Sliding to Inspiration
Sliding to Inspiration
By Kayli Hanley for The American Quarter Horse Journal
Nineteen-year-old Alexis Mann started riding at around 4 years old, but horses have been part of her life for as long as she can remember. They inspire her to go after her goals and challenge the obstacles life brings her way. And for Alexis, there have been plenty.
Alexis was born without her right hand, due to a condition called amniotic band syndrome.
This rare condition is caused in utero when strands of the amniotic sac separate and entangle digits or limbs, according to the University of California-San Francisco Benioff Children’s Hospitals Fetal Treatment Center.
The loss of her right hand hasn’t stopped Alexis, now a collegiate athlete, from pursuing her dream of competing in reining, and Alexis says her parents, Robert and Laura Mann, helped her develop a can-do mindset from the very beginning.
“We have always let her figure out how to make things work for her and encouraged that,” Laura says.
After years of training and riding different horses, Alexis describes her riding style as quiet.
“If my horse needs correction, then I’ll get after him a bit, but I always try to be really soft and quiet,” she says.
Just like it has taken time to develop her riding style, it has also taken time to find her rhythm in the reining arena. Competing one-handed brings challenges, such as practicing reining drills that typically require two hands. Some days frustration creeps in. Ultimately, Alexis chooses to find ways forward.
“It’s really a constant brainstorm,” Alexis says. “How can we be as successful as everybody else, even though I’m lacking what a lot of people have?”
During her first several years competing, Alexis struggled to find her stride in the show pen – but she didn’t give up. Her turning point came in 2020 at a reining show in Kentucky. There, she took home first in the green and youth categories, along with a surge of confidence to keep pushing forward.
“That was really a defining moment. I’d worked so hard, and nothing seemed to be going together, clicking together, and then, all of a sudden, I had my best show at the time.”
That year, Alexis not only experienced advances in the show ring, but she also found her horse of a lifetime, the peppermint-loving Nifty At Nite, or “Helen,” a daughter of Gunners Special Nite.
Alexis credits the American Quarter Horse breed with teaching her life lessons and helping her chase her dreams. Of all the Quarter Horses she has ridden, however, Helen has impacted her the most.
“She has really pushed me as a rider,” Alexis says. “She taught me how to be a leader in the show pen.”
They’re a fun pair for her parents to watch and cheer on. “She and Alexis have just clicked,” Robert says.
Getting Closer to the Goal
Together, during the fall of 2021, the team took one step closer to one of Alexis’s goals – winning at the All American Quarter Horse Congress.
In August 2021, Alexis started her freshman year at the University of Findlay in Findlay, Ohio, where Meri Marsh serves as the director of equestrian studies and equine management.
“Alexis is very serious about competition and about improving her skills,” Meri says. “She puts forth the time and the effort to get better every time she shows.”
At the 2021 Congress, Alexis entered the National Reining Horse Association’s Novice Horse Level 1 Non-Pro class. Before her run, she thanked God for the ability to show and prayed for safety.
“That is something I do every time,” Alexis says. “Not really for good luck, just to kinda put me in the moment.”
Robert says he encouraged her to have fun, and she did just that. Alexis stayed relaxed when she entered the arena with Helen, and the run that followed exceeded their expectations. The pair placed sixth.
“She wasn’t anticipating. She was doing everything I asked,” Alexis says of Helen.
Laura was on her way to the arena to watch the run when she realized she wouldn’t make it in time. Instead, she watched her daughter compete via the live feed on her phone.
“She has worked so hard, and to see it all come together for her, well, I cried,” Laura says. “As a parent, watching your child reach for their dreams is the most satisfying feeling.”
Alexis’s achievement at the 2021 Congress served as a memorable moment in her reining journey.
“To us, that sixth place was our first,” Robert says.
“Everyone needs inspiration, and if I can provide someone that, then that’s pretty incredible,” Alexis says.
Her Instagram account focuses on her reining successes and sharing the following message: Anything is possible if you put your mind to it. Her podcasts share the stories of other equestrians. She hopes they will connect people with similar life experiences.
Meanwhile, Alexis continues to pursue reining alongside her scholastic endeavors, which include majoring in marketing.