“He Just Takes Your Breath Away”: American Bred Mr. Manhattan

Mr. Manhattan at Capital Challenge. Photo © Shawn McMillen Photography

BY TORI SHEEHAN

Ask what makes Mr. Manhattan spectacular, and the first answer is unanimous. 

“Oh, his jumping. I mean, there’s no question about it,” says John Barker, Manhattan’s trainer. “Just a perfect hunter style.” 

The German sporthorse (Maximus – Phillipa) was bred and produced by Redfield Farms in Ocala, FL. It was the farm’s owner, Emil Spadone, who got to see that famous jump for the very first time. 

“He jumped so well, just naturally. He went over that first little jump and he did it exactly the way you want to do it,” Spadone says. 

“Mr. Manhattan was stunning, even then,” says Martin Schlaeppi. Schlaeppi and Barker traveled to Spadone’s farm to look at horses to buy. Schlaeppi admits he wasn’t thinking about American-bred talent specifically. He was looking for exceptional horses. That’s when he spotted a chestnut 4-year-old who captured his attention. 

“He just had a presence about him. The way he jumped and the way he looked,” Schlaeppi says. “You look at him and say, ‘God, this is a nice horse.’”

After a couple nights of restless sleep, Schlaeppi purchased Manhattan. Right away, Schlaeppi along with John and Kitty Barker, started cultivating Manhattan’s future. After a couple of years, they brought on Daniel Geitner to pilot the green horse. 

“First time I saw him, I remember thinking he was big and gangly,” Geitner says. “But boy, when he jumped, he could just explode. I remember thinking, ‘I can’t believe this big gawky horse can jump like that.’ It was pretty cool.”

Manhattan is still big, measuring in at a little over 17 hands, but he’s just about grown out of his ‘gawky’ phase. With his natural jump remarkably consistent and already close to perfection, the team worked on smoothing out the “in between” the jumps. Along the way, Manhattan’s mind, attitude, and natural interest radiated. Characterized by playful nips and a charismatic presence on the ground, the Barkers will tell you, “he’s spoiled.” In the ring, Manhattan has come to be defined as extremely giving, rarely taking effort for granted.  

“If you ask nicely, he’ll give to you every time,” says Geitner.  

“As soon as he figures out what you want him to do, he’s perfectly willing to do it,” Barker says. “You show him what you want done, then it’s, ‘Fine, no problem, I can do that.” 

Photo © Shawn McMillen Photography

THE MAKINGS OF BIG MOMENTS

Last year, Manhattan was champion in the $25,000 Green Challenge at Capital Challenge. This year in Aiken, he won a national derby with a pair of scores in the nineties. 

“That national derby in Aiken really impressed me,” Geitner says. “They had bending lines and rollbacks and stuff he hasn’t quite experienced often and he just walked right in and nailed it.” 

That was one of the first times Geitner could feel Manhattan really come into his own in big moments. At Blowing Rock, Manhattan came into gear again with two top places finishes in the green hunters. 

This year at Capital Challenge, Mr. Manhattan was given the Connaway & Associates Equine Insurance Services High Point American-Bred Horse Award. The honor came after a score of 89 in an over fences class in Section A of the Green Hunter 3’3” Division. 

“It was as nice of a hunter round as I’ve ever had in my life,” says Geitner. “He just picked up the canter at the beginning, never changed the whole course and jumped great.”

“When Mr. Manhattan walks in the ring, silence comes and everybody pays attention,” Schlaeppi says. “He just takes your breath away.”

Throughout Manhattan’s seven years of life, the people who have surrounded him have shared a significant philosophy—a sometimes undervalued sentiment that the team around young horses can either make or break them. 

“Honestly, you need to do it right. You need to have the right team behind the horse,” says Spadone. “It’s a hard process and so many things can go wrong.”

