Ponying Off the Track
Tom and Clare Mansmann have a knack for off-track Thoroughbreds, there’s no question about that. At their Pacific Farms, Inc., an equestrian facility in Middleburg, Va., specializing in lessons, boarding, showing and sales, they transition off-track Thoroughbreds into everything from eventers and hunter/jumpers to fox hunters, trail horses and more and are often sought out for either their sale horses or their training skills.
With more than 65 years of horse experience between them, the couple has learned a thing or two about how to train a horse and they’ve developed a rather unconventional, yet highly-effective approach to doing so. That’s why the pair was chosen as one of the three featured trainers to take part in the Retired Racehorse Project’s first-ever Makeover Master Class at the conclusion of the Thoroughbred Makeover and National Symposium.
Designed to showcase for spectators three very different approaches to re-starting a recently retired racehorse, the three trainers in the Makeover Master Class were asked to each evaluate for the audience three recently retired racehorses, then drew numbers at random to decide with which horse they would be paired. While the Mansmanns were fully prepared to share some of the tips and tricks that have made them one of the most sought-after off-track Thoroughbred specialists in the country, they could have never imagined that a simple luck of the draw would introduce them to a horse that they liked enough to adopt themselves with a goal of bringing him back to compete in the 2019 Thoroughbred Makeover in the very arena they first met.
The three horses used in the Makeover Master Class were from aftercare organizations and represented a broad cross-section of what one might come across when shopping for a retiring or recently retired racehorse as a sport horse or riding prospect.
Alarming (2014 Unbridled’s Song – Malibu Legacy, by Malibu Moon gelding)
29 starts, 3 wins; $59,384 in earnings
Last raced August 24, 2018
Representing Turning for Home:
All D’Night (2012 D’Wildcat – All Nighter, by Notebook mare)
47 starts, 4 wins; $121,760 in earnings
Last raced February 10, 2018
Representing CANTER Michigan
Royal Mocha (2010 Private Vow – Rockin’ Roux, by Friendly Lover; 15.3 hand gelding)
70 starts; 10 wins; $170,856 in earnings
Last raced May 17, 2018
“As we got our first impressions of all three horses walking around before we drew for which horse we would be working with, they were just all so different. They all looked really, really good,” said Clare Mansmann. “We loved the war horse [Royal Mocha]; he was a’ been there, done that’ kind of guy and after the fact we actually ended up talking with a girl who takes lessons with us about him as a possible horse for her mom. The filly was stunning – someone needs to paint portraits of her. She had such a nice way of going and was so interested in things. Alarming checked a lot of boxes. He was that nice four to five-year-old age, tall, dark, handsome, a gelding. He was going to be a marketable horse. His ears and eyes were a nice indication. He had a kind eye and an alert expression.”
The reasons the Mansmanns took a liking to Alarming were the very same reasons Bev Strauss of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue chose him for the Master Class opportunity.
“A day or two after we were asked to take part in the Master Class, Jessica Ryley Hammond from Beyond the Wire, Maryland’s aftercare program, called looking for a spot for Alarming. I told her about the Master Class and asked if she thought he would suit, which she did,” said Bev Strauss of MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. “We wanted to show that aftercare programs from coast-to-coast have nice, big, sound, young, nicely-bred horses available. I hoped on him once for a five-minute walk-trot ride just to introduce him to the mounting block and make sure he was legit, then we did his feet, updated his vet work and kept him wrapped in bubble wrap until the Makeover.”
After offering their initial evaluations, each trainer (with the Mansmanns working as a duo) drew numbers to decide which horse they would be paired with. Fellow trainers Rosie Napravnik and Elizabeth James drew Royal Mocha and All Ours respectively, which meant the Mansmanns were paired with Alarming, the horse they were drawn to the most during the evaluation process.
While the other two horses seemed to be well-within themselves during the evaluation process and in the initial phase of the “getting to know you” process, Alarming was more anxious. Tom chose to first work with him in the round pen a bit before putting his tack on him and transitioning to one of the Mansmann’s go-to tactics when restarting off-track Thoroughbreds – ponying them.
“When we drew him, we both felt he was a great one to show what we do with a pony horse,” said Mansmann. “When they’re anxious like that, especially a young, fit horse like him, they can get some security from the pony horse.”
