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.”
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!)
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.
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.
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
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
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.
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.