'Practice Being the Winner': How Todd Minikus Selects And Develops Competitive Horses

'Practice Being the Winner': How Todd Minikus Selects And Develops Competitive Horses

Todd Minikus is enjoying a winning week at the Tryon International Equestrian Center, where he and the Bit By Bit Group's 10-year-old Zangersheide mare Amex Z won Sunday’s $36,000 1.45m Sunday Classic CSI 3* and yesterday's $72,000 Horseware Ireland Welcome Stake CSI 4*.

Besides Amex Z, Todd has built strong partnerships with others in his string like Calvalou, Chaventyno, and Quality Girl, all of whom he competes at the 1.60m grand prix level. So what's his secret for selecting and developing horses?

“The first thing I would keep in mind is: what is the end goal. Is it an amateur jumper, sale horse, or a grand prix prospect? All of those situations determine the way I would go about developing the horse,” Todd says.

“If it’s a horse that I want to compete myself, then when I try to develop it, I am more concerned that the horse stays competitive. I think that you can train horses with them being the winner, or you can practice with them being the loser.

“I know that some people have a different approach or theory, but I think you should practice with them being the winner as much as possible. I don’t see the purpose in a lot of what we call ‘schooling rounds.’ Modern day realistic show jumping is with pace and carefulness. So I don’t see the purpose in going extra slow, or making extra wide turns. I don’t think that benefits the horse’s future. Practice what’s real for them, and what will help the horse succeed in the end.”

Time, patience, and a little grit was the magic recipe for this partnership.

When it comes to considering a horse for purchase, the intended use of that horse plays a heavy role as well.

“Sometimes you buy for price, and sometimes you try to buy the athlete. If you buy a horse for resale, then maybe you are mostly concerned with the quality of the horse and ultimately the price. Then sometimes you are looking at just the athletic potential of the horse, and have to consider what your vision is for that horse.

“Is it an all-in, world-class horse, or are you trying to make money with it? I think that all those factors come into play when you are buying and selling horses for a living, or pursuing a future in the sport.”

For Todd, the most important quality to look for is carefulness, but it's not just about whether or not a horse knocked a pole but how it reacts after tipping a rail.

“For example, say if they knock down a pole, you have to look into why the horse hit that. Did they hit it because they were careless, off balance, or was it rider error? Then, look for what their reaction is when they come back and jump it the next time. Do they show a little extra sharpness or quickness with their legs? You have to read what happens they next time they jump it, and evaluate whatever the case may be.”

Once a horse is in Todd's barn, developing a top show jumper is more than just leaving the rails up and making quick turns. Horsemanship plays a major role in producing a happy, willing athlete. For Todd, that includes adapting to an individual's unique traits.

For instance, Amex Z gets nervous in a busy warmup, and Todd has found that a bit of extra tack helps her focus. “She’s a little funny in the schooling area and in the traffic. And [Tryon's] schooling area is unique with the people standing above her. So we do wear blinkers on her in the schooling area — it’s just calming for her and helps her concentrate as we are warming up.”

Many of Todd's horses are also led in a rope halter instead of the leather halter and chain shank commonly used for the more exuberant equines. “We like to think we are practicing better horsemanship,” he says. “They behave in them, and it is not as aggressive as a chain over the nose.”

Cheers to Todd and Amex Z. Here's to a continued winning streak.

Read this next: Ten Truths About Developing Young Jumpers For the Show Ring With Taylor Flury

Photography by Sportfot.