spider monkey after waking up from a nap and downing an espresso.

Despite his cheerful enthusiasm for life, his own athleticism actually worried him and he lacked confidence. He definitely didn’t need my own perception of my own inflated athleticism (a.k.a. ego) to get in his way. I have a really cool CWD breastplate that I converted into the perfect jumping breastplate/neck strap because #thereaintnoshameinmane.

Legs. Legs everywhere.

Eh. Not worried.

Okay, the opposite. But okay.

I’ve seen the bunny jumping videos but …they don’t usually have riders.

Oh. Well. That’s pretty good I guess.

Road to the Thoroughbred Makeover: First Rides

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 RPP Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next eight months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Read more from EN’s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Bloggers: Lindsey BurnsHillary McMichaelClare MansmannJennifer Reisenbichler.

A client and fellow Thoroughbred Makeover contestant recently mentioned how much she enjoyed seeing veteran Makeover trainers’ “Year Twoposts, and that while she was enjoying the early process with Hank (OK I just outed her), she was really looking forward to Year Two. And boy do I understand. Year Two is super fun. All the little things that seem so difficult now, like turning, seem to disappear and suddenly youre not having to think as hard about canter leads and circles. Its fun, but to get to Year Two, you have to get through (duh duh duuuuuh!) Ride One.

Ah, Year Two. Magic. Buff Dude and Clare. Photo by innocent bystander.

First rides off the track are really fun for weirdos like us. Much of the time, we dont know a tremendous amount about the horses that come to us. This is not because they come from unknown sources, but because outside the basic questions of soundness and the absence or evidence of testicles (as well as the correct number — dont ask), we like to go in without too many preconceived notions.

I want to know what the horse tells me, more than the human. I cant tell you how many horses come in for training with excellent results, only to have the owner later clue us in to the bucking, wheeling, biting, XYZ poor behavior, and, safety concerns aside, it is always good to go in with an open mind because most horses have fewer issues than we do.

We have had the pleasure of working with over half a dozen Thoroughbred Makeover eligible horses in just the past couple of months. Some, if not sold prior, will be taken to the Makeover by us, some are actively for sale and just happen to be eligible, and several are horses that we have been transitioning for their owners. They, perhaps with a higher intelligence than our own, would prefer assistance in this endeavor, and maybe a crash test dummy. And yes, my parents are proud.

But Ride One is full of discovery and romance and thats kind of my shtick, and so we have spent not a small amount of time developing and re-developing our methods for this early stage of re-careering. Sometimes horses come straight from their last race, and those are often easier, but sometimes you have a 3- or 4-year-old whos been off for a year and I dont care how great their early training was, you still have a 3- or 4-year-old whos been off for a year.

Alarming and Clare. He looks sufficiently alarmed, right?? Photo by selfie.

The preparation for the First Ride is very important to us, and while different horses move at different paces through these stages, we are certain to move through our process with any horse that crosses our threshold. The preparation is where we learn the most about how the horse reacts to different pressures (physical and mental), and so we know quite a bit about what will happen when we swing a leg over. This preparation gives us (and the horse) the confidence to put a loop in the reins, canter around, and pop a jump on Ride One. We can take the saddle off on Ride Two, and lead a trail ride on Ride Three. Ride Six can be at a show or an expo, and Ride Ten could be teaching a lesson.

And so we work on the ground and we work with the pony horse and by the time we actually sit on the horse, it has already done everything we plan to ask under saddle, without a saddle (or at least a rider). Things you will see in our Ride Ones are: plenty of forward, plenty of sitting, plenty of standing around, plenty of circles, plenty of poles, plenty of Tookie, and PLENTY of loops in the reins.

In no way will you see us worrying one lick about where the horses head is for quite some time, because we hold true to our classical dressage backgrounds, that the horse moves from behind, that we never want the horses head set in a frame, and that connection comes from the butt, not the bit. As our horses are learning a new way of balancing, we take great caution to give their front ends room and allow them carry themselves and hold the pace we ask for. They need to learn to walk, trot, canter, and jump a small course on a loopy rein so they learn to take care of themselves, and not rely on the fallible human. They need to go forward with freedom to make mistakes, in order to learn the parameters.

Walk Away Slow on his Ride One with Tom and Tookie. Photo by Clare Mansmann.

And this is why first rides are so full of stumbles and hiccups, giggles and good boys(girls too), wrong leads and steering mishaps, pulled shoes and slipped reins. Because bumpy roads lead to smoother paths, and those smoother paths take you right into Year Two.

