Articles Written 10
Article Views 10,522

Clare Mansmann

Achievements

Become an Eventing Nation Blogger

About Clare Mansmann

Latest Articles Written

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.