My Best Friend Mandarin

In the warm up for Jr Championships at Rancho Murrietta.

Renowned for its floating trot, the Trakehner is one of the lightest & most refined warmbloods. We are celebrating this breed as our March Breed of the Month on YourDressage! Join us all month long as we celebrate Trakehners with photo galleries and exclusive stories!

Dressage riders who choose Trakehners as their mounts are eligible for special awards through the Adequan®/USDF All Breeds Awards program – the American Trakehner Association and the Trakehner Association of North America (TANA) are both participating organizations.

We recently asked our social media followers to share stories about what makes these horses so special.  Here, a Region 7 rider shares a special partnership with her Trakehner, who has been by her side for nearly two decades.

By Ciara Viola

High school senior portrait

Mandarin has been an integral part of my life for the last 19 years.  The family that I got my first horse, Pony May, from also owned Mandarin.  The family had imported him from Germany when he was 3 years old for their daughter to ride when she had outgrown Pony May.  He came to Northern Nevada with two full siblings that were placed in other local barns.  To put it briefly, we ended up with both Mandarin and Pony May as my riding progressed and my family got more involved in my riding.  I would say there was some level of divine intervention in enabling my family to keep these two horses together.

As a junior rider, Mandarin and I competed mostly at local shows, and were competitive amongst junior, amateur, and open riders alike.  I went to my first Northern California Junior Championships in 2004 at Training Level where we were Reserve Champion for my age division, and we missed being Champion by a few thousandths of a point.  From there, we went on to compete at First and Second Levels, and I earned many local chapter High Point and High Point Jr awards for single shows and year end awards on Mandarin.  He certainly was a solid partner, even with his quirky personality. 

Riding a Second Level test at a local SNC-CDS show.

As an example, there was a local summer show we were at where it was really hot.  The TD hadn’t called coats yet, but that call was imminent.  Before I got on to warm up, my dad had helped me rinse Mandarin off and tack up so that I could keep my show attire as pristine as possible – even though I already had green horse kisses on the front of my shirt; nothing my stock tie couldn’t cover up.  I’m in the warm up, practicing a stretching-down circle, when Mandarin comes to an abrupt halt and starts to crumple down onto the ground.  I could have sworn that something awful had happened to him because I had never had a horse lay down with me before – I thought he was dying!  He laid down on the ground, and I hopped off his back.  He laid there for a moment with his legs tucked underneath him before turning laterally onto his side.  And he rolled (happily, might I add), caking the left side of his once-clean body with arena dirt before standing up and shaking off as though nothing abnormal had just occurred.  Everyone in the vicinity of the rolling incident came over to check on us.  Yeah, we were totally fine, Mandarin just thought it was an appropriate time to roll – right before we went in for our test!  My mom had been calling a test for the rider preceding me and came running over to check on us as soon as the ride was over.  I can only imagine the panic that ran through her at that moment…

Cheesin’ for the camera!

Thank goodness for horse show moms and dads though, because even though Mandarin was half mud, half shiny copper chestnut, my tack and boots were given a quick wipe-down to look good as new again.  Back on the horse, we went in and did our thing.  This was one of the many shows where we earned High Point Jr.  When I went to the show office to pick up my award, the judge asked if I was “the kid on the chestnut that decided to take a roll” before our test…  Hard to deny that, for sure.  Obviously, it is one of the more memorable show outings I had with Mandarin and thankfully, it was the first and the last time we did some dirt diving before a test!  There was another show where he got to see a super scary miniature donkey for the first time, but that is a long story…

Selfie together on Mandarin’s 27th birthday!

Despite the countless memories and successes I shared with Mandarin as my dressage partner, his meaning to me has much deeper value.  I started my partnership with Mandarin when I was in the 6th grade.  We are all familiar with how unkind people can be to each other, but after tough days at school, I knew I could fall back on bonding time with my horse.  As I got older, social and general life changes were happening to and around me, but Mandarin was a constant and certainly kept me out of whatever trouble I had no business dabbling in with my peers.  He is very in-tune with human emotions and feeds off of what you bring with you.  If I was ever down, he would be quiet, as if he understood I just needed company.  If I was happy, he would be playful, nibbly, goofy.  He is much the same to this day, offering a shoulder to lean and cry on, or having completely silly, in-your-pocket interactions. 

He has been my friend for 19 years, and a darn good one at that.  Our success in the ring came from our hard work and talent, but I know we scored high because our partnership was special.  Mandarin would give me everything I asked him for, and he tried his hardest.  He certainly took care of me as his rider and his partner.  The trust and confidence I gained riding this horse early on in life has absolutely molded me into the rider I am today.  I doubt I would have gone on to be as successful as an FEI competitor without all of my experiences – the good, the bad, the non-traditional, and the unique – riding Mandarin.  We celebrated his 27th birthday this March, and every single day I get to see him is a gift.  Mandarin and Pony May live together on a nice little ranch in Reno where I can see them often and spoil them with cookies, kisses, and pampering. 

“There’s something about the outside of a horse that is good for the inside of a man.” – Winston Churchill

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