Answering the Question: What Can I Do for the OTTB? The Other Side of Aftercare

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next nine months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Today, blogger Clare Mansmann checks in with a thoughtful perspective on aftercare. Read Clare’s previous blogs here

Tom and Clare Mansmann, with Make It Right and Jacqui and Lynn, some of the crew of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. “Peter” is our second horse from MAHR, and certainly won’t be our last. Photo by Pat deBearn.

Across the board, there are many people who believe that adopting or rescuing a horse themselves is far preferable to purchasing an OTTB from a trainer. Let me be very clear that there are rescues and non-profits who do an incredible job, and there is nothing wrong with going through one of those organizations to obtain your next partner. We do it as well and we have some that we strongly recommend and encourage!

But there is an edge amongst people, wary to either send their racehorse to a trainer who plans to resell him/her as off-the-track, or those resistant to purchasing a restarted horse.

Wouldnt the horse be better served by getting one that needs rescuing now?

Let me offer another perspective. It is not an either/or. Its in addition.

It is the other side of aftercare.

It is the horses with the bad reputations, the ones that seem to prove the stigma that everyone surrounding the Thoroughbred industry is working so hard to disprove, the ones that boarding barns swear off. They are the ones who jig or rush or bolt or freeze or buck or rear or kick or bite or exhibit any of the potentially dangerous behaviors that any horse can develop. They are too fast or too slow or too strong or too big or too small or too lazy or too skinny or too … something. They are the ones that farms, like ours, get phone calls about regularly, albeit thankfully, for help.


Brigand Moon — 17.3h of epic talent but more epic sweetness. Moon would like you to know that he’s not too big. You can play limbo under his head and that’s an asset. (Moon is for sale and he is pretty much the funnest horse to ride and jump ever. Just FYI.) Photo by Allison Howell.

Typically, horses dont get this way all by themselves. And typically, they arent this way on the track. Just think about that for a moment. Horses are incredibly gracious creatures.

But, typically, the racehorse has been in a form of training its entire life. They are foaled at a farm with professionals. They are professionally handled from day one. Yearlings and two-year-olds have professional trainers, riders, grooms, handlers. The racetrack may not do things the way you do, but there is very much a system and it works for their purposes and that of the horse. And maybe, we should all take the time to study this system. The racehorse is trained to be an elite athlete, whether or not they make it to elite status.

Yearling prep with Sail Maker (Malibu Moon – Skipper Tale, owned by Lee Hillenmeyer). Photo by Carleigh Fedorka.

Yearling prep of Hit Girl (First Samurai – Perfect Motion). Please note polo wraps, surcingle, nose scratches, and square halt. Photo by Carleigh Fedorka.

So when the racehorse is taken off the track and thrown directly into a typical boarding barn situation, or even a lovingly built backyard barn, their world is turned a bit upside down, even with the best of intentions. There is different feed, different hay. Its suddenly very quiet when they are used to being busy, and busy when they are used to being quiet. Their exercise routine is vastly different. The grooming is different, saddles are different, riders are different, the training is different, the tacking process, shoeing, turnout is all different. The expectations are different, and these creatures of habit, these animals who learn through repetition, through cause and effect, pressure and release, can flounder.

There is nothing to say that the horse cannot adapt, but to be fair, they do need to transition in a thoughtful and purposeful manner, in order to be set up for success. We need to use what the racehorse already knows in order to teach them this new and possibly asinine way of doing things (to them, anyway).

Buff Dude, 2018 TB Makeover competitor: “What is this asinine behavior you speak of?” Photo courtesy of Clare Mansmann.

While there are, painfully, horses in need of rescue (all kinds of horses), our aim is to ensure our OTTBs dont wind up in need of rescue in the first place, and the best way to do this is education. Education of the rider and the public, sure, but much more the education of the horse.

The educated horse has a much lesser chance of ending up in a bad situation. The horse that ties at the trailer, stands at the mounting block, hacks on the buckle, lopes around a course, pops over ditches, walk/trot/canters circles both directions, does pretty well. If their owner stops stops riding for whatever reason, if their circumstances change, if the kid goes off to college, that horse can find another home, another human to teach. And if there is a known quirk, if the gelding was cut late and likes the ladies a bit much, if they prefer company or alone-time, if they like alfalfa more than grain, if they think dogs are wolves or fluffy toys, if they need pads under their shoes in the summer and think puddles are for rolling, if the horse is better suited for jumping or flat, hunting or trails, a beginner or an advanced rider, the transitional trainer can provide this information with concrete knowledge to help get that horse into the very best home for him or her.

