Q&A: Zosia Mamet
"Every time we get on a horse, we are being courageous, because we are entering into a pact with another creature. The love between horse and human is a direct line of their open heart to yours."
Please introduce yourself.
Hi! My name is Zosia Mamet. My horse is named Ten. I'm a hunter jumper. Amateur
What was your earliest encounter with horses?
I was three years old. My parents had gotten my sister a pony. She's six years older than me. She took one look at our Shetland named Tinsel and was like 'yeah, she's cute.' Meanwhile there's photographic evidence of me CLINGING to Tinsel's fuzzy body like she's oxygen to me. I used to sit on her back when she was in the cross ties being groomed. I started riding right away and just never stopped. It was an immediate love affair/obsession.
What has been the most unexpected challenge in your training?
Learning to let go. It's funny I never really thought I had this issue as a rider until I got Ten, and I realized it was something I absolutely had to work on. My trainer, Vanessa, always says to address the problem immediately, fix it, and then move on. Let it be over. She always says you have to take the higher road. Don't fall into the trap of your horse goading you to take the bait of their tantrum, address it, and then ignore it. And I have found this SO HARD. But the minute I start to play Ten's game, that's it, I'm cooked. Because then she fights back and then I fight back and then we just unravel.
So I have worked my ass off on trying to learn to address what's going on, fix it, and then leave it behind me. Which is so much easier said than done. It has certainly made me a better rider because it forces me to be so much more connected at all times. As my trainer says, "always be riding.'" Meaning, never stop riding your horse when you're on, jumping, flatting, just walking. Always be truly riding, connected, listening, engaged.
Was there ever a time that you considered leaving the sport?
I did leave the sport for a period. It wasn't a conscious decision at all. But I had my first horse Lucy in Los Angeles where I grew up, and I booked a job in New York that I had to move for. It was a TV show and we ended up doing six seasons. I kept trying to find a new barn on the east coast, but it's really tough to find the right barn home especially after having trained with the same woman for the last decade.
I eventually moved Lucy east to the barn I grew up riding at in Vermont while I tried to find a barn closer to Manhattan. But she didn't do well with the travel, and she got very sick very suddenly. And while I was on a job, I got a call from the owner of the barn saying that Lucy was so sick, and the only thing they hadn't ruled out was a tumor they couldn't see without an MRI. But the vet said he didn't know if she'd be strong enough to make it through the surgery, and he felt the most humane thing to do was to put her down because she was in so much pain. I couldn't leave NY to get to Vermont, and I knew she was suffering and making her wait for me to get there wasn't fair to her. So they put her down and I wasn't able to say goodbye. I was 26 at the time. I'd had her since I was 12 and she was 4. It was the greatest heartbreak of my life, and it rocked me to my core. I sobbed for hours. I just couldn't stop crying. And I stopped looking for a new barn for a while because the grief of her loss was just too great.
But eventually the fog lifted and I realized I needed riding and horses back in my life again. So I started searching and found the barn I now ride at—The Stables At Mirabella, and my incredible trainer Vanessa Karlewicz. And I found my new horse Ten who is so amazing. So that's a long way of saying I didn't intend to leave the sport, but I did for about six years until I finally realized a part of me was missing without it, and so now here I am back in it.
What is your horse's favorite treat or snack?
She's a pretty basic girl in that regard. She ADORES a peppermint or an apple. But she's funny about apples. I have to bite off small pieces for her and then give them to her otherwise she just spits it out. She isn't spoiled at all okay?! hahaha
What has been the greatest act of kindness you’ve received from another rider?
Ten ended up hurting herself last fall when I was away working. Thank goodness it ended up being (we think) just a REALLY REALLY bad stone bruise, but she was crippled lame and we couldn't figure out what it was and we thought it might be a soft tissue injury. When you don't know with a horse it's always smarter to play it safe. So she went on stall rest and then, as any horse girl knows, SLOWLY slowly slowly we started the rehab process of putting her back to work.