Using one of their 2018 Thoroughbred Makeover horses, Tiz Solo Vino, as the “seasoned pony,” Tom Mansmann began ponying Alarming around the arena at the walk and trot, situating the horse on both his right side, which is how they are ponied at the racetrack, and ponying him from the left side of his horse.
“We’ve used the ponying approach over the years for all types of horses, from fox hunters and polo ponies to eventing or hunter/jumper prospects, and we’ve found it’s just a comfortable way to get racehorses going in a non-racing environment,” said Mansmann. “The familiarity of it offers them comfort, then we change it up by ponying them off of the left side.”
For Tiz Solo Vino, it was the pupil becoming the teacher. In preparation for competing in the Field Hunter and Working Ranch divisions of the Makeover, Tiz Solo Vino was restarted using the Mansmann’s ponying approach as well and, similarly to Alarming, was even featured at a demonstration they gave about their ponying method at an equine expo earlier in the year in one of their first training sessions with him after racing.
“At the time of that demo, we’d only ridden him a few times at home. We took him along, but with the carriages, Paso Finos, mounted shooting, cattle and more, there was a lot to see and he wasn’t ready to have someone sit on him in that environment, so we ponied him,” said Mansmann. “Ponying them is like getting them ready to learn. It’s not about getting them tired, but rather to start waking up their sensory system and give them confidence in situations that are unfamiliar.”
As Tom worked with Alarming, he did figure-8 patterns, circles and transitions between walking, trotting and standing to take a break. Eventually, he incorporated canter work in both directions into the mix, then ponied Alarming through a simple grid with ground poles and a cross rail.
“We’ve always hacked out with our clients on a regular basis at home, so we figured if we’re going out on a hack, might as well take the newer ones along and teach them how to hack around nicely,” she said. “Eventually we started wondering how much we could actually do with the horse being ponied. We do everything from figure-8s and circles to crossing water, opening gates, going over small jumps and more. They learn everything very quickly. If a horse leans one direction, we leg yield our pony horse over and they respond to it.”
After doing both forward and lateral work in both directions with Alarming, Tom transitioned from riding Buff Dude and ponying Alarming to having Clare on Buff Dude while she ponied Alarming with Tom in the irons.
The two talked the audience through what they were looking for in the horse and pointed out how much more relaxed and fluid Alarming had become through the 20-min session of ponying with Tom before he was asked to carry a rider. As they went through all three gaits, Clare helped Alarming via her pony, Buff Dude, to pick up the proper leads and keep a good pace.
“Racehorses aren’t asked to canter on a circle usually. They know their leads, but they swap at a much more forward pace than what we want,” she said. “A pony horse is a much more imposing figure than just your leg on the horse’s side, so it helps them to move off of whichever side the pony is on and gain flexibility and start to understand leads and leg cues.”
Over the course of 10-15 minutes, Clare gave Tom and Alarming more and more slack in the ponying strap until she eventually turned them loose and was simply working alongside of them and soon after faded away to let Tom work with Alarming independently. After the pair navigated a simple grid a few more times, Tom gave the gelding a pat and cooled him out on a loose rein – a stark contrast to how the training session started.
This year was the Mansmann’s third time competing at the Thoroughbred Makeover and, like any good competitor, they already have their sights set on next year’s competition. That’s why they were quick to connect with MidAtlantic Horse Rescue’s Bev Strauss after the Makeover Master Class to inquire about adopting Alarming themselves.
“The idea is that if he’s ready, we’ll point him to the Makeover. We’ve not sat on him since being in Kentucky and while he doesn’t seem like he needs more downtime because he’s acclimated so quickly, if that changes, he’ll get whatever he needs,” said Mansmann. “Because he’s so smart, we want to use him to show how easy groundwork makes it once you sit on them, so we’ll do a lot of groundwork and ponying with him when we start working with him.
“I can’t say enough good things about MidAtlantic Horse Rescue. Not only do they have good hearts, but they have the knowledge to back it up and help these horses make good transitions away from the track. Our goal with him will be for him to learn a bit about everything and see what he takes to. He’s going to make us a really nice horse for the Makeover, hopefully, and then make someone else a really nice horse in the future.”
Jen Roytz is a marketing, publicity and comprehensive communications specialist based in Lexington, Kentucky and is the Executive Director of the Retired Racehorse Project. A native of Cleveland, Ohio, her professional focus lies in the fields of equine, health care, corporate and non-profit marketing. She is the go-to food source for one dog, two cats and three off-track Thoroughbreds.