OTTBs! OTTBs tied everywhere! Photo by Clare Mansmann, from another OTTB.

The goal of a trainer is not sales, but that of successful transitioning, to help bring out the best in a horse. But sales do need to happen, because the horse needs to find that best fit, and then the trainer needs to be able to go out and do it again, and do it again. The trainer is not receiving donations, but still taking on the risk of the unknown aspects of the horse. They are putting in the input, and turning out a horse with a viable future, one that holds value. This education takes time, not just a few weeks. In a few weeks, we can learn what the horse already knows. In a few months, we can expand upon that knowledge to produce a horse that can teach the public how talented and versatile they are.

Make It Right (not yet 4 yrs old by chronological age) on his third ride. There is a child out there somewhere, waiting to make their show dreams come true. They’re waiting on Peter.

Clare Mansmann started riding racehorses in her teens to get fit and ready for an upper level eventing career. It worked, and in the process, she fell completely in love with the breed and the sport. Together she and her husband, Tom, run Pacific Farms, Inc., where they focus their training and lessons on the fundamentals of classical riding in all disciplines, and are passionate about providing the best, most comprehensive education to the transitioning off-track Thoroughbred in order to best serve them and their futures.

 

Repping for RRP: Meet 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover Trainer Clare Mansmann

For 673 accepted trainers, the journey to the Retired Racehorse Project‘s 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover has begun! Over the next nine months, four of those trainers will blog their journeys, including their triumphs and their heartbreaks, successes and failures, for Eventing Nation readers. Today, meet blogger Clare Mansmann. Check out Clare’s 2018 series, “So You Want To Get an OTTB,” here

I know what you’re thinking. If you’ve met me in the past couple of years you’re thinking, “Why is she writing for Eventing Nation? I thought she rode show hunters.”

Clare Mansmann and Noosh’s Tale at the 2017 Thoroughbred Makeover. Photo by GRC Photo.

I’m not mad at you. Not much, anyway. I swear we aim to train every horse like a pre-green hunter, but that’s another post.

But I’m here for EN, repping the Retired Racehorse Project (RRP), because despite my killer eq (er, my valiant efforts), my roots run deep in eventing, and my heart will always belong on cross country. I spent my Young Rider years traveling around the east coast in my F250, my Advanced horse, Sunday’s Thrill, in a little Featherlight bumper pull, and my Florida ditch dog, Charlotte, riding shotgun. Marriage, mortgage and two children later, “Jake” and Charlotte only recently passed and that same truck and trailer just helped move my family into a new house. I’m not sure it was a perfect circle, but things really do come back around.

My husband, Tom, and I are gearing up for our fourth year at the RRP’s Thoroughbred Makeover. Each year, we have gone with a horse, or two, or three, that has fallen into our laps, each one completely different from the other. Each year, one of us has wound up in the Eventing division, but after placing in Field Hunters and Ranch Work as well, Tom has a new goal of succeeding in each of the 10 disciplines offered. (Look out Polo and Barrels!)

Tom Mansmann and Tiz Solo Vino at the 2018 TB Makeover, courtesy of Lucky Clover Photography.
Sidenote: Only Vino would just trot through a darned covered wagon for the first time like this. What the
what.

Why we are such big proponents of the RRP and the Makeover is for the people, and for the horse. We owe our careers, our riding, our knowledge, largely to the Thoroughbred, and it started well before they were off the track.

Clare at the Middleburg Training track a long, long time ago. Photo courtesy of her mom.

The on-track Thoroughbred taught me to ride. As so many of the old-format event riders, back in the day, I was sent out as a junior to gallop on the track. There’s no better place to learn to gallop and become accustomed to speed. Over and over, around and around, on everything from goofy baby horses to seasoned pros who know your exact experience level and how best to take advantage.

The on-track Thoroughbred taught me perseverance. I learned to sit quietly, with strength. I learned that you don’t move your hands on an experienced racehorse unless you want to roll, no matter how cold/tired/cramped/raw they may be. I learned to breathe.

The on-track Thoroughbred taught me humility. I learned to respect the power beneath me. I learned how small I was. I learned to laugh at myself, while others laughed more than a little, as well.