Mr. Manhattan is an example of when things go right. From a strong upbringing to Geitner’s guidance in the saddle and the places in between, it’s been an exercise in teamwork. Schlaeppi is a self-described “patient” owner who values slow, strong development. Barker naturally promotes that with careful and intentional training. When at home, Barker works Manhattan most often in fields and gives him ample time off. The approach is fueled by the understanding that Barker is being entrusted to protect talent, not necessarily create it.  

Manhattan, says Barker, “has a wonderful attitude, and that you can’t change. If they don’t have that, you can’t make them be like that.” 

“That’s where the Barkers are so good,” says Geitner. “They’re such horsemen. They’ve really taken their time with him and let him have his moments and then back off a little bit and let him be a horse. I think a lot of people would have pushed this horse too fast and I think [the Barkers] really do the right thing by the horse. And we’re seeing the fruits of that right now.” 

A young Mr. Manhattan looks out on his first home, Redfield Breeding in Ocala, Florida

THE END OF AN ERA—AND A HOPEFUL FUTURE

In one intricate way, Mr. Manhattan could be the last of his kind. Sired by Maximus out of the dam Phillipa, Manhattan is one of only two foals that came out of the pair before Phillipa passed away in 2015. 

Phillipa still holds a strong place in many horsemen’s hearts. The Danish Warmblood carried McLain Ward to several finishes at the two, three and four-star Grand Prix level. Later, she went on to a successful hunter derby career with Louise Serio. 

“She was an awesome mover,” Spadone says. “I remember she’d jump around the Grand Prix with her knees around her eyeballs!” 

In Phillipa’s legacy there is a little extra magic that surrounds Mr. Manhattan, who shares his mom’s deep chestnut coat and expressive jump.

“That was the right combination,” Spadone says. “It was a little bit luck. I just wish I still had her so I could do it again.” 

Manhattan’s father Maximus has continued to produce strong hunter talent including Memphis Blue (also owned by Schlaeppi) and Maxlite. Along with his other offspring, Maximus was able to pass on one of his most important qualities to Manhattan—his character. 

“What they ask for these hunters to do, I mean, people don’t realize how hard it is,” says Spadone. “You want beautiful, you want a good mover, you want a good jumper, has to have a smooth, natural lead change. They have to be careful, they can’t be spooky, but they have to be interested. When you think about all these things we want these horses to be, the bar is set really high.”

Spadone thinks Manhattan is a chance not only to reach that bar, but to contribute to the sport of hunters in the U.S. 

“To keep trying to get these better horses we have to try to make some of them ourselves,” he says. “Breeding is not cheap, but it still gives you the chance to get a really fancy one. If you have an awesome mare and you breed it to the right stallion, you have a chance to have a good horse.”

When it comes to Manhattan’s future, there are high hopes. However, Barker is staying in the moment, with international derbies as a goal for the future. 

For Schlaeppi, he’s not letting Manhattan’s magic leave him just yet. “I’ve had people try to buy him and I’m sort of hanging on right now because I’m a little fascinated by him,” Schlaeppi says. “Manhattan could be one of the most special horses I’ve ever seen.”  

A Deeper Look at Mr. Manhattan’s Genes

SIRE Profile: Maximus 

• Currently stands in the United States

• Also a home-bred (2007 American Bred German Sporthorse by Mynos)

• Other offspring’s continued success:

Memphis Blue – (Maximus – Envy). Also owned by Martin Schlaeppi, was purchased at the same time as Mr. Manhattan from Redfield Farm. In Kentucky this year, Memphis Blue earned highest score for an American-bred at the Green Hunter Incentives 3’0-3’3” Division, finishing 13th in the Championship round. 

Maxlight – (Maximus – Windlight) Most recently won a Green Hunter 3’3” over fences class at Pennsylvania National Horseshow with a score of 89. 

DAM Profile: Phillipa 

• 10 Top-5 Finishes in FEI Level Grand Prix

• Mount for McLain Ward

• Out of Electro

• Went on to Hunter Derby Careerwith Louise Serio 


*This story was originally published in the December 2021 issue of The Plaid Horse. Click here to read it now and subscribe for issues delivered straight to your door!

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