Mandi Seim grew up in rural Perkins County, SD, doing what ranch kids do – riding her horse, moving and checking cattle and going to school when she had to.
In her junior year of high school she took a job with a local horse trainer to earn some extra cash. She drove the 20 miles roundtrip every afternoon following school, and during the summer, to help feed oats, pitch hay, fill water tubs and keep stalls clean at Johnson Racing Stables south of Lemmon, SD. It didn’t take long and she was doing more than just the boring stuff – she helped breed mares and make sure the horses got their daily exercise.
Soon, she was traveling to Quarter Horse races in Ft. Pierre, and Aberdeen, SD, and Skakopee, MN, with Johnson, then by herself. “There would be some days in Fort Pierre and Aberdeen where it would get crazy. I think on our biggest day, we had 28 head in – it was hectic getting that many ready. We would have three or four horses in one race. Then there were times we’d have horses at two different race tracks so I did a lot of traveling.”
She hauled horses to Remington Park in Oklahoma City, OK; Turf Paradise in Phoenix, AZ; and Rocky Mountain Turf Club in Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada alone. Seim said the first time she went to Lethbridge she was scared to death to cross the border, but after a scolding from Canadian Customs for not having her birth certificate, she was on her way. At the track, she had to coordinate exercise schedules and ensure horses were fed and stalls were cleaned. “As with any athlete there is maintenance work. A lot of the horses would get their legs iced and then wrapped with some type of medication daily,” she recalled. On race day Seim was responsible for making sure each horse got to the right race at the right time with the right equipment, occasionally saddling (if Johnson was at another track), and taking care of the horse after the race. “I’d usually have a couple of people to help me but ultimately it was my job to be sure it was all done correctly and on time.”
Seim can now tell been-there, done-that stories of racetracks from Assiniboia Downs in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada, to Churchill Downs in Louisville, KY; Oaklawn Park in Hot Springs, AR to Yellowstone Downs in Billings, MT. Oh yes, and Dubai, United Arab Emirates.
In 2007, Seim and Devron Leingang from Mandan, ND, went to Assiniboia Downs, where they trained thoroughbreds together. She noted one difference between the two kinds of horses. “Quarter Horses go to the track every couple of days during training. Thoroughbreds run farther distances so they train harder – they go almost every day.”
While working on their own in Winnipeg, they trained horses for Jim Peterson of Mobridge, SD. In 2010, the opportunity arose to go to work for Jim’s son-in-law Steve Asmussen from Texas. In April of 2010, Seim and Leingang were sent to Woodine in Toronto, Canada to oversee a barn of 40 horses for the Asmussen Stable.
Two years into their employment with Steve, one of the horses they were training – Regally Ready – was invited by Sheikh Mohammed to compete in the Al Quoz Sprint, held in Dubai every spring.
Regally had won a grade 1 stake race at Woodbine called the Nearctic Stake, giving him a free berth into the Breeders Cup Sprint in Kentucky three weeks later (November of 2011) which he also won.
Sending a horse to Dubai to run wasn’t a totally new experience for Asmussen as “Curlin,” who now stands at Lanes End Stud Farm, had won the $10-million Dubai World Cup in 2008. But for the two young trainers, it was new territory.
The flight for the horse and trainers cost the owner about thirty thousand dollars. “We hadn’t flown with a horse before so we didn’t really know what to expect but luckily the Sheikh sent a gentleman from England named Chris to fly with us – he was a professional who did that kind of thing all the time, and that helped ease the tension for us.” Seim said that she, Leingang and Chris flew out of Los Angeles, CA, in a huge cargo plane. In fact, they were the only travelers aboard in addition to the pilots. “They loaded cargo until it was jam-packed with crates and pallets, then in the middle of it there was Regally in a portable stall, with hay and water, and wood chips on the floor.”