The on-track Thoroughbred taught me to partner with him, through necessity, but that can be the best way to learn.

The on-track Thoroughbred got me ready to ride around some of the heftiest courses in North America, as a teenager. Jury’s still out on whether or not that was a good idea.

Clare and Sunday’s Thrill at the Leaf Pit at Morven Park Advanced H.T., circa the Age of PolyPads. Photo by her terrified mom.

If the on-track Thoroughbred can do all of that, then maturity brings about the question: what can I do for the off-track Thoroughbred?

This year, we have not obtained all of our horses for the Makeover yet. We each have reserved two entries to the competition, because #noragrets. Tom and I discussed going out and looking for a particular kind of horse, but what we really found is that we love when they fall into our laps. We aren’t training these horses for ourselves, but educating them in such a way that they will succeed in their futures, whatever that may be. It doesn’t much matter the type, but the brain. These are nice horses.

In 2018, we participated in the first Makeover MasterClass, where four trainers drew straws to choose a not-yet restarted off-track horse, and give a demo on a first training session, in the coliseum, at the Kentucky Horse Park. We used Tom’s Makeover competitor, Tiz Solo Vino, to demonstrate the ponying of Alarming, a stunning specimen from MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. We knew from that day that he would end up at our farm in Middleburg, and he did. We’re not upset.#noragretsagain

Tom Mansmann, riding Tiz Solo Vino, ponying Alarming at the 2018 TB Makeover Masterclass. Photo by Justine Howell.

Alarming and Clare Mansmann at home at Pacific Farms. Photo by Tom Mansmann.

We had such a wonderful experience with MidAtlantic, that we knew we would do it again.

When Make It Right was first posted on their page, with an honest and detailed description of a properly rehabbed, non-displaced knee fracture, we asked for x-rays and flexions. We spoke with vets and came to the conclusion that this horse is sound, flexes perfectly, is cleared for all work with no limitations, and is a total beefcake. He’s the score of the century, and his x-rays are so cool. #noragretsathird

Clare on Make It Right (Peter), along with MAHR representative Jacqui Sharp. Photo by Lynn Bowers
Pennypacker.

Next I got a call from a trainer who is friends with a friend I used to gallop with who has a horse who isn’t competitive and is ready to move on and as a non-competitive person myself, I identify with this horse and so he’s coming after the snow storm. I saw some sort of conformation picture and a short video of what I think was him galloping. He’s a bay gelding, so he’ll fit right in and no one will be the wiser. #idontknowifiragretbuthistorysaysno

Clearly, we have a few potentials to go to the Makeover, more are sure to come, and we are happy about all of them. But what is even more fun is the fact that we have five or six (I lose track) horses in training at our farm who are working towards the Makeover with their owners, not us, in the irons. We are keeping the transition process smooth and comprehensive, with the goal of bringing horse and rider together safely and positively, and we are already seeing tremendous rewards.

OTTBs! OTTBs everywhere! Photo by Tom Mansmann.

Brigand Moon stealing treats from small children. Photo by Allison Howell. Photobomb: Dimple.

It doesn’t matter if the horse seems destined to be a hunter, they will go cross-country. If they want to event, they’ll go to hunter shows. If they live for fox hunting, they’ll be in a dressage ring. They will see chickens and cattle, ride western and english, bareback and backwards, bridle and bridleless. Every week they will be fed treats by a gaggle of children riding bikes and scooters through the barn. They’ll get muddy and they’ll be bathed. They will eat the best alfalfa and have the best shoeing job around. They will pull shoes. They will trailer and they will tie. Everywhere. They will be scruffy and weedy. They will shed and begin to glow. They will make mistakes and learn. We will make mistakes and learn. It’s all allowed.

Working with these horses has given us an opportunity to grow, and to meet an incredible community of people, and also to give back to the horses who give their all. But no matter how much we give them, they continue to return the favor tenfold. We’ll never catch up, but we will keep trying.

I hope you’ll follow along on our journey to the Makeover with, quite honestly, a plethora of nice horses. There is so much discovery on the way. And if the on-track Thoroughbred could do all it did for me, including marriage and family (needs its own post), just think what the OFF-track Thoroughbred can do.

So You Want to Get an OTTB, Part III: Creating a Lasting Relationship

You’ve done your research, bought your first OTTB and put a solid foundation of exposure and ground work on your horse: how do you move forward now in training? Clare Mansmann takes the OTTB relationship to its next level. Missed our earlier installments? Review Part I: Swipe Right or Left and Part II: The First Few Dates to catch up!

