After a bad fall in the 2018 CHIO Aachen grand prix, Yuri Mansur entered the clinic where veterinarians were examining his horse, Vitiki. There he found his best friend crying as he looked at the X-rays of the horse’s front right leg. “I’ll never forget. This was a hard, hard moment,” Mansur said. “They were even speaking about putting him down.”
The horse had broken his pastern joint in several places. After such a grim diagnosis, many thought Vitiki would never return to the competition arena, let alone compete at the CSI5* level.
They were wrong.
Tonight, Vitiki and Mansur will enter the arena for the 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final III in Omaha, Nebraska, tied for fifth place.
“I don’t know why, but I always had in my mind that he would come back,” Mansur said of his now 15-year-old chestnut Hanoverian stallion.
A Special Horse from the Beginning
Mansur, who trains in Europe, bought Vitiki in September of 2017. A friend living in Europe had been diagnosed with cancer and wanted to return to his homeland of Brazil for treatment. The friend decided to sell Vitiki and suggested Mansur ride him. Another Brazilian rider had tried the horse but wasn’t interested. Knowing that, Mansur had doubts about whether he’d like the stallion.
“But then I rode the horse, and already by the second jump, I had bought him in my mind. I realized it was a super, super horse—the roundness, the front technique, the really balanced blood. He was a bit more my type of horse. All this together made me really believe that I was sitting on a special horse and straightaway, we bought him.”
Vitiki and Mansur connected immediately. They were jumping 1.30 meters, and “everything went in the right direction all the time,” he said. By the following May, the pair were part of Brazil’s FEI Nations Cup team in La Baule, France. A month later, they were riding in the grand prix at the famed 2018 CHIO Aachen World Equestrian Festival in Germany. They had qualified for the jump-off when the accident happened. Mansur said he was a little long to one fence, and the pair fell.
Mansur hit his head. While doctors checked him, veterinarians at a nearby clinic examined Vitiki and discovered he had broken his right front pastern joint. Despite the news of the break, Mansur said luck was on their side. A friend was there, and said they needed to speak with U.S. veterinarian surgeon Jack Snyder. And Snyder was in Aachen at the time. He examined Vitiki and recommended a surgery that involved putting seven screws in the pastern to stabilize it. Doctors then put Vitiki in a thick cast from the knee to below the pastern. The horse returned home, and they kept him on stall rest for one month.
Though Mansur described Vitiki as a “fresh horse” with “a lot of blood,” the stallion aided in his recovery during the stall confinement. Said Mansur’s wife, Louise Weber, “He was very clever because he knew that he needed to stay quiet. He was super calm. He let us treat him.”
Around that time, some veterinarians treating Vitiki questioned if one of the screws had been put in the correct place. Because of that, they wondered if Vitiki would even walk again. Mansur and Weber put their faith in Dr. Snyder, who said everything had been done correctly.
They also faced the challenge of the leg cast causing sores on the skin under it. “It was very stressful,” Mansur said of that time.
But after the month of stall rest, they were able to hand-walk Vitiki, which they did for four months. As expected, Vitiki lost all of his muscle mass and tone, and his body condition was “terrible,” Mansur said. The stall rest and hand-walking was taking its toll.
So after the four months and in the in spite of the vet’s skepticism, Mansur decided to walk Vitiki under saddle. That felt OK, so he asked him to trot. “It was a terrible time because the first two or three moments, he was lame. I almost died,” he said. “But then after that, Vitiki started to get better.”
Mansur continued to gradually increase Vitiki’s exercise routine, adding more trot and eventually canter work. Six months after the surgery, veterinarians took out some of the screws. But Vitiki was still not feeling 100-hundred percent. Then a veterinarian from Italy who was working with Mansur found a special shoe to help support Vitiki’s pastern. “The day we did put this shoe on, everything went to the much better way,” Mansur said. Vitiki’s trot and canter smoothed out. A third veterinarian from Wellington, Florida, also suggested various treatments that helped in Vitiki’s recovery. “With all these three good vets and my obsession [to return Vitiki to complete health], things were going in the right direction.”
