In a profession that revolves around buying and selling, putting on training miles for the next person, and coaching ringside, Jennifer Hannan knows she has a unusual situation with Mindful. She has been riding the Hanoverian gelding since 2017 and cultivated something that is so rarely possible for a professional: a long-term relationship with a made partner that she alone competes.
“I have been lucky,” says Hannan of Wakefield, Rhode Island. “A lot of people don’t get to stay with horses for that long.
“I know that I have that bond and that relationship, and we sort of speak the same language,” she adds. “I know a lot of times what lead he’s going to land on, or what’s going to impact him. That’s great. And it’s also a bit of pressure because he’s a winner, and I know he’s capable, and I know he really wants to [win]. Sometimes it’s hard. I put a lot of pressure on myself to just kind of stay out of his way and do the best for him.”
The gelding (Graf Grannus—Baronesse, Bold Indian) came to Hannan after a long and winning career with Kelley Farmer—a record which initially came with its own high-pressure expectations.
“That part’s gotten easier now,” Hannan says. “When I first started riding him, that was for sure was a lot [of pressure]. I believe in him so much, and I know that he wants it just as much as I want it. So that comes with some comfort and some pressure.”
Now that Mindful is 18, Hannan has adjusted his routine to preserve his longevity. She believes the fact that he can still march up to the 4’ high options is due to the program they’ve tailored for him.
“When we first started with him, I did show him in the division,” she says. “He either did the high performance conformation or the high performance. And he was very successful. He won a lot. And then over the years, we just slowed down a little bit and saved him for the special horse shows—not show him week in and out and just come out for those. A special horse like him, he has nothing to prove, and I really just want to have him for as long as I can and have longevity with him.”
His routine involves prioritizing fitness while saving his legs.
“Fitness is a big thing, especially as the horses get older, so that he feels ready,” she says. “I don’t jump him that much in between when I show him. We might do some gymnastics, but that’s really it.
“I do a lot of bounces with all my horses, but he does do bounces probably twice a week, just over the raised cavalettis,” she adds. “So that definitely keeps him fit. He flats, and when we get up to Rhode Island he flats on the hills. We just work on his stamina—not to push him; we don’t ride him twice a day or anything like that, but he flats a bit. We probably just jump him once before each big class if there’s a big gap before it.”
Even at 18, Mindful still has the drive to win, which Hannan says makes him special.
“There’s not that many horses that just come out and do it,” says Hannan. “And pretty much every time—obviously every horse has an off class—but pretty much every time, he comes out and he wants to perform. That’s a quality that’s really hard to come by in a horse, and you don’t see very often.
“He really loves his people,” she adds. “Like if [his longtime owner] Selma [Garber] comes in the barn and says his name, he’ll stop everything he’s doing, put his head straight up and nicker for her. Obviously, you can tell that I love him, but he’s just a little human.”
During this year’s Winter Equestrian Festival in Wellington, Florida, Mindful has been braided only four times, three of which were for USHJA International Hunter Derby appearances.
Though Hannan said he was a bit fresh for the first one, he earned second in $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby during Week 4. Then on March 12, they led start to finish for Week 9’s $25,000 USHJA International Hunter Derby, held on the grass field.
“Sometimes it can be a hard thing, leading the first round and then coming back on top, I guess, from a pressure standpoint,” Hannan says. “But I feel like everything pulled through. He just went so smoothly and so beautifully and did everything that I asked him.
“He really loves those big stages,” she adds. “You can feel his presence and him kind of rise to the occasion. And those are just times when you have that relationship with a horse that are so memorable and are so special, and you want to savor those moments.”
After five years together, Hannan says she still appreciates every one of those special moments.
“I feel like every time I get the honor to show him, I want to do well for him and for Selma,” she says. “I think it is a real gift for me to be paired with him.”