Thank goodness those first awkward dates are out of the way. I, personally, can only be on my best behavior for so long. Let’s get down the fun stuff where you can eat what you want, snort when you laugh, and start telling the truth about your crazy family.

Once the initial evaluation, ground work, and early riding feels settled, and you’ve gotten to know each other a bit more, you’re ready to begin moving forward with training. This early stage is absolutely not discipline specific. Despite our eventing background, the horses that come to us have no obligation to event, or even to jump. We are laying the foundation for a riding career, and the basics are the same. Each one of our horses will wear a western saddle and a loping hackamore and not necessarily at the same time. You should beg, borrow, and steal from every style of riding. We sure do!

Eve, age 5, in a loping hackamore. All photos courtesy of Clare Mansmann

A Healthy Relationship Starts with You

Before committing to anything worth doing, take a picture of yourself riding, draw a circle around it, and begin working on anything in that circle that needs fixing. Ask your trainer for help dissecting the position, fitness, and even emotional aspects of your riding. How is your posture? Is your leg too far forward? Too far back? Are you able to keep a straight line from elbow, to wrist, to the horse’s mouth (hint: this means your elbows should never be straight)? Are you reading books by Museler, de Némethy, Wofford, Dorrance, Podhajsky, and the like? Are you ready to assume responsibility for your horse’s training and any mistakes that can and will occur, and not blame the horse? Can you comfortably and correctly sustain a trot and canter for at least five minutes with no stirrups and a loop in the rein?

The education of the horseman never stops and never fades and is never isolated.

Not Just Tindering

We are working to create a long-term connection, not just a summer fling. For the next year, and even two, your OTTB will be going through all types of growth, musculature changes, changes in their feet, diet changes, and mental changes. Record everything you can because you will be amazed when you look back. Don’t worry if you see other horses moving at a faster pace. That horse is not yours and their time frame isn’t either.

The most important factor to remember is the concept of Forward. With a capital F. Forward does not mean fast; it is the willingness and responsiveness to moving off the aids. The racehorse has been trained in the concept of forward from day one, and everything we do builds on this. This is why we ride for quite a while with a nice loop in the reins, despite external pressures to make the picture sooner.

Eve, working on the lunge.

We have a very strategic purpose, despite seeing constant contact, straight arms, and rein fussing in so many riding videos. These horses are learning a new balance. They’ve been taught to ride flat and low. They lean and flatten into bit pressure, even the ones that seem to hold themselves away from the bit. They’re supposed to: that is how they are asked to increase speed and breeze. We want them to learn a whole new way of doing things, so we are going to ride forward from the leg in every way possible without rein interference.

Sounds pretty classical, right? This isn’t a new theory. We systematically teach the horse to carry themselves in the smaller space of the arena, over the terrain outside the arena, and over fences where the horse surely needs to learn to care for themselves without the rider interfering. If the rider does not hold their own independent balance and hands, they are negatively affecting the horse from creating a poor posture and muscle development to actual nervousness from the horse as they worry about the balance. They cannot do this if we are putting pressure on their front end with our hands, upper body, or both.

Contact, frame, connection, and especially stretch come first from riding forward off the leg, the energy comes over the horse’s back, through the rider, and then cycles back into the hind legs and up around again. The rider, with independent aids, helps to cycle that energy created from the leg to, first, their upper body and balance, and later through the rein connection. If you go straight to rein connection, the horse has missed an important developmental step, and so has the rider. Again, some horses progress through this quite quickly, and some take more time. A good trainer will help guide you and teach you the feel.

 

You have to be kidding me with how good this horse is. About every week I sent a video to Stoney Hill Stables just so Trista and I can talk about how Right we were!! ????????????????????????
#tizsolovino #tbmakeover #ottb #vinocanjump #frenchiecandrive #perfect

Posted by Pacific Farms Incorporated on Saturday, May 5, 2018

Variety Is the Spice of Life

Another important part of a healthy relationship is variety. We all need a little spice in our lives. We start each day with a little ground work to make sure all parts of moving in the right direction. Then some days we work in the ring, moving off the leg forwards, backwards, and sideways. Some days we go for a simple hack on the buckle. Some days we trot up and down hills. There are poles, barrels, jumps, water, ditches, tarps, bareback and backwards. They’ve already done everything on a rope without the rider, so adding the rider should be a simple next step, but if you’re unsure, have your trainer perform the tasks on your horse first before you give it a try. Also, a neck strap is never a bad idea.