Seim said there were some delays before the plane could take off. “First, the pilots wouldn’t leave because some meals had been placed in the fridge for the three of us, but they weren’t labeled.” Someone had to come label the food – which was so terrible, they couldn’t eat it anyway – before the pilot would leave. Then the pilot decided he wanted to turn the temperature in the belly (where all the cargo – and Regally – were) down to about 35 degrees to keep a pallet of asparagus cool. “Chris exchanged a few words with him and they finally settled on 65 degrees, and we were off.”
Regally was tied up for takeoff and then Leingang was able to climb down with him and untie him for the remainder of the flight. “He stood really well for the flight,” she recalled. “Anyone who went down in the belly had to take an oxygen bottle and a mask with them ... just in case.”
The plane touched down in Amsterdam for a change of pilots and all the cargo. except the horse, had to be unloaded and the plane was then re-loaded with new cargo.
Seim recalled their final touchdown after 22 hours aboard the plane. “When we arrived in Dubai we got in the portable stall with Regally and he was unloaded out the nose of the plane and lowered by a hydraulic lift to the ground.” Then while Regally was loaded on a van and hauled to Meydan Race Course, Seim and Leingang were forced to leave him for two hours to make their way through immigration. They were a little nervous about sending Regally with someone they didn’t know. “We weren’t scared that they’d take him or anything like that, but Regally can get a little rambunctious and if the person wasn’t a real good horse handler, he could get loose or get spooked and bump his hip and get hurt as they load and unload him. We had too much money invested for him to get hurt before the race!”
The two trainers met Regally back at the track, where everything was fine.
They were in Dubai for a week and a half before the first race. “We wanted to get a race over that track before the big race,” she said. Regally didn’t show signs of jet lag from the trip, and adjusted well to the new surroundings, as did his caretakers. “There was a quarantine area with 13 barns for horses from different countries.” Of course they were stalled in the U.S. barn along with six other horses preparing for other big races to be held the same day as the Al Quoz Sprint.
Seim and Leingang got the chance to sample some middle eastern food, as two meals per day were provided at the U.S. barn, often consisting of local cuisine like fish or lamb. But when they had a spare moment, they would head over to the world’s largest mall – that boasts an indoor ski slope – and eat at any one of their favorite American restaurant chains.
They also watched camel races from afar. “We weren’t allowed to have a camera but we watched them from a distance or on TV,” she also recalled seeing camels hobbled to keep them from running off.
“We were only allowed to train Regally during certain hours so our horses never actually interacted with Dubai horses until race day,” said Seim. “Devron and I would lead Regally to the track (a 45 minute walk) for training. Once we reached the track Devron or Jimmy, our gallop boy, would gallop him. Then we would lead him back to the barn (another 45 minutes). We wanted to keep the weight off him because the American horses are not used to that long of a walk. Tracks in the U.S. are much closer to the barns.”
After another three weeks of training following the first “practice race” it was time for Regally to do what he was born to do – race. “Cory Nakatani rode him, the same jockey who had ridden him to win the two big races back home.” Unfortunately, Regally didn’t cross the finish line first. “It seemed like he didn’t really want to run. They water the turf over there a lot more than here, which makes it really soft, and I don’t think he liked that,” said Seim.
The five furlong race was over in seconds, and four days later horse and trainers were on their way back home. Regally ran in Chicago, IL, over the fourth of July and then in New York after that.
Devron and Mandi have made up their minds to stay closer to home, and for the first time in 13 years, she won’t be heading “to the track” this spring. Seim, who now makes her home in New Salem, ND, works at a durable medical equipment store in Bismarck, ND, where they sell wheelchairs, walkers, crutches, etc. and Devron drives truck in the oilfield nearby. They own one of the horses they helped train, and keep him at her folks’ place near Bison, SD, where she has ridden him a few times. The horse had a bowed tendon and the owner didn’t seem to have the patience to wait for healing, so he turned the horse over to her. “I let him rest so he could heal and now he’s ready for use. I’ll ride him more this summer.”
“We miss the racehorses every day,” Seim lamented. “We have had the opportunity to work with some very high class horses and travel lots of places because of them. When we decided to come home an old friend of mine said ‘I am not sure I believe it, you have a little too much gypsy in your blood.’ He just might be right,” said Seim.