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Mannix Gets By with a Little Help From Her Friends

“So Carmela’s a little bit of a unique story…” shared Vanessa Mannix.

The sensitive mare came into the Canadian rider’s string at the beginning of the pandemic and was an instant mismatch.

“I used to call her Seabiscuit because she’s a bit of a racehorse. She would bolt off and it would kind of come out of nowhere. She’d only take one or two steps, but I just felt like I was making her uncomfortable. She was making me uncomfortable. And the two of us would kind of wind each other up.”

At the time, Mannix had a strong string of horses that were performing well. Rather than sell the mare, she sent her to train with friends Barry O’Connor and Jenny Rankin in Dublin, Ireland for 18 months.

“[Carmela] hadn’t shown in quite a while because of COVID and she hadn’t done that much in the winter before COVID struck, so she was a little bit behind. Jenny got her up jumping in 3* Nations Cups, 3* Grand Prix,” she continued. “She had really superb results with her and I think really got her educated about the gears a little bit better, got her mentality a bit calmer.”

When the now 12-year-old mare rejoined Mannix’s string last August at Major League Show Jumping Ottawa, the pair hit the ground running posting a clear round in their first 1.40m ranking class—they haven’t slowed since.

“Sometimes you need a little time and I needed a little help,” said the 33-year-old rider.

“She’s always been such an exceptional jumper. I think that seeing Jenny really have such success with her as well, it made me be like, okay, this is in her for sure. I maybe needed to learn a little bit more. I needed to be more confident.”

©DIHP/Megan Giese Photography

They’ve been making up for lost time in the months since.

In 2022, Mannix and the Dutch Warmblood mare collected top five placings in 5* 1.50m classes on the MLSJ tour in San Miguel de Allende and Monterrey, Mexico, posting an impressive 50% top 10 finish rate at the height, according to Jumpr App.

The 2023 season has only seen their star rise. Carmela Z’s clear round rate at 1.45m jumped from 17% in 2022 to 33% in 2023 with Mannix in the irons, while their top 10 finish rate at 1.40m and 1.45m has climbed from 17% to 67%. They’ve logged three podium finishes at Desert International Horse Park (DIHP) in Thermal, CA this winter season, including their first international win. On Thursday, the pair topped the Bridgeport Farms CSI3* Normal Two-Phase 1.40m, besting coach Conor Swail (IRL).

“Now, she’s so reliable. I feel like every time I go in the ring, she’s actually one of the most straightforward horses I have. She’s unbelievably brave and she’s really actually levelheaded,” continued Mannix, noting that her partnership with Carmela Z is now one of the strongest in her string.

“I feel like there isn’t anything I would be afraid to try on her or a class that she wouldn’t be up for. I jumped her under the lights the 4* Week at DIHP and she walked right into the ring and marched around.”

No doubt helping their results in the ring is Mannix’s newfound resolve to be speedier in the jump offs.

“I’ve got a great group of horses and obviously a lot of really wonderful help with James Chawke, who’s here [at Desert Circuit] all winter, and Conor Swail, who’s always flying in and out. So I’ve been trying to work a little bit on my mental game and just trying to [prioritize] taking more risks. I’d say that it was kind of a New Year’s resolution: to go faster.”

With risks come rewards, but also rails.

“[Results] always goes up and down,” said Mannix. “I think sometimes when you’re in your own world, it feels like there’s like much more dramatic peaks and valleys. But I would definitely say [we’re] trending in the right direction.”

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