Joey Pots and Pans at age 3

Seeing Other People

It should be noted that I do not condone this behavior in humans — but in horses, I am hugely supportive. Horses need to be ridden by more than one person in their training. Humans need to ride other horses in their training. Others will feel holes in your horse that you can’t because they are already your holes. You can correct these in yourself with off-horse exercises and learning from experienced school horses, and another rider or trainer on your horse can help you identify them, and then help correct them in your horse. Seeing another rider on your horse can give you confidence in the horse’s abilities, and therefore increase your confidence in yourself. There’s no room for jealousy in horses.

Remember that this is just the beginning of years of fun and enjoyment together. There will be highs and lows, and everybody has a different journey, but be sure to always evaluate, stay in the present, stay humble, and make every day just a little bit better than it started. It adds up.

Eve and Clare.

Clare Mansmann started riding racehorses in her teens to get fit and ready for an upper level eventing career. It worked, and in the process, she fell completely in love with the breed and the sport. Together she and her husband, Tom, run Pacific Farms, Inc., where they focus their training and lessons on the fundamentals of classical riding in all disciplines, and are passionate about providing the best, most comprehensive education to the transitioning off-track Thoroughbred in order to best serve them and their futures.

Clare and Tom with Noosh’s Tale at the 2017 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.

So You Want to Get an OTTB, Part II: The First Few Dates

Retraining your OTTB for a second career after racing can be a rewarding process (plus a lot of hard work). Clare Mansmann details exactly what your OTTB might already know (spoiler: a lot!), and what holes in his experience you should expect. Missed out on Part I? Click here for “So You Want to Get An OTTB, Part I: Swipe Right or Left.”

Buff Dude, standing tied at the trailer. All photos by Clare Mansmann.

You’ve swiped. You’re ready. You’ve texted, messaged, had a phone chat or two (hopefully more). Maybe you even met for coffee or lunch. You seem to be on the same page and the attraction is ripe for building upon. The first date is set and it is tremendously exciting.

But then, you realize that you may not know enough about your date. You want more background, to find their past experiences, their likes and dislikes. You feel over your head.

You begin searching social media and the inter-webs. You know you do.

To use some technical racetrack terminology, whoa back, jock. Whoa back. There’s a better plan.

Background Checks/Question the Ex: What Does Your OTTB Know?

Your new OTTB is not some unknown specimen. Just ask your trainer! (Because you have your qualified trainer, right?) Most racehorses have fairly similar histories, enough that we can build upon what we know they know. So, what are some things that they know?

Forward. They know how to go forward, and we will be using this knowledge to our advantage for a good while to come.

They’re more than just broke to ride! That’s a huge plus. They can walk and trot, canter and gallop on both leads (not just one, contrary to belief). They already know how to do flying lead changes. They have to do that daily on the track. Some of these horses come highly educated already. My boss on the track loved having event riders work for him. We would go out and do flatwork and even pop the horses through gymnastics, and this trainer is not an isolated case. Many trainers see the value in cross-training and you will see those horses advance through this transitional period very quickly and easily.

Of course, an off-track horse will typically pony very well.

They load in gates and stand. Does your show horse do that?

They have trailered and traveled, and some have even been on airplanes. They tie (though typically in the stall), they lead, they are groomed better than pretty much any of us will ever groom our horses. They’ve had farrier work and dental work (though historically, you are going to need to update these to a different set of standards) and veterinary work. They’ve seen larger crowds than they’ll see at your local show, jumbo-trons, umbrellas, strollers, golf carts, tractors, mud, dirt, and turf. They’ve been bathed, bandaged, and booted. They’ve been ridden by tens of, if not a hundred, different people. These are cultured creatures!

When an off-track horse first comes to us, we produce a plan for the horse’s transitional training based on these factors. The racehorse was taught to race. It’s our job to teach them what is expected next.

Four-year-old Hill Four Eleven

Outfit Prep and Manis/Pedis: Dentist and Farrier

Right away, get a great dentist out, because the typical OTTB needs more thorough floating than is done on the track. Don’t wait on this. Then, make a plan with your excellent farrier. If the horse has racing plates on, it is nice to remove those for at least a month, if they can tolerate it, because they tend to stress the tendons and a break is a good plan. If the horse cannot tolerate being barefoot at first, don’t worry about it. Just begin the rebalancing process. Also, dress for success and make sure you have a well-fitting saddle for your horse and your self.