I learned that rehabbing a horse is NO joke. It is physically, emotionally, and mentally so exceptionally taxing. Not to mention the fear and sadness that comes along with it. Will they ever get better? How long will this take? When they do get better, will they ever be the same again? Being away from her during this period was torture. Knowing she was hurt and I couldn't be with her just ate away at my heart. And as another horse woman my trainer, Vanessa, knew that. Every day I would get a video of Ten. She'd send me cute silly ones of her eating treats or chilling in her stall. And then even though running a barn she has enough on her plate, my trainer took on the beginning of Ten's rehab for me when I couldn't be there to do it. She not only took care of Ten for me like she was her own horse, but she took care of ME as a fellow rider/horse mom/horse lover because she knew how hard it was to be away from my horsey child while she was hurting. I couldn't have gotten through that process without her help and understanding and all of those sweet daily videos and photos. This is one of the things I love most about our sport: the deep understanding that horse lovers have for one another. It's almost like a secret language. I hold that very sacred.
What do you think is the most important (or underrated) riding exercise? What is your favorite exercise? And what exercise is most difficult?
Oh man. That is a loaded question. My trainer is HUGE on flat work even though we're 99 percent a hunter/jumper barn. One of my favorite sayings we discovered last year was "A jumper course is 100 strides. Only 8 of them are jumps. Don't forget about the other 92." And we constantly remind each other of that. So we do a TON of flat work in our lessons and free rides. My trainer has a book of different exercises that she breaks out and we're all always terrified of what she's gonna come up with that day haha.
But I think underrated/most difficult but also so insanely important is lateral work. I got Ten from a sale barn when she was five and I had zero history on her and she was very green so we've taught her everything. And for the last year we've been working on her flying lead changes. But instead of just hammering away at making her do one, we try to train in all of these other ways that bleed into what makes up a flying change. Lateral work, counter canter work, things like that. I'd say that is some of the absolute hardest stuff to really do well and right, but it's SO incredibly important. I love it because it's so freakin hard, but when you get better at it, when they get better at it, and when you feel it working, it feels like such an epic accomplishment because of the work you've both had to do to get there.
What has been one of your most humbling moments with horses?
I had never had to rehab a horse before Ten got hurt. The process was slow and arduous and draining in every way shape and form. And it required SO much faith and trust and PATIENCE from me, which is something that I DO NOT naturally have. I am a doer and a fixer. If there's a problem, I want to fix it NOW. And rehab doesn't work that way.
But I am a big believer in always finding the silver lining in something. And when I got home and took over Ten's rehab from my trainer, I searched very hard for the silver lining in the process. And what came to me was that no matter what work you are doing, whether it be a tack walk during a six month rehab period building your horse back up or a full 3-foot XC course, the basis of riding is to ALWAYS be communicating with your horse.
My trainer taught me that you never stop riding, that each and every moment is a training opportunity. So even when we were doing our 25-minute tack walks around in circles in the indoor ring in the frigid winter air, I tried to push away the questions swirling in my head of 'when will we ever jump again?' 'when will we be back to full work?' 'will she be okay?' and just ride THAT MOMENT and USE that moment as a training opportunity to make that the best tack walk possible. It humbled me in the sense that it brought me back to the basics and how exceptionally important they are. And even the more skilled you become as a rider, that you should never lose sight of those basics, because they are the foundation that you build upon.
In what ways do you believe riding horses has informed your personal life and behavior?
In more ways than I could ever count. Horses have taught me SO much about life. I find almost without fail when I'm having a hard time in life, personal life, work life, I can almost always find a mirror of that issue or a lesson or guidance of how to deal with what I'm going through in my riding. It's one of the reasons I love this sport so much and I cherish it SO deeply. I don't think it's just about the joy of riding, I think being around horses, learning to be a true horse woman enriches and depends who you are as a human and without fail teaches you things about yourself and about life that you may not have seen or realized otherwise.
