Article by Marianne Taylor for Equestrian Coach Blog
His mother was blind, so for as long as Mind Games was at her side, he wore a bell around his neck so that she would know where he was at all times. Whether or not wearing the bell contributed to his insecurities and quirks no one really knows, but it is suspected. Luckily for the seal brown Thoroughbred gelding, for almost all of his life, he was in the hands of great horsemen that knew how talented he was and learned to deal with his idiosyncrasies. They adapted to him and didn’t try to get him to adapt to their “program”. The name Mind Games suited him perfectly.
Bred near Richmond, Virginia by Kathy Browning, Mind Games was by Richard S. Reynolds’ imported English Thoroughbred stallion *Bettered, out of a Thoroughbred show mare named Miss Jackie, that had come from Neely Blair (she was also the dam of Gary Kunsman’s Miss Libby and Arbitrage that belonged to Wilson Dennehy). Mind Games was bred to show, so he was not registered with the Jockey Club.
Debra Hoffman, also of the Richmond area, bought the big brown colt as a yearling. She nicknamed him “Junior” because of his size. Junior was the barn name that stuck with Mind Games throughout his show career. With Jan Simpson doing the ground work, Debra broke Junior as a two-year-old, but because of his big size (by now he was 16.2), he was uncoordinated and couldn’t really figure out how to canter well. He was turned out in a field for another year. At three, the same problem and the same solution—out in the field for another year. Same thing at four. Finally, by the time he was five, he was used to his own size and could advance in his training.
As a six-year-old, it was time for Junior’s first horse show. By then, Debra had figured out some of the tricks for keeping him happy—mind games, if you will. There his show name was born. Debra showed him at his first show—a small schooling show near Richmond. In the pouring rain, Mind Games marched around the course with his ears up and won the class. After that, Debra got Eric Dirks to show him at some local shows. Kitty Beveridge (now Barker) then took over and showed him in one Pre-Green division, and then they went right into the 1st Year Greens the same year.
After Florida, when Mind Games was a 2nd Year horse, Kitty became pregnant and stopped riding. Debra then made a decision that was the best for her horse…she got Tommy Serio to show Junior. Tommy had been around great horsemen all of his life and learned from each of them. He had an uncanny ability to figure a horse out and a soft, easy, accurate way with each of them. Tommy was the perfect rider for Mind Games.
Some people might call Mind Games’ little idiosyncrasies “quirks,” but Tommy called them “insecurities”. Quickly, Tommy figured out how to deal with each of them. They never cantered a jump in the schooling ring and were known to trot a vertical as high as 4’6” with ease. After warming up, Tommy would get off at the ring, adjust the saddle, and let Junior just stand and relax before going in the ring. He rode him in a double-twisted snaffle with no martingale. Tommy said he just looped the reins and Mind Games would canter around the course and jump “impeccable” over every jump. It was a match made in heaven.
Tommy Serio didn’t start showing Mind Games until Upperville of his 2nd Year, but the next year, 1985, they started in May at Keswick in the Working Hunters, where they were Champion. They showed at more shows that year in both the Working and the Conformation divisions and were champion at many “A” shows including Devon, Upperville, and Pennsylvania National (Harrisburg, PA). Mind Games was Conformation Champion at Harrisburg and Working Reserve Champion at Washington, where he also won the Hunter Classic. By the end of 1985, Mind Games was American Horse Show Association Horse Of The Year in the Working Hunters and Reserve Horse Of The Year in the Conformation Hunters. Mind Games was hurt early in 1986 so he sat out much of the year from showing.
Having shown for many years with much success, it was riding Mind Games that Tommy said “broke the ice” and got him known widely as the great horseman and rider that he is. When Charlie Weaver left the riding position at Cismont Manor Farm in the Fall of 1986, it was Tommy Serio that Mr. and Mrs. Wheeler hired to take over the reins of their successful stable of show hunters including Two For One, Missouri, Super Flash, and many others. Mind Games, still owned by Debra Hoffman, joined the Cismont Manor string for 1987 and won his fair share.