Just Drinks: Basic Ground Work

We begin the ground training straight away, even if they need layup. First we tie them in a stall, because we know they are comfortable with that, then we will cross-tie them, and we will progress to tying to the fence in the arena while horses work around them, to trees, to the side of the trailer. They can have a hay net full of alfalfa if they’re nervous and that’s a great chance to get an easy snack pack in if you’re trying to up their weight. We load them on the trailer and go on low pressure field trips where they hop off and do a whole lot of nothing, so that they don’t think every trailer ride means a race.

Eve, patiently waiting for her turn

Be Sure to Wait Three Days Before Calling: More Ground Work

When they’re ready to begin under saddle work, we first work them on the ground with our rope halters, teaching them to move away from pressure from both directions. They learn the footwork, how to back up easily, how to move their front around their back and their back around their front. You’ll need help from your qualified trainer if you’re not familiar with this type of work. When they’re driving from the ground easily both directions and leading well, we will start taking them out with the pony horse. The trick here is that we pony them from their off-side, which is not done at the track. That is how we marry the new with the old. We pony them everywhere: in the ring, down the road, over creeks, ditches, small jumps, through gates — we’ve even taken some out walking with hounds and to schooling shows.

OTTB Eve being ponied off of OTTB Nitro

The Dinner Date: First Post-Track Ride

When this is all looking safe and steady, we put the rider on. This could happen on day one, or day thirty, depending on the horse and the weather. Extra ponying never hurts and they learn as much, albeit differently, from standing with the pony while we teach a lesson as they do working through a jump grid.

Once the rider is up, we head around the ring to walk, trot, and canter both directions, and perhaps pop over a few jumps, with a nice big loop in the reins and a strong upper body from the rider. You will find that the ground work translates very well to how your OTTB goes, stops, steers, and even picks up both leads. Where there are inconsistencies, there are ways to help the mind and body with continued ground work, and it’s a great idea to continue the work even when you are working under saddle.

Now, some people skip these steps and do just fine. Some horses have a more comprehensive foundation than others. The reason we work through these steps is because we want to find any holes in that foundation and make sure we fill them right away, because if we don’t, they will turn up in some way in the future. We want to set these horses up for the greatest success in a long-term relationship.

Buff Dude and Joey Pots and Pans.

Clare Mansmann started riding racehorses in her teens to get fit and ready for an upper level eventing career. It worked, and in the process, she fell completely in love with the breed and the sport. Together she and her husband, Tom, run Pacific Farms, Inc., where they focus their training and lessons on the fundamentals of classical riding in all disciplines, and are passionate about providing the best, most comprehensive education to the transitioning off-track Thoroughbred in order to best serve them and their futures.

Clare and Tom with Noosh’s Tale at the 2017 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.

So You Want to Get An OTTB, Part I: Swipe Right or Left

Off-track Thoroughbreds are becoming increasingly popular as versatile sporthorse projects that are often fairly inexpensive — but finding the perfect partner can be intimidating. Clare Mansmann, an OTTB professional, brings us a new series to help you get started! As seen on Horse Nation

Finding a horse is not unlike entering the dating scene (except it is a bit more fun, because horses). Before online dating took off, the steps were rather simple, albeit on the risky side: you saw someone you liked, you got your friends to attract attention, you gave your phone number, waited maybe three days, and went on a date while said friends knew your timing, location, and outfit choices. Pretty much everything after that was a bit of a gamble and the odds were not in your favor.

But today, we have tremendous resources and information at our fingertips. There are filters and algorithms and free background checks. You can apply the same standards of modern dating to decide if an OTTB is the right horse for you, which one is THE one, and the best way to get started on your search.

Clare and five-year-old Tiz Solo Vino, day one off the track. All photos courtesy of Clare Mansmann.

Start with this food for thought:

What are your goals for the relationship?

Goals are wonderful, but you can’t rely on one horse to necessarily fulfill them all. Consider breaking them into steps and begin with step one.

What attributes are most attractive to you?

Pretty is as pretty does. Look at suitability before worrying about size, color, gender and even worrying too much about conformation.

What are your hard limits and what can you be flexible about?

Properly rehabbed injuries are not future killers. We have seen tendon injuries, chips, soft feet — even old fractures heal well and strong and may not limit horses for even significant athletic careers.

What are your own experiences, strengths, and weaknesses?

