Q&A: Pam Mansfield on the horsey literary life

Pamela Mansfield

Sometime after Pamela Mansfield lost her longtime job in 2000, she worked up the pluck to ask a fellow rider about possible freelance writing opportunities.

The rider happened to be the editor of Equine Journal at the time, and soon Mansfield was writing about everything from executing the correct reining stop, to tidying up the barn.

And, as she rewrote her own career, she was able to cover some of the most exciting equestrians and horses in the sport.

In this week’s Clubhouse Q&A, Mansfield discusses a few career highlights, and her beloved Morgan, who is now 32.

Q: From your vantage as a writer for Equine Journal, what  are some of the most exciting stories taking place in the horse world?

The editor asks me to cover quite a variety of topics, so I never know what she will ask me to research or whom I will be interviewing.

However, two articles I have written on Warmbloods made me realize the breeding trend is going towards lighter, smaller horses, and even one of the top Grand Prix show jumpers, Nona Garson, expressed that she is seeking out the more Thoroughbred-type Warmbloods in her import program (she rode a 15.2 horse named Rhythmical in the 2000 Olympics).

Some riders have even gotten away from the super-sized horses, and done well with sport ponies.

Remember Karen O’Connor was eventing little Teddy O’Connor, a sport pony bred for top performance at a Florida farm?

Also some of the older riders will reminisce about the Thoroughbreds who dominated the sport not so very long ago. Remember Touch of Class who Joe Fargis rode in the ’84 Olympics?

I think interviewing some of the celebrated riders who have done so well for so long is an amazing opportunity to hear about the sport.

Melanie Smith-Taylor and Peter Leone are two of my favorites who are doing this in the sport of show jumping.

Q: The Jumper Classic is always a big deal in New England. Were any famous competitors there this year?

Peter Leone, of course, was the 1996 Silver Medalist! And Leslie Burr Howard, 1984 Gold Medalist and 1996 Silver Medalist.

They are pinnacles of the sport. The show actually ran August 8-12 and Candice King won the $75,000 Fidelity Investments Grand Prix, but Peter and Leslie had big wins, too.

Peter was riding his student Allison Finger’s horse Tuvalu.

Leslie was riding her trusted Lennox Lewis II. I love that they love their horses – more than you might think – they really do keep them for years and retire them at home if they are their lifelong horses.

I had the chance to interview both of them for a book (Unbridled Passion), which was published last year. Joe Fargis was another I was honored to interview and write about for the book.

At The Jumper Classic, the big story also extended to the lower level riders, including one on an OTTB named My Lovely Louise, who trucked in every day and went home with a bunch of blues, and an Appaloosa named Lots o’ Dots who captured a blue on their first time at the show. I love the stories – every rider and horse has one.

Q: What about your own background? How did you get your start writing in the horse biz, and how has the field changed over the years?

Early on with Dory, her Morgan

Well, I have loved horses and writing my whole life.

I was able to combine the two after losing my long-time job in 2000 and floundering around while desperately trying to find my next one.

I was riding at Bradford Equestrian Center with Keith Angstadt, and the editor of Equine Journal at the time, Kathleen Lyons Labonville, was riding there, too.

I finally got the nerve to ask her if they ever took freelance work, and she gave me an assignment and it just took off from there.

I found a full-time job, and was also writing for other projects, but I have stayed a pretty regular feature writer for Equine Journal for 10 years and love getting the assignments and being able to have an outlet for my writing.

I’ve learned so much — about grooming Gypsy horses, for example, how to choose supplements (I love talking with Dr. Lydia Gray at SmartPak!), how to evacuate your horse in an emergency, reining Western horses, the sliding stop, and how to organize your barn.

It’s been a really great ride, writing for them. I also write for my real job, about scientific instrumentation. I enjoy it all.

Q: Tell me about your 32-year-old Morgan. Do you still ride him? What did you do together during his competitive heyday?

Dory, Sagamore Eldorado, is his name. I bought him when he was 13, and he showed me the time of my life.

He opened new doors for me, and together we shared miles of trails in our area, which are beautifully maintained by the Essex County Trail Association for horses, as well as walkers, and bike riders. But, horseback riders get to go on some of the most magnificent private estates.

Dory loved to explore, and had a favorite place for cantering in Bradley Palmer State Park, which everyone called “Dory’s Hill.”

In their dressage heyday

We also competed in dressage. We loved dressage. He was always up for a show. My best memory of our competitions, besides going to GMHA in Woodstock, Vermont, which was our favorite, was actually a near disastrous day.

We were at a show in New Hampshire, and there was no steward and the ring was up over a hill and the show management didn’t want you up there till you were on deck.

Our time came and I decided to just go peek and see if the steward was up there. Nobody was there to tell us it was okay to go.

So we rode up to the ring and the judge rang the bell so angrily (if you can say that) and I knew then we had 60 seconds to get in the ring so we just did a little bit outside then went down centerline.

Dory was pumped – he felt magnificent. The judge stood up and started screaming at me — and this was a recognized show!  I didn’t know what to do.

So we stood at attention while she berated me for being late.

I tried to explain there was no steward but she sliced me in half! All the air went out of both of us. Even my husband, standing at the ring, was flabbergasted.

Then she said, well, I shouldn’t let you ride but I will.

So I picked Dory up again and said (in my head, fighting back tears and indignation) okay Dory she hates us anyway so let’s just show her what we can do.

He put out 110% effort, nailing every single movement with great expression. Mind you we only did Training Level, but no matter. When we were done, the judge got up and said, “Well! I’m glad I let you ride!”

And we won everything that day, the whole division, and came home with prizes!  Dory achieved his Performance Horse Certificate and I my Qualified Rider’s Certificate, but we never went further than Training Level, partly because he blew a suspensory not once but twice, but always came back from it, but I never pushed him.

Retirement isn’t so bad

I had to stop riding him a year and a half ago. He had a very sudden and scary episode while alone in his stall during a big blizzard, and the vet said the cause was a degenerative spinal issue. So, he is very crooked much of the time, something we actually fixed last year by ground driving, and it made such a difference that I was able to get on him for one ride last November, just a walk, down the lane.

Then last New Year’s he began to suffer from laminitis. We sort of fixed that, too, after a while, but he will never be the same, and is now very crooked again.

His outlook on life is usually pretty upbeat and he still loves to do things, even trot a little alongside me when we go for walks.

Even this little bit of exercise still seems to help, though with his tender feet we can only do so much. He is a Government Line Morgan, bred by Sagamorgan Farm in Bennington, Vermont, and he is a descendant of the great stallion Mansfield.

They don’t make them like this anymore!

5 responses to “Q&A: Pam Mansfield on the horsey literary life”

  1. Holly VandenBrink

    This is a great article about you and Dory.. <3

  2. Diana Lane

    Susan, what a lovely articel about Pam and Dory…we boarded together briefly and it was a pleasure.

  3. Fran Jurga

    Hooray, a local interview! Great to see a Morgan mention sneak into the Thoroughbreds’ turf!

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