Mansur and his team continued to rehabilitate Vitiki. A year after the accident, in the spring of 2019, he decided Vitiki was strong enough to jump. Vets were not as confident. Mansur’s brother jumped the stallion while Mansur was at a competition. Despite being ridden to a long distance, Vitiki responded positively, jumping small fences with ease.
A Different Horse
As Vitiki’s recovery and rehab progressed, sometimes the horse would be a little lame, and Mansur and his team would have to back off of his training. Veterinarians suggested it might be time to look for another top grand prix horse. Instead, following his feeling that Vitiki would continue to recover, Mansur took him to a competition that fall. As they jumped a few classes at 1.20 meters over the next two weeks, Vitiki felt better and better.
“From this day, he just improved—the movement, the soundness, the feeling, the scope,” Mansur said of the long process. “But he was a different horse. The body was different. He adapted to the shoeing and the new body he had.”
Vitiki continued to improve, and by the end of 2020, he competed in his first small grand prix. “He wasn’t the same star that he was before, but he was going,” Mansur said. Again, they continued to work on Vitiki’s conditioning, and by early 2021, they competed in two five-star grand prix classes in Wellington, Florida. In the second, Vitiki was the only Brazilian horse to jump clear. “That was a really emotional moment for us,” Mansur said.
In spite of the excitement of Vitiki’s successful return to five-star competition , Mansur noticed some changes in 2021. “He start to cry all the time with the left eye and was a bit strange. And he was getting hotter and hotter, different going in the ring. I could not imagine. And then one day, he had fever in the show. And the doctor came and she found a cyst in the nose.”
They monitored the cyst in the horse’s left sinus area. It continue to grow and began affecting Vitiki’s breathing. Mansur decided to have surgery to remove the cyst in mid-2021. “I knew that he couldn’t be worse. He could just be better because in the end he was breathing only with one side of his nostril.”
The surgery was dramatic to watch—veterinarians had to cut a hole in Vitiki’s skull to remove the cyst. But his recovery was straightforward. By October of 2021, Mansur and Vitiki were doing well in the Sunshine Tour in Spain. “This shows how strong this horse is,” Mansur said.
Next were stops to compete in the second and third legs of the 2022 Longines FEI Global Champions Tour. These were in Miami and Mexico City. Vitiki jumped great, Mansur said. The Brazilian team’s chef d’équipe asked Mansur to take Vitiki to the competition in La Boule, France, where they placed second in the grand prix. They continued to do well that year, winning a grand prix in Valkenburg, Holland.
They ended 2022 with Brazilian legend Nelson Pessoa suggesting that Mansur stop riding Vitiki with spurs and a whip. So Mansur did that for the last two shows of the year, and the horse “went to the next step,” he said, improving even more.
A World Cup Comeback: Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final
Leading up to the 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final, Mansur and Vitiki rode in only four qualifiers in 2022-2023 season. They were invited to attend the Final, being held in Omaha, Nebraska, April 4-8.
But even that road wasn’t completely smooth. Two weeks before the competition, Vitiki was rolling in his stall and cut his elbow with his shoe, which required five stitches. “I told my wife, ‘I’m out of the World Cup. What a shame,” Mansur recalled. But Vitiki had other ideas, and four days later, he was fine.
The nail-biting still wasn’t over. They arrived in Omaha, and the Friday before the competition, a dressage horse kicked Vitiki over the knee. He needed more stitches but recovered quickly. “He’s a fighter,” said Mansur of Vitiki, who still has four screws in his pastern.
In the Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final I, the speed class on Wednesday night, Mansur and Vitiki jumped a clear round to finish in ninth. For Final II on Thursday night, they qualified for the jump-off. In the jump-off, they had the last rail down and finished in sixth. They go into tonight’s third and final round tied for fifth.
Despite the bleak prospects after the 2018 accident, with veterinarian care and Mansur’s faith that this special horse could do it, Vitiki has proved his doubters wrong.
Getting a little choked up sharing his story, Mansur concluded, “Being here, it’s a dream.”
The 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final III starts tonight at 6:15 p.m. CDT. To read reports from our coverage of the 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final, click here.
Thanks to Weatherbeeta for our coverage of the 2023 Longines FEI Jumping World Cup™ Final, including rider interviews, competition reports, photos, videos and more!