You may want to date the Navy pilot who enjoys mountain climbing, para-sailing, and triathlons, but the reality is that you’re afraid of heights, don’t like the ocean, and don’t enjoy long walks … not even a little bit. Choose wisely and realistically. You don’t have to marry everyone you date and opposites only kind of attract. You do need some common ground.

Will your horse be coming home, to a trainer, or to a boarding barn?

If you’re reading this in order to educate yourself, you need a qualified trainer. Even trainers need trainers. If you think you don’t need a trainer, then you really really need a trainer. Websites such as www.retiredracehorseproject.org can assist in finding said trainer.

Do you have a trainer experienced with off-track horses?

There are a lot of great trainers out there, and while the OTTB is not a mythical creature and is not unlike any other horse, they are intelligent, active individuals, and a trainer sensitive to their needs and experienced in knowledge of their first career with be a definite asset.

Tiz Solo Vino, two weeks off track.

What is your budget not only for purchase/adoption price, but for continued education and care?

This question is a bit loaded and relates to whether you are ready for a fresh off-the-track prospect or one that has had the initial transitioning done. I have had beginner riders ask if an OTTB is the right way to go, and my answer is always the same: there is nothing wrong with any type of horse as long as that horse is appropriate for the rider. The OTTB factor isn’t a part of the suitability. It’s individual.

Should a green rider get a green horse? With a qualified trainer assisting until the pair is ready, there really is no problem with this. Should the horse come off the track and head to an inexperienced rider’s backyard? No. That is not good horsemanship. And it all comes back to reasonable, common-sense horsemanship. The OTTB can be a wonderful and affordable option in that initial purchase price, but know that you have acquired a green horse that needs training. So you trade that initial price for time and training. This is not to turn you off. That process can create a bond like no other.

Also, there is a bit of a stigma that these horses need to be rescued, and this is simply not always the case. Are there OTTBs in rescue situations? Of course. And there are other types of horses in the same situations. We are all helping to get those horses into the best hands and lives. But there is a deeper root to that problem and that is what we need to (and are working to) provide an avenue to ensure these horses don’t end up in the wrong pipeline in the first place.

Please do not think that by purchasing a horse from a trainer who has already transitioned a horse that you are not doing a service to the industry. Professional trainers are regularly adopting or pulling horses straight from the track, giving them a beautiful transition, and are very much in need of matching those horses with their perfect human before being able to repeat the process and help the horses and the industry. Groups like the Retired Racehorse Project have links to trainers and organizations who specialize in finding and starting these fabulous horses and their work is well worth taking advantage of.

Tiz Solo Vino, one month off the track.

Should you vet your prospect?

Sure! Purchase price does not negate gathering information — but use your vetting as just that. There is no such thing as pass or fail, but simply that gathering of information to decide if the horse is physically capable of your goals and what management would be necessary. A “good” vetting does not guarantee your horse will reach your goals, and a “bad” vetting does not necessarily rule those goals out. You’re evaluating and keeping the data to help make decisions, but in the end, the decision and commitment are yours to make as to if this is the horse for you and if you are willing to see it through.

Now that you have this plan in mind, you can get started scanning the interwebs and reputable sources. Going straight to the track is possible, but not recommended without connections and assistance. Utilizing non-profit aftercare organizations or intermediaries who are experienced and have extensive connections in finding appropriate horses and evaluating the prospects are the way to go. If you see someone with an OTTB you like, ask them how they found him or her. Get references of the sources and recommendations. Again, the Retired Racehorse Project website has an entire directory of non-profits, farms and trainers, and racetrack contacts.

Always remember that you don’t need to (and shouldn’t) go it alone. To be set up for success, both you and the horse need help and direction as you find each other and undertake this journey together. If you’re willing to put in the time, and you have the adequate training opportunities, you can work together to become the dream team you envision.

Step back, look at your options, get great advice, heed said advice, and only then should you get ready to swipe right.

Go riding!

Clare Mansmann started riding racehorses in her teens to get fit and ready for an upper level eventing career. It worked, and in the process, she fell completely in love with the breed and the sport. Together she and her husband, Tom, run Pacific Farms, Inc., where they focus their training and lessons on the fundamentals of classical riding in all disciplines, and are passionate about providing the best, most comprehensive education to the transitioning off-track Thoroughbred in order to best serve them and their futures.

Clare and Tom with Noosh’s Tale at the 2017 Retired Racehorse Project Thoroughbred Makeover.