Do you have any superstitions around shows?
I don't really. It's funny, because I come from a theater family and we are all INSANELY superstitious. No hats on the bed. You can't say the title of the Scottish Play ever. Don't cheers with whatever. I mean, the list is endless, but with horse shows I don't really have any superstitions. I mostly just always make sure I've packed enough snacks for the day and have every different form of liquid I want, from enough water to coffee to gatorade because I live in fear of being hungry or thirsty haha.
What is the most courageous thing you’ve done — on or off a horse?
So, I am a big believer in the quote ''Courage is not the absence of fear. It is acting in spite of it." I wish that I had an epic story of me delivering a foal with no experience, or jumping over my trainer's truck, but I don't. What I will say is that in my opinion one of the most courageous things we can do as humans is to allow ourselves to be open and vulnerable.
Like I said before, riding and spending my life with horses has taught me SO much about life itself. And something I think on often is that every time we get on a horse, we are being courageous. Not just because the sport is dangerous, especially if you're jumping or doing cross country etc. But more so because we are entering into a pact with another creature. The minute we put our butts in that saddle we are saying, "I'm going to trust you now, and I'd like you to trust me in return."
In order to ride, you have to be open and vulnerable. That is the core nature of the sport. We are also opening our hearts to these animals with the hope that they live long, glorious, happy lives with us. But also knowing full well that this sport is nothing if not unpredictable. But we open our hearts anyways. We love them without abandon. We give them our all, and we ask for the same in return. I feel like this sounds quite sappy and perhaps hyperbolic, but to me the love between horse and human is a direct line of their open heart to yours. We do all of this IN SPITE OF the fear that GOD FORBID something could happen to them, or us. When we are riders, we love and we trust totally and completely And to me that is the most courageous.
What inspires you to continue to learn within the sport?
I think with anything that is something you plan to do for a lifetime, the desire to continue to learn should always be there. To me, no matter what you are doing and how good you get at it, there is ALWAYS more room to grow and to learn and to explore. The minute I feel like something has clicked for me or I've elevated my own ride or I've accomplished something with Ten, I immediately want to learn how I can go further, be better, learn more. To me, the most rewarding part is that this is such an exceptionally hard and intricate and complicated sport that changes day to day. Depending on how you feel, how your horse feels, the weather, the course, whatever it may be, you have to be ready to take in all of those variables and still go into the ring and ride to your best ability in that moment, on that day. Who wouldn't want to keep learning how to do that better, more accurately, more effectively? What do they say? "It's not the destination, it's the journey." That's the part that inspires me to continue to want to learn. This is a lifelong journey I'm on. And so I will always want to know more, to get stronger, better, wiser. You have to enjoy the victories along the way, no matter how big or small. But then once you've figured out a piece of the puzzle, you move on to the next bit. That's the fun of it. There is no end in sight, you can never stop learning as a rider. What an amazing thing.
When you’re not riding, you can be found doing…?
Working! Hanging out with my dog Moose. Going on wood walks or hikes with her. Reading, baking, watching movies.
Is there a movement, organization, or cause that you are involved with?
I work a lot with dog animal rescues but I am starting to get involved in equine. The carriage horses in New York is something that kills me and I have been trying to work with various people on trying to eradicate that. And I am also getting involved with wild mustang advocacy groups to address the issues of what's happening to those animals currently.
In one or few words, what does horse riding mean to you?
This is going to sound hyperbolic. But to me, being on the back of a horse is transcendent. The minute I'm with Ten, and I sit into the saddle, the rest of the world falls away. It isn't without challenges or trials or hard days or tears, but there is nothing else other than THAT MOMENT, the NOW of riding. It puts me into the present moment, and no matter how hard or glorious my ride, there is ALWAYS an over arching undercurrent of joy. And there is nothing else other than riding. It is freedom to me.